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Oldsmar's plan to annex land near racetrack hits obstacle

OLDSMAR — The city's attempt to annex about 100 acres owned by Tampa Bay Downs hit a slight snag last week.

The land, which is across Race Track Road from the track, is currently part of the East Lake Special Fire Control District.

A bill on this morning's agenda of the state Senate community affairs committee would prevent any city from annexing part of the district unless it plans to take it all — a move that would require voter approval.

Back in February, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, said he would pull Tampa Bay Downs from the list of prohibited areas if track officials produced a letter saying they wanted the land to be in Oldsmar.

He said the intent of the bill was to protect communities from involuntary annexation, not voluntary annexation.

Tampa Bay Downs and Progress Energy, which runs a transmission line through the property, did just as Nehr requested.

But the letters they've provided are not enough. Nehr wants a majority of the Pinellas Legislative delegation to sign off on the change, too. That 12-member group endorsed the original version of the bill in December — before Oldsmar publicly disclosed its negotiations with Tampa Bay Downs.

"What we have to do is file an amendment for the bill," Nehr said. "The Tallahassee staff doesn't want to write the amendment unless they know it's already been approved" by the delegation.

Oldsmar officials said Nehr should have shared that with them from the start.

Vice Mayor Doug Bevis said he was "very, very disappointed that what we were told by Peter Nehr was not what was adhered to.

"He told us to get the letters from the representatives of those companies and (he) would take (Tampa Bay Downs) out of there. That didn't happen."

Nehr said city officials should have known they would need to get the delegation's support. Although he didn't know if he told Oldsmar of the requirement, he said "it's been in the (delegation's) regulations for a long time. It's not new."

Mayor Jim Ronecker said the process has "been frustrating." He spent three hours last week trying to get members of the delegation on the phone. He said Tuesday that he'd made his pitch to all of them.

"If they don't have the approval of the majority of the delegation," Ronecker said, "they're going to read the bill as written."

The attorney for Tampa Bay Downs, Gordon Schiff, could not be reached for comments Tuesday.

In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times in February, he said annexation is logical because Oldsmar surrounds the 100 acres on all sides. "Oldsmar services are in the vicinity," Schiff said.

Ronecker echoed that sentiment in a letter to state Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, who chairs the committee set to hear the bill this morning.

"It is impractical for East Lake Fire District to provide fire and EMS service to a part of the subject area because no roads connect the District directly to the geographic area," Ronecker wrote. "Access is through the city of Oldsmar."

If Tampa Bay Downs' land is annexed by the city, its zoning designation — commercial recreation — would give the racetrack leeway to develop anything from an office to a hotel on the land.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Oldsmar's plan to annex land near racetrack hits obstacle 04/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 8:08pm]
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