TARPON SPRINGS — A much-needed boat ramp might be in the future for people who are frustrated with waiting to launch their boats onto the Anclote River.
In a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, the Tarpon Springs City Commission entered into an agreement that could lead to the city buying nearly 20 acres on the river, at the site of the former Linger Longer Mobile Home and RV Park.
With a $25,000 refundable deposit, Tarpon now has 100 days to inspect the property and decide what features it might want to see on the land. If officials decide it's suitable for a boat launch, the question would go to Tarpon residents, who would vote in a referendum next year whether to buy the site.
If residents approve, Tarpon would have to close on the property by next May. The city would pay $4 million for it.
"This is such a rare opportunity for us," said Commissioner Susan Slattery, who has been lobbying for more boat access to the water for years. "I think it would be foolish not to take a 90-day free look, and this will ultimately be up to the citizens."
Commissioner Chris Alahouzos voted for the due diligence period but asked that the time be extended from the original 90 days to 120. Eventually, the time was extended to 100 days.
Commissioner Townsend Tarapani supports the effort but because his father, John Tarapani, is the agent for the property owner, he recused himself from the vote.
Mayor David Archie was the lone dissenter. He said he was concerned about the price and he didn't understand why there was a need to sign a contract before doing more investigative work about the property's potential use.
"I'm interested to know how we can afford this when we said we were not able to handle Howard Park," Archie asked.
Pinellas County plans to start charging a user fee at Fred Howard Park, which is in Tarpon Springs. This year, the City Commission decided that economically it would not be a good time to try and take over the park's management.
Tarpon Springs has been actively seeking ways to increase the number of places where boaters can launch along the Anclote River. Currently, there is a public launch at the city's Craig Park. That area is often congested with boating traffic, especially on weekends.
"Tarpon Springs is a waterfront community," Alahouzos said. "With the slow economy, this gives us the opportunity to purchase the land. We do have a deficiency in boat ramps."
John Tarapani told commissioners that he was approached by the Linger Longer property owners. The property was once valued at $14 million before the real estate market tanked. The property is currently zoned to have about 240 apartments on it, Tarapani said.
Tarpon Springs' property appraisal determined that the property is now valued at $4.684 million.
City Manager Mark LeCouris advised against purchasing the property for more than $3.5 million. LeCouris was also concerned about the potential revenue loss. He said the city could lose $179,850 to $188,025 a year in property taxes if the land is not developed as residential property.
Also, LeCouris said buying this property would require spending about a third of the city's Penny for Pinellas funds for the next seven years.
"I recommend that the Board of Commissioners and staff continue to analyze this proposal without entering into a $4 million contract," LeCouris wrote in a memo. "There is little risk to the city to continue to evaluate the project because even if a private developer purchases and develops the property prior to the city entering into a contract, the city would still reap the benefits of a privately developed project."
In 2007, Tarpon commissioners granted a request to have the Linger Longer property rezoned to allow up to 250 housing units. The property's previous zoning allowed only mobile homes or RV parks. About half of the site's 20 acres was in the city limits, and the other half was in unincorporated Pinellas County. At that time, the commission voted to annex the 10 acres that was outside the city.
The roughly 100 residents of the mobile home park had been relocated before then.
In other news
Tarpon Springs residents could see a significant drop in the amount they pay for curbside trash and yard waste services if city commissioners approve a proposed rate change.
On Oct. 1, single-family and mobile homes receiving curbside service twice a week would see a rate drop from $28.78 per month to $16.69. For mobile homes getting service once a week, the rate would drop from $22.42 to $14.23. Rear-yard pickup twice a week would go from $38.93 to $34.31 per month.
Residents would also receive a 64-gallon tote for recycling pickup, which would be included in the monthly rate.
But rates for twice-weekly curbside commercial pickup would jump from $21.22 a month to $38.40. That 9 percent rate increase includes a 96-gallon tote.
Tarpon's solid waste services are provided by Waste Management.
Commissioners could give final approval to the new rates at their Sept. 20 meeting.
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.