TEMPLE TERRACE — Having abandoned plans for a bat tower in one area of Riverhills Park after neighbors complained, the City Council has narrowed its search to three other sites, one of them farther away from neighbors in Riverhills Park.
Taking up the recommendations of its city staff, the council also is considering rebuilding the city landmark in Scout Park, farther south on the Hillsborough River, and Rotary Park near Fowler Avenue and Interstate 75.
The council asked the staff to get the reaction of residents near the proposed sites and report back in 30 days. Mayor Frank Chillura and others said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the meeting last month, when neighbors who had not heard about the tower appeared en masse to protest.
They expressed fear of disease and odor from the bats. The tower is expected to house 100,000 to 200,000 of the winged mammals, but it will be capable of holding 600,000. After that meeting, tower proponents withdrew plans to build it at what they considered the best location, next to the boat ramp in Riverhills Park.
Council member Grant Rimbey, a key bat tower proponent long before he was elected last November, complained to his colleagues that the fears the protesters expressed in the meeting were not credible, and experts weren't given a chance to refute them.
"It's important that we understand the difference between a citizen with a computer and access to Wikipedia, and credentialed experts in the field with decades of experience.''
He recommended that once the council comes up with a primary site, it should ''go after it with gusto and not take any prisoners.''
For the city ''to say we go after all three sites and say whoever complains the least is the one we're going to end up with is not a strategy, in my mind,'' he said.
Council member David Pogorilich countered that the council represents all the residents, not just those in favor of the bat tower.
"We owe it to the citizens of Temple Terrace to let them know what we're doing and ask for their feedback,'' he said. "I don't think we should be force-feeding anybody anything, especially when it's in their back yard.''
The city's original bat tower was built in the 1920s with the idea that the structure would attract the animals to eat mosquitoes that brought malaria with them. It's unclear how many bats roosted in it, but the tower remained a beloved symbol of the city's early days until 1979, when an arsonist destroyed it.
James Chambers, director of the city's leisure services department, went over the locations considered by the bat tower proponents and bat experts, discussing pros and cons of each. The three locations the staff recommends are at least 170 feet from the nearest resident.
Tower proponents tout the structure as an attraction, too, noting that some two dozen spectators show up nightly at sunset at the two towers on the University of Florida campus to watch 300,000 bats fly out all at once.
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.