TARPON SPRINGS — For nearly three hours Tuesday night, city commissioners debated whether they should let voters decide if the city should buy the former Linger Longer mobile home park on the Anclote River to construct a boat ramp.
They could have postponed a vote until next month, but in the end commissioners decided they could linger no longer on their decision.
They voted 2-2 not to put the question to voters. (Commissioner Townsend Tarapani recused himself because he's the son of the property owner's real estate agent, John Tarapani.) The tied vote meant the motion failed.
The decision effectively halts the possibility of acquiring the land in the near future.
"We'll never have this opportunity again," said Commissioner Susan Slattery. She and Vice Mayor Chris Alahouzos wanted the matter to go to voters.
But Mayor David Archie and Commissioner Jeff Larsen both said they believed the project would put a drain on funds for other projects that have long been on the city's wish list, like a new fire station on the north side of the river and a sports complex.
Residents were as split as commissioners at Tuesday's meeting. Some accused commissioners of lacking vision for the 20-acre lot on the north bank of the river. Others said that buying it would be fiscally irresponsible in lean budget times.
"The bottom line is, if you offer additional services, which this is, it either has to pay for itself or you have to raise taxes," said Marty Peters, chairman of the city's Budget Advisory Committee, which was against the purchase. "The purchase of Linger Longer would not be fiscally responsible."
A financial real estate consultant estimated that the total cost to acquire the land, including closing and financing costs, would be $4.55 million. It would cost an additional $1.5 million to construct and get permits for the ramp, officials said.
Officials with engineering firm Cardno TBE said the city would also need to do an additional evaluation of the site to ensure there's no contamination from the nearby closed Stauffer Chemical plant and a wastewater treatment plant that served the mobile home park. That assessment would cost about $30,000. If contamination was found, remediation could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000, they said.
But John Tarapani said the property's owners cleared and cleaned the Linger Longer site with approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Tarapani said he was disappointed that the city's consultants hadn't reviewed that material before their presentation.
Commissioners had also considered placing an RV park on the upland portion of the site. But a financial assessment cast doubt that the money it would earn could support the boat ramps and the park.
"The analysis simply does not reconcile to the idea of the RV park as a sound financial strategy," according to the report prepared by Real Estate Research Consultants.
Slattery said the report did not contain any estimates for revenues that could be generated from boat launch fees, and possibly a bait and tackle shop and a concession stand.
Tarapani said he's heard from numerous supporters who would be disappointed in the commission's decision.
"We try to encourage democracy, but in this case they didn't allow the voters to be heard," he said.
In other news
• Commissioners tentatively approved a plan to co-sponsor a food truck rally with the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 10. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tarpon Avenue and will correspond with a previously scheduled art walk. The event will be the first of its kind in North Pinellas County, said City Manager Mark LeCouris.
• The commission adopted a resolution for a January referendum for Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital's foundation to sell a 0.62-acre parcel to a developer for $500,000. Voters had previously approved the sale, but the new referendum is necessary because the developer has decided to build a parking lot instead of a parking garage at the site. Developer CRP II will also improve the hospital's existing parking lot in the deal.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.