NEW PORT RICHEY — Hundreds of Trinity residents showed up at a commission meeting Wednesday night, in part to support a foregone conclusion:
Starkey Ranch was named the future home of both a sports complex aimed at attracting big softball tournaments, as well as new ballfields that local youth sports leagues may use. Funding for the $12 million project, which Sportsplex USA wants to operate, will come from a combination of tourist tax, impact fees and half-cent sales bond proceeds.
But the plans at Starkey Ranch weren't the only thing residents wanted to talk about. Their main question was spelled out on the white T-shirts of many residents:
Where is my park?
Not a sports complex with a bunch of adult softball games but something with maybe tennis courts and a few fields, a dog park and picnic tables.
And they knew where they want it: On county land next to the fire station off Trinity Boulevard — the property originally designated for the sports complex.
"Everyone in Trinity has been waiting for a park," said Dorothy Stix, of Heritage Springs. "A park that all people could enjoy."
"Talk about a legacy," said Shawn Foster, of Fox Woods. "This would be a legacy."
Commissioners indicated they wanted to give them that community park. Commissioner Ann Hildebrand won the support of her colleagues to move forward with a task force made up of Trinity residents who will come up with a park proposal.
Commissioner Michael Cox suggested the county could use $2 million out of the $3 million leftover in park impact fees designated for west Pasco to develop the Trinity site.
"If the county doesn't take some initiative and action it's never going to happen," said Cox. "The bottom line is they were promised a park."
Commissioner Ted Schrader pointed out, however, that the county is in a position where it can pay only to build parks, not run them. Impact fees can't be used for operation and maintenance.
This year, Pasco's parks and recreation department is contemplating user fees for the first time in the county's history in order to avoid reducing hours at popular parks and closing swimming pools.
Schrader raised the possibility of creating a special assessment on Trinity properties to pay for running the new park.
As for the sports complex site, the Starkey family had to set aside 40 acres for parks as part of the development process. To buy an additional 40 acres, the county may spend around $1 million. Officials estimate another $1 million to $2 million in site development costs.
Though commissioners did not note it Wednesday, the Starkey Ranch property and the fire station site are only about a mile away from each other, on opposite sides of State Road 54. The close proximity of the two properties could raise questions about developing both sites.
Parks and recreation director Rick Buckman said before the meeting that the 40 additional acres at Starkey Ranch could incorporate many of the more low-key elements — hiking trails near an existing lake, picnic tables, for instance — that residents want to see at the firehouse site.
Some residents said the difficult, five-month path to Wednesday night's vote — marked by contentious meetings and occasional bickering among commissioners on the dais — had resulted in a bigger and better project, plus more widespread community support.
"I think what has happened over the last couple of months has been democracy at its best," said Heritage Springs resident Bob Berry.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.