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Tarpon Springs mayor criticizes planning board members

TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie vowed Tuesday to fire some members of the city's Planning and Zoning Board if they continue to heckle applicants and call them names.

During Tuesday's City Commission meeting, Archie said that the board, which is made up of volunteers, discourages development by bullying applicants who want to bring businesses to Tarpon Springs.

The seven-member Planning and Zoning Board considers applications from new businesses, among other duties. The panel cannot approve or halt new development but makes recommendations to the commission.

Peter Dalacos and Bill Vinson, both members of the board, told commissioners Tuesday that they follow procedures and have not heard complaints.

But commissioners were not swayed. They pointed to the board's most recent meeting on Dec. 17, when members argued past midnight, often interrupting applicants and questioning them in an accusing tone. Board members often veered off-topic to discuss factors that are illegal to consider in development cases, said City Attorney Jim Yacavone.

During a previous meeting, Dalacos, a former city commissioner, called someone a "carpetbagger."

"That is disrespectful and rude," Archie said, calling Dalacos by name. "This is not a threat, but it is a promise. If you're disrespectful of people coming before the city, you should not be representing the people of Tarpon Springs, plain and simple."

City Manager Mark LeCouris said only one person has been removed from a board since he became manager in 2008. He advised the commission to proceed with care. Yet, he added, if commissioners wait too long to make changes, they may thwart the upswing in development projects proposed for 2013.

Commissioners did not remove any board members Tuesday, but they said they will do so soon if they don't see improvement. They also proposed ideas to encourage the board to fall into line.

Commissioner Jeff Larsen, who served on the Planning and Zoning Board for three years before he was elected to the City Commission, said members might benefit from a booklet or video focusing on their duties.

Commissioner Susan Slattery asked Archie and LeCouris to spell out their concerns to the board in a formal setting. But immediately, she expressed doubt that that would work. At least three people on the Planning and Zoning Board are veterans who know what they are doing, Slattery said.

"I used to come to these meetings, but now I watch them at home because it's become too much to bear," she said.

Board members Dalacos and Vinson seemed unmoved by the conversation, questioning commissioners' motives for raising the issue. Both suggested that some commissioners want to see certain projects approved without trouble.

"It concerns me when I hear about changing the composition of the board because of the issues that are coming before the board," Vinson said.

Commissioners also delayed committing to a $35,0000 settlement with Madison Professional Bldg, LLC, poised to build homes on a Bayshore Drive property that is going into foreclosure.

The settlement is a holdover from the property's previous owner, Daniel Comeau, who illegally cleared 55 trees in 2006 and accrued $245,500 in fines and replacement costs.

LeCouris asked commissioners to "settle the case and move on." He said, "Let's get some homes out there and get some tax base."

Yet, some commissioners wondered whether the city is aiming too low.

"Where did we come up with the figure of $35,000?" asked Larsen. "I don't think we should approve something until we get more information."

Contact Brittany Alana Davis at bdavis@tampabay.com or 850-323-0353. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Tarpon Springs mayor criticizes planning board members 01/23/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 7:30pm]
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