Nine years ago, the Oliver family had their pick of the lots in the new 900-home subdivision called Plantation Palms. They were just the third buyer in this Land O'Lakes golf course community and they decided to build their new home at the end of Coconut Grove Road on a cul-de-sac that had no neighbor on the south and a pond in the rear.
One other thing. It abutted two Little League baseball diamonds at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center. Only some evergreens and a chain-link fence separate their domicile from the public park that includes light towers, cheering parents and the ping of aluminum bats making contact with a baseball.
"It's just not as noisy and the lights are not as bothersome as you would have anticipated,'' said Michelle Oliver. "There's been no problems at all.''
So much so that eight months later her sister, Stacey Oparka, and her family built a house nearby on Sago Point Court. Their home is next to the soccer fields at the eastern edge of the complex. It's so close, you can see the family's large-screen television from the fields' bench area where kids sit during games.
"We hear nothing at all when we're inside the house,'' said Scott Oparka, Oliver's brother-in-law. "I was expecting it to be a lot worse.''
An occasional soccer ball has made it into the back yard, he said, but nothing's ever been broken.
I wish the residents of Heritage Springs, a retirement community in Trinity, could be so open-minded. Granted, the Land O'Lakes neighbors knew of the sports fields' existence before they built their homes. Heritage Springs homeowners say they just learned of a planned softball complex across Trinity Boulevard from their neighborhood even though it has been publicized since the fall and the county-owned land has been designated as a community park with lighted sports fields — comparable to Arthur Engle, J.W. Mitchell or John Burks parks elsewhere in Pasco County — since 1996.
Nationally, more than 7 million adults play slow-pitch softball. Meanwhile, the number of fast-pitch softball players is climbing, despite a decline in participation in other team sports in 2009, a drop attributed to the economy and fewer opportunities because of school budget cuts. Those statistics, courtesy of the trade group of sporting goods manufacturers, indicate that softball is a popular sport.
Except in Heritage Springs.
The proposed softball complex now shares characteristics usually associated with a hazardous waste dump. It will be bad for the environment. It will cause stormwater runoff flooding. It will trigger traffic, noise and light pollution, and create safety hazards for emergency vehicles. Let's not forget: It'll disrupt a retiree's golf game. And, when all else fails, tell people it will destroy habitat for the endangered Florida panther.
These mostly disingenuous arguments are courtesy of the residents of the Heritage Springs community who shared them Tuesday with Pasco commissioners. A more truthful argument would have been "not in my back yard.'' They simply don't want softball fields and advocate, instead, for a library and a passive park, two components on a 2005 conceptual drawing for the land upon which the county never acted. (If there are flooding concerns, how come nobody is worried about 246 paved parking spaces that would come with a library and passive park?)
The library? Heritage Springs voters should consider their own role in that demise. Twenty-seven months ago, more than 71 percent of them voted for Amendment 1, giving themselves an additional property tax break, but limiting government money available for nonessentials. The county is now contracting, not expanding, library services.
Likewise, the Amendment 1 tax breaks, the bursting real estate bubble and the recession-driven drop in tax receipts have the county looking for ways to partner with the private sector on some operations. Hence, the idea of using tourism dollars, impact fees and proceeds from a previous bond sale to build a $12 million, five-field softball complex for the locals to use during the week and to boost tourism by attracting out-of-town teams to weekend tournaments run by a private company.
Residents of Heritage Springs promise a legal battle and a $50,000 treasury to finance their fight to block the softball complex. Here's a more prudent idea: They should talk to the people in Land O'Lakes who live near the significantly larger complex there. There's been no diminished quality of life and no reduction in property values.
Then the Heritage Springs residents could consider another strategy. They could start forming a 55-and-over softball team.