ZEPHYRHILLS — City Council members are digging in for a fight.
Frustrated that the state is pushing forward with plans to turn U.S. 301 into a one-way downtown thoroughfare, Zephyrhills officials agreed Monday night to step up their opposition to the $70 million project.
The city hopes to enlist state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, in the effort, said Todd VandeBerg, Zephyrhills' director of development.
"Being nice month after month hasn't gotten us anywhere," said City Manager Steve Spina. "Now we have to ante up and say this plan is not what is right for our community."
The proposal deals with widening a larger stretch of U.S. 301, but the opposition has centered on the downtown route. The existing road would become a one-way street heading north; all southbound traffic would be diverted to Sixth Street, which is already one-way. Eventually, both streets would be widened to three lanes.
The state Department of Transportation has argued the widening is needed to accommodate long-term growth. But opponents say the idea would turn the downtown district, hailed for its ability to draw tourists to shop and eat throughout the year, into a congested speedway that forces people to make U-turns to stop at downtown shops.
"I haven't changed my mind on (this issue)," said council president Jodi Wilkeson. "Placing a fast-moving, one-way thoroughfare through the middle of town will be harmful to our businesses."
Council members also vented their frustrations over the way the DOT has treated the city. Council member Luis Lopez said he thought that state officials have been patronizing when speaking to the city about the project.
"When this all started, I made it clear the DOT doesn't care what we think," Lopez said. "They tell us, 'Go play in the corner; we'll do what we want anyway.' "
The council also moved forward Monday night with renovation plans for Fire Station No. 2.
The downtown station, which had been damaged by flooding, will be fixed up in two stages, according to a memo by Spina. In stage one, city workers will demolish the inside of the building, lay tile, replace air-conditioning units, erect drywall and install ceiling tiles. In the second phase, an architecture and engineering firm will be hired to draw up plans to convert three bays into office space.
Spina said he estimates the first phase will cost less than $250,000.