NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners voted Tuesday to move ahead with their long-planned purchase of the Gulf Harbors/Flor-a-Mar golf course property with plans to convert it into a neighborhood park surrounding a conservation area.
Several years ago, the county had agreed to buy the property, but the deal stalled when a resident filed legal action over the county’s plan to have homeowners pay for half the purchase. Tuesday’s vote by the commission has the county making the purchase first and working out how to have residents pay for their community park later.
The reason to move ahead now is because one of the major sticking points with the property was recently resolved when the owner completed the cleanup of soils contaminated with arsenic and pesticides. Earlier this month, commissioners asked for a new contract to be drawn up to purchase the site from Staryn Hinshaw as sole successor trustee of the Marshall A. Springer and Mary Margaret Springer Intervivos Trust Agreement.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey raised the issue, reminding her fellow commissioners that the neighborhood had no mandatory homeowners association that could purchase the golf course on its own and needed the county’s help to save the land for recreation rather than future development. “It’s just been so needed for our community,” said Starkey, who is also a resident.
The cost for the 50 acres is $1.2 million and the sale will be contingent on the state Department of Environmental Protection signing off on the cleanup.
The county officially started the purchase process in 2016 with plans to fund half the cost from the county’s fund for environmentally sensitive land purchases and the other half to be charged back to Gulf Harbors' 1,800 residents. The mechanism to charge residents through a municipal service benefit unit was stalled by the lawsuit. A key concern of the lawsuit was that the land owner might not pay for the remediation, placing the financial burden on residents instead.
Tuesday’s vote anticipates the county making the purchase using several funding sources including environmentally sensitive lands funds, Penny for Pasco proceeds and parks and recreation funds. The plan is to work out a payment program so $600,000 of the cost will come from community residents after the closing.
Diane Kobernick, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the county was not making a good decision on the price since the appraisal was done four years ago based on the value of the land for residential development. She said the $1.2 million purchase was for a non-essential project on land which will still have arsenic in the soil. She also said the taxing method for the residents was unfair, charging the same to all residents regardless of the value of their homes.
The Gulf Harbors Civic Association stood behind the purchase with the president of the group, Arthur Haedike, saying that most residents support the project. “We feel a park is the highest and best use of this property,” he said. “Frankly, I can’t see why anyone would object to having a park in their neighborhood.”
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Gulf Harbors was one of the original high–end communities in Pasco County, developed more than 50 years ago as a dredge–and–fill project creating canal–front lots leading to channels and the Gulf of Mexico. The 18–hole golf course, which opened in 1971, closed more than a decade ago.
The future plan includes having the county’s environmental lands program preserve 25 acres of salt marsh that attracts rare sandpipers and other migratory waterfowl. The remaining 25 acres would be turned into a passive park, potentially featuring a trail, dog–walking area and picnic site.