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Parkland purchase sought

The city's stalled plan to buy 80 acres of riverfront parkland was revived Wednesday night. After hearing much support for the plan during a public hearing, the City Council voted 3-1 to direct its staff to approach the land's owner about a new deal.

Council members also told the staff to find out if the seller would be willing to delay the sale until the city applied for state grants.

With a few exceptions, most of the 50 residents who attended the public hearing told council members the same thing: buy the land along the Pithlachascotee River.

"I think this land needs to be saved, not just for New Port Richey, but for the state," said Mike Hughes. Hughes, who lives along the northern edge of the river, brought a videotape to the hearing and showed a manatee swimming in the river behind his home. "If you pass this up, you are making a foolish mistake."

The public hearing was held by the city to gather comments on satisfying the requirements of the city's comprehensive growth plan, a sort of blueprint for future growth. Among other things, the plan calls for the city to provide a certain amount of open space, parks and recreation trails by the year 2000.

Council member Debra Prewitt voted against the measure, while council member Nelson Vogel did not attend.

Planning and Zoning Director Michael Sherman, who helped put the plan together, said the land would be a boon for the city, helping them to accomplish those goals at one time.

"The way I see it, we could with the 80 acres, provide our full level of service required by the year 2000," he said. "Eighty acres is a lot of land."

But not all the residents who attended favored the city reviving the land-purchase issue.

"I thought this was a dead issue," John Silver said. "We had a straw ballot on this and the people spoke."

Silver referred to a straw ballot in April, when

the city asked residents whether the city should buy the land for $700,000. It was defeated by fewer than 200 votes. The residents' reaction at the meeting shows that there is a still a great deal of interest in the land purchase, said Mayor Peter Altman.

"It sounded to me like a mandate," he said during a break in the meeting. "I think they would have said yes (to the straw ballot) if we could get money from the state."

The land purchase has again become an issue for two recent reasons. Members of the Friends of the Cotee River, a political action committee, asked council members to look into acquiring state grants to buy the land. The second was a preliminary draft of a Tampa consultant's report on water quality in the Pithlachascotee River. One of the study's tentative recommendations is to preserve some land along the river to serve as a natural stormwater filter.

Some residents even expressed a willingness to help the city pay for the land. Alicia Andry, 16, vice president of the ecology club at Gulf High School, offered her club's services to raise some money.

"We cold hold fund-raisers and pool the money and then donate it to the city," she said. "It might help."