Altruism shouldn't come with an ulterior motive. But that is the case in the tiny east Pasco municipality of San Antonio where a candidate for Pasco County commission is offering to donate 1.86 acres to the city.
This supposed gift has more strings attached than a marionette and city officials are correct to proceed cautiously to ensure the local government isn't used as a puppet for someone's private gain.
At issue is land known as Lake Emily, a parcel near San Antonio City Hall that is a dry basin now, but fills with water during heavy rainfall. As Times staff writer Chuin-Wei Yap detailed, John Nicolette, a Tampa firefighter, east Pasco rancher and candidate for the District 1 Pasco commission seat, purchased the land for $3,000 in 2003 from a private partnership that included his brother-in-law.
Nicolette later offered to donate the land to San Antonio, a city commissioner said, and Nicolette put the suggestion in writing in a 2006 application to rezone the land. Changing the land-use designation to residential increases its value, and increases the size of the tax write-off for the donor.
The City Commission shouldn't have to consider rezoning a sometimes lake into a home-building site in order to obtain the property for public use. The city leaders should be allowed to accept the land — if they choose to — and then use it as they see fit.
Instead, Nicolette has argued:
• The land should be preserved for public use;
• The city could sell the land to adjoining land owners and use the cash for city parks;
• The city needed to rezone the land to protect itself from potential litigation under the state's Bert Harris Act.
This last doozy of an argument included the absurd explanation that Nicolette wouldn't want to see the city harmed from his grave. The city needed to approve the rezoning, Nicolette said at a public meeting, because "if I pass away and my wife decides to sell it, and she sells it to somebody, I believe, through legal individuals I have talked to, this will put the city in a situation where they could become liable.''
If he'd just deed the land to the city, no questions asked, his widow won't have the opportunity to sell the land. Likewise, a potential future buyer won't have cause to sue the city. Nor, would the land be available for development, which, Nicolette has said, is what he is seeking to avoid in the first place.
Frankly, all his stated objectives can be obtained by simply giving away the land. If the land isn't rezoned, it can't be developed.
If Nicolette wants a tax write-off, he should pay for an up-to-date appraisal and use that figure. Or, he could use $3,000, adjusted for inflation, since that was his original investment.
Mostly, Nicolette should stop trying to manipulate the government for personal gain. An individual seeking elected office should put the public's interests ahead of his own.