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Pasco calls for scaling back restaurant plans at Anclote River Park

A consultant’s report found no evidence of burials at a Native American mound within the park, but indicates there still may be graves there.
 
Consultant Stantec recently performed ground penetrating radar testing to determine if the marked Indian Mound at the Anclote River Park contained burials. While their report says it did not, it also notes that there still could be burials in other portions of the park.
Consultant Stantec recently performed ground penetrating radar testing to determine if the marked Indian Mound at the Anclote River Park contained burials. While their report says it did not, it also notes that there still could be burials in other portions of the park. [ Pasco County ]
Published Feb. 1|Updated Feb. 2

Ground penetrating radar tests on the Native American mound at Anclote River Park have found no evidence of burials there, although the report does say there may still be graves in the park given the history of the location.

However, Pasco County officials are now calling for prospective developer Keith Overton to dramatically downsize his proposal for a new restaurant there after months of protests from neighbors and Native American groups.

They are in negotiations with Overton, who was selected to build a restaurant, outdoor venue and expanded recreation areas at the park by the County Commission in 2022. In November he asked for an extension on his time to do his “due diligence” on the project.

The county responded that it would consider his request but tied it to shrinking the new restaurant footprint considerably, so as not to take away from the park’s natural ambiance.

Overton’s original plan included a 22,000-square-foot restaurant with a similar theme as the RumFish Grill or OCC Road House restaurants he has developed in Pinellas County. But the new extension letter from the county says that the restaurant, including dining areas, kitchen, performance space and retail office,shall cumulatively not exceed 3,000 square feet.”

The original artist rendering of the new restaurant planned for the Anclote River Park in Pasco County by Keith Overton.
The original artist rendering of the new restaurant planned for the Anclote River Park in Pasco County by Keith Overton. [ Keith Overton ]

In the letter, County Administrator Mike Carballa said he understood from his conversations with county commissioners that they “always intended to have a small restaurant footprint within the larger leased premises, to ensure adequate recreational areas and open space around the restaurant and to minimize commercial intrusions on the passive recreational park and users enjoyment of a natural setting.”

Carballa said he was only willing to extend the period of “due diligence” on moving forward with Overton’s plan if that size stipulation was formalized between the developer and the county.

Overton did not respond to a phone message seeking comment and a spokesperson for the county acknowledged but didn’t respond to questions relayed through email Wednesday and Thursday.

It wasn’t until after Overton’s plans were initially approved that neighbors and parkgoers in the area raised alarm about big changes there given the mound and a freshwater spring called the Spanish Well. Since that time, local residents have mounted a petition drive to save the natural appeal of the park and groups of Indigenous people have come forward to protest the plans.

The county hired Stantec to study the grounds in response to those concerns. Its initial report, released March 31, found various artifacts but was not conclusive about whether the site included burials, so the county asked for an additional study.

The consultant’s report completed last month detailed findings from the ground penetrating radar that “did not indicate any definitive burial signatures” at the mound site.

However, it “did show evidence of a possible archaeological pit feature or past excavation unit within the top of the mound, discrete mound construction layers, and buried reflective areas that could be related to archaeological features such as trash pits or burial interments.”

The boat ramps are seen at Anclote River Park Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023 in Holiday. Questions have been raised by several groups including local residents about the proposed changes to the park and it’s possible interference with the Indian mound and Spanish Well.
The boat ramps are seen at Anclote River Park Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023 in Holiday. Questions have been raised by several groups including local residents about the proposed changes to the park and it’s possible interference with the Indian mound and Spanish Well. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Previous studies of the area where the park now exists reference that there had also at some point been a ramp to the mound and Stantec concluded, “With the destruction of the ramp at some point in the past, special care should be taken to halt any erosion on the westerly slope of the mound in case human remains might be present in this area.”

Other Florida mound ramps were found to be burial spots, the report says. It also suggests that the county needs to monitor the heavy vegetation near the mound because “Tree falls can result in extensive damage to mound sites, especially along their slopes.”

The consultant suggested that the county limit the number of walking paths that are currently located on the mound itself and to use nondestructive materials, such as mulch or pine needles, for those paths.

Stantec also suggests that since the county has kept groups representing Florida indigenous organizations informed of developments at the park, “Tribal Nations should be consulted in the development of new interpretive signage so that appropriate and accurate themes and information can be shared with the interested public. Other aspects of the park’s history, like the Spanish Well, historic occupations of the area, and creation of the park itself should also be included where appropriate.”

Stantec also acknowledged that finding the right balance between use of the park and acknowledgment of the past history is an important county responsibility.

“The difficulties in addressing the needs of a sacred site with the interest and access of the general public can be great, but through consultation and informed stewardship it is possible to strike the appropriate balance,” the consultant wrote.