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Forum courts the mobile home vote

Commission candidates got a chance Thursday to appeal to one-third of the city's population, the people who live in Largo's 42 mobile home parks.

At the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce building on First Avenue SW, three of the four candidates took advantage of the opportunity to tell members of the Largo Mobile Home Council how the city should be operated the next three years.

A city election March 10 will choose two commissioners. The winners will serve three-year terms. Commission members are elected citywide.

At the forum Thursday morning, the candidates talked about road improvements, the development of a park in the heart of the city, and the city budget.

Although council members listened intently, President Jim Mulhall said the group would not endorse anyone this year.

"We got in trouble with some of the members when we did it before," he said.

Incumbent Bob Jackson, who has been on the commission 16 years, told council members he favors taking a closer look at a proposed extension to Wild Acres Road, which runs north off Ulmerton Road but dead-ends before it reaches Fulton Street.

Until 300 nearby residents showed up at City Hall last month to protest extending Wild Acres so that it connects with Fulton Street, the city and county had planned to begin construction on the project sometime this year.

Jackson, 58, said he agrees with a new plan that calls for an engineering study of the proposed extension before deciding whether it's feasible.

"Before you form an opinion, you always need to study," said Jackson, a middle school principal who originally said he favored the extension. "I promise to take a good second look before authorizing any construction."

If Wild Acres is extended, it will provide a route from Ulmerton Road north to East Bay Drive.

Jim Abel, president of the Largo Homeowners Association, has challenged Jackson for commission Seat 5. Abel, 66, told council members he is serving on a committee to evaluate the need for improvements to West Bay Drive.

Abel said the committee has proposed widening West Bay by adding a middle turn lane and additional feet to both outside lanes. The cost could be as high as $3-million, Abel said.

Although West Bay is a state road, "the state won't do anything about it," Abel said. "So it's a Largo problem."

In the race for Seat 6 on the commission, incumbent Ned Ford, 70, has been challenged by newcomer Mark Yegge, 26.

Yegge, who owns a T-shirt shop in Clearwater, was out of town and did not attend the forum.

Ford, a lawyer who has served seven years on the commission, called a downtown redevelopment plan rejected by the commission last year "a farce."

"We spent too much money for a report done by out of state people that could have been done by our own staff," Ford said. "It was totally unrealistic. That's why I voted against it."

The city paid $51,500 for the report by consultants in Connecticut. The report called for lavish improvements to West Bay Drive.

Ford said he would favor the city improving the intersection of West Bay and Fourth Street.

"Beyond that, I'm not interested," Ford said.

As for extending Wild Acres, Ford said he is willing to wait for the engineer's report. Abel does not favor the road extension.

All the candidates say they favor some amenities currently planned for Largo Central Park but don't want the city to overspend on the project.

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