The opportunity to see hidden parts of Pasco County on foot, bike or other non-vehicular means is something county leaders hold precious.
The topic of multi-use trails comes up in many of the county leadership’s conversations, whether they are discussing park improvements or new developments. Earlier this month, commissioners heard a different perspective — pushback from residents in the city of San Antonio.
City Mayor John T. Vogel II spoke out at last week’s County Commission meeting, urging the county to work with his community on plans for the Orange Belt Trail route. Until now, he said, city residents didn’t believe the county was listening to their concerns about running the trail through residential areas.
Later in the meeting, a letter he and the city commission signed was read to county commissioners. It voiced strong opposition to one of the routes under consideration for the trail, the one that runs it through residential areas adjacent to homes. The project has been under discussion for several years and is projected to run from Trinity to Trilby with the city of San Antonio in its path.
While San Antonio residents don’t mind the idea of the trail, the letter clearly opposes the option known as B1 because it “poses significant drawbacks and concerns for our community.”
Privacy, safety and noise pollution are among the concerns, the letter states. “The increased foot and bicycle traffic in these areas may disrupt the tranquility and security that residents have long enjoyed in their homes, qualities that many have sought after and appreciated in their decision to call San Antonio home.”
The letter from the city cited concerns about the potential for more littering, vandalism and other undesirable activities so close to their homes and property. Traffic congestion and safety were also cited as the B1 route would take the trail onto small residential streets including Railroad Avenue, Michigan Avenue and Joe Herrmann Drive.
The letter concluded by urging more dialog with the county over the route because city officials said they didn’t feel like the county had heard their concerns. In addition to city leader signatures, the letter also included approximately 150 signatures of local residents.
County officials said they have included San Antonio in the discussion, sharing the information about alternatives in the earliest stages of the process and conducting a local public input session for the city recently to continue to gather specific thoughts and concerns.
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The Orange Belt Trail is projected as a 37-mile path designed to connect Pasco County with Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties. The trail was envisioned to use some rights of way from the old Orange Belt rail line, which was constructed in the late 1800s. Some of those portions of the trail in northeastern Pasco County feature scenic canopies of live oak trees.
The trail route is expected to run some sections along local roadways but also to cut through lush, natural areas and historic agricultural tree lines across the county. The path will connect with various other trail networks and at the northern end connect to the Withlacoochee State Trail, one of the longest in the state at 46 miles.
Initial cost estimates for the Orange Belt Trail run approximately $40 million with funding expected to come from the Penny for Pasco, state funds for non-motorized vehicle pathways and additional individual trail funds. The Pasco County Commission is scheduled for further discussion about the plan in the spring.
An up-to-date cost estimate including inflation is expected at that time, said county spokesperson Ryan Hughes.