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QUESTIONABLE ETHICS HAS LED TO PARKING MESS

Port Richey's historical preference to govern by personal acquaintance over sound public policy is on the verge of costing every property owner the ability to park vehicles on city streets.

Unable to control the overflow parking from the Whiskey River Sports Bar and Grill on Limestone Drive, the city is now investigating a possible citywide ban on street parking. The aim is to curb the neighborhood complaints and traffic safety concerns that stem from a busy commercial venture operating in a residential neighborhood.

Don't blame the live music and all-you-can-eat wings. The roots of this problem reach to 1995 and the flawed zoning decision allowing then-property owner Joe Licari to build a bar/restaurant on residential land abutting the Pithlachascotee River. Licari, a private businessman who displayed a propensity for hanging around City Hall during both council meetings and regular business hours, had influential allies. The city's then-building official, for instance, accepted an unsecured loan from Licari and lobbied the council on his behalf. Later a grand jury inquiry revealed a council member/acting mayor had pressured different building officials to approve the restaurant's operations for Licari despite its failing to meet building code requirements.

(Licari sold the property in 2000 and its owners are now listed as a limited liability corporation managed by Richard Sliz, the former real estate manager for Pasco County government.)

Putting an eatery/tavern in a residential neighborhood was illegal spot zoning that even the council recognized. Licari got his way anyway after a circuit court mediator instructed the city to rehear the case. Allowing the same business - a so-called non-conforming use - to later expand also was improper and exacerbated the parking problems that are common today.

Port Richey's current council and its recently hired city manager, Tom O'Neill, are more professional than some of their predecessors, but they are hamstrung by the dubious ethics of the past. A proposed on-street parking ban is severe and an inconvenience to many. But, at least City Hall is attempting to treat all property owners uniformly rather than singling out one business for special treatment.

How refreshing.

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