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Beverly Hills to finally get new basketball court

Beverly Hills will be getting a new basketball court, but you can't quite call it a new park, the County Commission decided Tuesday.

Also, work should begin shortly to improve canals and water flow in portions of Lake Tsala Apopka.

The vote for the basketball court follows several years of controversy as Beverly Hills developer Ron Collins was slow to build parks as required by the subdivision's original development order.

Some have questioned whether the county should add any recreational options for the growing number of younger families living in the retirement community.

Beverly Hills has been without a basketball court since 1991, when the Recreational Association built a shed atop the court at Lake Park after controversy over youngsters playing there.

Commissioners agreed to spend about $20,000 to build the court off Roosevelt Avenue, next to an existing softball field and the development's sewage treatment plant.

Because the commission couldn't come up with money for paving and drainage, the court will be built in the middle of a grassy field.

"Any improvement of recreational opportunities is a positive step," said Phil Princiotta, a parent who has lobbied for more park space.

He said the limited scale of the project shows the continued need for a central park in Beverly Hills that people of all ages would use.

The basketball-court project has been delayed until now as the county fought to obtain title to the property and by uncertainty over whether it would qualify as a "community park" under the county comprehensive plan.

Unless it is at least 20 acres, a community park cannot get recreational impact fees to cover for improvements. A total of $145,000 is available for the north central part of the county.

County staffers were looking for ways to tap those funds; parks director Karen Barnett estimated it would cost $340,000 for paving, improvements and additional ballfields around the so-called Baskett Park.

The commissioners decided Tuesday not to delay any longer. The impact-fee money may now go toward a park in a different location, possibly even in Citrus Hills or Citrus Springs, according to Assistant County Administrator Steve Wylie.

In other matters:

Swiftmud answers: Last week, the commissioners grilled directors of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, about whether the agency would improve the quantity and quality of water in the Tsala Apopka chain of lakes.

Bill Hennessey, government-affairs coordinator for Swiftmud, came back Tuesday with some answers.

Work should begin within a few weeks around the 8,500-acre Potts Preserve property Swiftmud owns in northeast Citrus, he said.

Swiftmud will fill up a canal that at times has drained water from the Hernando pool of Lake Tsala Apopka into the Withlacoochee River. Some Swiftmud critics blame that canal as one possible contributing cause to the record drop in lake water levels since 1988.

At the same time, Swiftmud will remove old dikes and a bridge that now impede navigation through canals on the Potts property. That work could be done within three weeks, Hennessey said.

The bad news is that a separate canal project, the dredging of the Leslie Heifner canal, will not begin for at least a year.

The dredging will allow water to again flow from the Withlacoochee River into the Floral City pool of Tsala Apopka; water levels are too low for that to happen. But several permits must be obtained first, Hennessey said. The deepening of the Orange State canal will take even longer because the entire structure must be lowered.

Hennessey also said Swiftmud is willing to consider sharing the cost with the county of dredging canals within Tsala Apopka for navigational purposes.

Variances: Commissioner Vicki Phillips said the county Planning and Development Review Board appears to be approving too many variances for new homes, especially for waterfront properties.

The commissioners agreed to instruct planning board members about the county's standards for variances, which require a demonstration of hardship.

Landfill fines: The commissioners agreed to settle outstanding fines leveled by the state Department of Environmental Protection over the landfill. The county will compensate the state by spreading part of its stockpile of railroad ballast rock on trails in the Withlacoochee State Forest.