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Zephyrhills must make livability its prime focus

By C.T. BOWEN
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002

At the time, New Port Richey's mayor said one thing he disliked about his city was its too frequent reliance on outside consultants.

Peter Altman made his remarks during a mid 1990s City Council visioning session -- run by a consultant.

If nothing else, you had to appreciate the candor.

Roberta Bollman brought a huge dose of candor to a similar visioning session Thursday evening. It was the second of three meetings to help map out the future of the city of Zephyrhills. Bollman sat quietly for nearly two hours before speaking.

"We're looking to move," she said matter-of-factly. "I don't like it here."

She used to live in west Pasco, just outside New Port Richey. She loved it. She also has lived in Hudson and, for nine years, in St. Petersburg. For the past two years, she and her husband have resided in a seniors-only community near U.S. 301 and State Road 39 in unincorporated east Pasco.

She is upset at the trashy appearance of some locales. Crime is more of a problem than people realize: Someone stole their newly purchased three-wheeled bicycles. She asked a friend, a 22-year resident, where she goes when she travels to downtown Zephyrhills.

"I never go," the friend responded.

Bollman thinks Zephyrhills has strong attributes. Some of it is aesthetically pleasing. But she agrees with her friend.

"It's very nice, but there's nothing downtown," Bollman said, noting that the coming Super Wal-Mart is a much-needed addition.

Twenty-nine people attended the meeting Thursday. They talked about annexations, public involvement, community spirit, disaster preparedness and impact fees. But Bollman's frank assessment cut to the chase: livability.

The session was intended to gather strategies on how to address previously identified strengths and weaknesses. For brevity's sake, we will focus on just one of the five themes, public facilities. They included the lack of a large public meeting space or an arts/cultural venue and the need for inline skating and skateboarding facilities for the kids.

In the spirit of being candid, we offer our own ideas on filling those needs.

Having friends in high places helps, so get to know your new state senator.

The redrawn legislative maps approved Friday by the Florida Supreme Court show Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as Zephyrhills' new senator. Lee is expected to be a key member of the Senate leadership under Senate President-designate Jim King. Lee also is a likely candidate to succeed King as Senate president in 2004.

After introducing Lee to Zephyrhills, point out the lack of a large community meeting space. Then, remind the senator that the city bit its tongue last year at a legislative delegation meeting, withdrawing a planned request for $500,000 in state help to buy land for a cultural and civic center.

When the economy improves enough to put legislators back into the turkey business, make sure Zephyrhills isn't forgotten.

Stop waiting on an offer from Zephyrhills Spring Water Co. for Krusen Field and assemble your own list of demands. Ask for a new park with ball fields, lights, concession stands, bleachers, parking and enough land for the community center. Toss in a better truck route to and from the warehouse and limit hours of operation to appease noise concerns from the neighbors.

You might not get everything. But there's no harm in aiming high.

Forget the idea of an arts center between Dade City and Zephyrhills. It duplicates an ongoing effort just a few miles away. The Community Aging and Retirement Services is renovating the former Crescent Theater into a senior center and is in partnership with the Heritage Arts Association on a proposed annex for a community theater/artists' showcase.

The performing arts center at Wesley Chapel High also provides a cultural venue within a short drive of the city's western boundary.

Don't abandon the idea of a skate park, even though Dade City is pursuing one. New Port Richey and Dade City are both partnering with Pasco County to build facilities appealing to enthusiasts of ESPN's X Games. The New Port Richey park could open in the next several months. Dade City has yet to identify a permanent site.

Why can't an acre or two be carved out for skate ramps at the park proposed to be built by the water company in exchange for Krusen Field? It's not unreasonable to ask Pasco County for $60,000 -the same as New Port Richey and Dade City -- to help buy equipment. Doing so helps with another citizen-identified shortcoming: city-county coordination.

None of these goals is out of reach. Zephyrhills has a distinct advantage over Land O'Lakes,which is undergoing a similar visioning exercise. Land O'Lakes, with no taxing authority, will have to rely on government grants or other undetermined financing mechanisms to accomplish its goals. Zephyrhills, as an incorporated government with a growing tax base, does not. It can control its own future.

"There is so much good here," said Bollman, "But within 10 years we better be ready. New Tampa will be here."

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