An ex-Pasco sheriff stands to profit from being a nuisance, but it is a worthwhile public investment that will bolster a land preserve while bringing peace to a central Pasco neighborhood.
Monday, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District will consider an agreement with Pasco County to split some private land that the district is about to buy. The district wants to acquire 52 acres, including 17 acres of freshwater canals and narrow ponds, from Management Investment Services Inc., a company controlled by John Short, the one-time Pasco sheriff removed from office in 1984.
Short obtained the land through tax deed sales and turned it into a noisy hunting site that sits between the back yards of 28 homes in the Lake Padgett Estates East subdivision in Land O'Lakes and the massive water-district-owned Cypress Creek Preserve. Neighbors, with little satisfaction, have frequently complained about the unabated gunfire near their homes to the district, Pasco sheriff's deputies, county commissioners and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers.
The district prohibits hunting on the 8,100-acre Cypress Creek preserve. But gunfire is allowed on Short's land, even though it is in close proximity to private homes, because state laws voided a one-time local ordinance requiring a 300-foot buffer between an occupied dwelling and a person discharging a firearm.
That Short, once sworn to uphold the state's Constitution and its laws governing public safety, would turn a blind eye to legitimate concerns about a potentially deadly hazard, disturbing the peace, being a good neighbor and plain common sense is indicative of a man who still believes self interests top all others. Short's penchant for mixing personal business with running a public agency led to a grand jury indictment on corruption charges, but no criminal conviction. Gov. Bob Graham removed Short from office in 1984 and he ran unsuccessfully to regain the seat that year and again in 1988.
Under the proposed agreements, the district will buy the parcels for $90,000. It will keep the land east of the canal to expand its preserve and give Pasco County the water and the strip of land, less than 3 acres total, touching the back yards. The county has said it likely will turn over the small parcels to the 28 property owners and allow the homeowners association to own the canal.
Short acquired the land in 2004 for less than $17,000, meaning he will realize a profit of more than 500 percent on his investment. Still, the numbers point to a bargain for the water management district. A 2007 appraisal calculated the value of the site at $370,000.
The district started working on this deal more than two years ago and said it approached Short about a potential sale, not vice versa. Eric Sutton, director of the district's land resources, called the deal a no-brainer. For a modest cost, the district expands its preserve without having to assume the liability of managing the canal. Left unsaid: A noisy nuisance is about to disappear.
Sutton also acknowledged the district will need to be more vigilant about possible tax certificate sales near its holdings since the extended recession and falling real estate market could spur more opportunities.
The district governing board should approve this deal. Taking the land into public ownership is a logical remedy to a long-standing dispute and will eliminate the potentially unhealthy mix of belligerent gunfire and backyard gardening.