Pasco County commissioners just blew $60,000 to study where not to build a proposed softball complex intended to lure weekend tourists and weeknight softball players.
The wasteful spending is just one of remnant of the commission decision Tuesday retreating from a January vote to build a five-field softball complex at county-owned land in Trinity. The 24-acre site along the south side of Trinity Boulevard is in public ownership, has permits in hand, is designated for park use, is part of an existing master drainage system and has adjacent land available for acquisition if future expansion is warranted.
No matter. The consulting study released in November by Sportsplex USA, which identified the Trinity site as the best available in Pasco, failed to measure an important consideration — political will.
Fifteen weeks after approving the Trinity Boulevard site, commissioners caved to the intense lobbying from the residents of the adjacent Heritage Springs neighborhood. The objectors offered a host of mostly unsubstantiated allegations of flooding, noise and light pollution, public safety concerns, traffic congestion and diminished property values tied to a complex near their 55-and-over golf course community. The residential push back, including 150 red-clad seniors packing two commission meetings and promising litigation, caught commissioners off guard.
"It's not like we're trying to put in a medical waste incinerator,'' said Commissioner Michael Cox.
Nonetheless, Cox joined a unanimous commission in scuttling the Trinity Boulevard site and instructing its staff to investigate three alternatives, all of which have access or permitting issues. One, adjacent to the Odessa Elementary School under construction near Trinity Memorial Gardens, also is opposed by some Heritage Springs residents, and involves a land swap with Trinity developer Jireh Inc.
None are ideal, particularly for a commission that had previously said it wanted to expedite development of the complex to take advantage of favorable construction prices.
Tying Pasco County's tourism promotion efforts to sports marketing dates to 1999, when Saddlebrook owner Tom Dempsey first pitched a tennis stadium near his Wesley Chapel resort. That's 11 years of talking and nearly 20 years of collecting a 2 percent tax on overnight accommodations without building a tourist attraction for which the tax is intended. The only thing fast about tourist development in Pasco County is how quickly the commission can trip over its own decisions.