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Struggle develops over community center site

While the Carrollwood Community Center is meant to unite people for a common goal, the project has spawned two groups in conflict over where the facility should be built.

It comes down to either a 31-acre plot off Lowell Road, or 5 acres at the Carrollwood Village Golf & Tennis Club.

Committee members who led the push for a community center tried this week to persuade key officials to support their recommendation to buy the land off Lowell Road. But their sales pitch was stymied by a group of homeowners who prefer that it be at the golf club.

The two groups clashed Tuesday at a standing-room-only meeting of the Carrollwood Area Association of Neighbors, which was attended by County Commissioner Jim Norman, Ed Radice, director of county Parks and Recreation, and Mike Kelly, who heads the county's real estate department.

"I challenge you to organize a committee and go for the $3-million," Tom Jones, president of CAAN, told the group who opposed the Lowell Road choice. "I welcome the competition. That money is not locked up and if you want to put it on the golf course, then go for it."

It had taken three years for the search committee to find a site it could recommend for the center. The county officials were invited to this meeting for advice on how the group should move on the request for county financial support, but instead they became mediators in a sometimes heated debate.

Radice told the crowd he hoped they could come to a consensus.

"When it comes down to it, I'm the one who has got to stand before the county commissioners and make a recommendation," he said. "I've got to believe in my heart that we can build a facility on the site we pick. I've also got to assure the board that I've listened to the people."

The county has promised $3-million of community investment tax money to build a community center that would serve the roughly 20,000 people in Carrollwood. CAAN will also ask for another $1-million in park impact fees, said John Miley, who has led the campaign for the center.

The steering committee has recommended that the picturesque property off Lowell Road be purchased from members of the Carenno family because it is centrally located, accessible by foot by many in Carrollwood, and one of the area's last remaining large tracts.

While the land would have to be reappraised, county officials who considered the site for a library estimated its value at $940,000.

Carrollwood Village golf club owner John Blaeser had initially asked for $1.25-million for the 5 acres he wants to sell the county. However, last week Blaeser said he might be willing to sell the land for less, if it's supported by an appraisal.

Blaeser also has offered to pay half the cost of the appraisal and provide food service to the community center through his restaurant and banquet facilities at the country club.

Several Carrollwood Village homeowners are against Blaeser's proposal because they fear if the community center is built there, it could set a precedent for more development on the golf course.

Debbie Armstrong was among those who prefer the golf club.

"I support whatever is the best use of the money available," she said. "The impact on the community, roads already in place and the apparent willingness of Mr. Blaeser to bend over backward and work with the county to get the community center," all support that option.

Armstrong who lives in the Pine Hollow subdivision, was among several homeowners who spoke against the Lowell Road site because of its proximity to their homes. Some opposed that site because of traffic concerns.

"I'm going to take this information back to my neighborhood," Armstrong said. "I'm sure there will be a great deal of interest in these discussions. It appears as though four neighborhoods immediately impacted have not been involved in this recommendation."

Norman assured the audience that the County Commission will consider all proposals and that no decision on a site will be made without public notice and public hearings.

"We have to do things by the book, and we will," Norman said. "You will not be left on the sidelines."

Tim Grant can be reached at 226-3471 or at grantsptimes.com.

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