NEW PORT RICHEY — Ten weeks after Pasco commissioners voted to build a softball field complex on Trinity Boulevard, residents of nearby Heritage Springs showed up Tuesday with a forceful response:
Not near us.
More than 200 residents, dressed in red as a show of solidarity, flooded the County Commission meeting. They said the proposed 5-field and restaurant complex would bring heavy traffic, obnoxious lighting and noise to their 1,400-home senior community, reducing their home values.
And they said they'd bought their houses thinking that 24 acres were destined for something different.
"If you look this over, you'll find out this is going to be a very bad decision," said resident Dick Sells.
Bob Berry, vice president of the community association, said the group is prepared to allocate $50,000 for lawyer fees over the next five years to fight the project.
"We will move forward on this," Berry told commissioners. "We are very serious about this."
In January, commissioners voted 4-1 to build a complex on the Trinity parcel, which the county originally proposed as a park. The goal of the sports complex is to generate tournaments that would get out-of-county residents to stay in Pasco hotels and shop and dine in local restaurants.
An analysis completed by California consultant Sportsplex USA deemed that location its top pick over roughly 10 other sites. The most significant reason? The Trinity site is "shovel ready" for construction.
At that time, Commissioner Jack Mariano dissented, saying then he thought the project was too small to generate the larger tournaments. He has argued the project should be at Engle Park in Hudson and, in the past few weeks, on 40 acres at Starkey Ranch.
Negotiations are ongoing between Pasco and Sportsplex USA, which wants to operate the facility. The idea is that the county would get a share of the operating revenue.
Resident Art Markowitz said Tuesday he doubted things would work out as planned.
"Never in my experience have I seen a project of this type that didn't require operating subsidies," he said.
Heritage Springs residents did not make public objections in January. Nor did any of them appear before commissioners earlier this month when the board approved a financing plan for the proposed $12 million complex: $3.4 million in tourist taxes, $3.8 million in parks impact fees and $4.7 million from the proceeds of a bond issue.
Some of them said they hadn't been following the issue closely; others said they didn't know until recently that commissioners had settled on the Trinity site.
Association president Dorothy Stix said in an interview that the group in less than a week had rallied the residents by knocking on doors, holding a large meeting and sending out an e-mail blast. "We want them to know how we feel," she said.
On Tuesday, after hearing from residents for more than an hour, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said she'd be willing to take the first procedural step toward reconsidering Trinity as a site. If she makes such a motion, it would need at least four votes to pass.
Hildebrand had previously said she had concerns about how the project would affect Heritage Springs, but said she'd never heard from that many residents. Now that they made a showing, and threatened legal action, she said it's worth taking another look.
"Did we rush to judgment?" she said in an interview after the meeting.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.