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Agenda packed with rhubarb fodder

The Port Richey City Council takes up a trio of touchy issues: the Building Department, gambling boats and the river.

By MATTHEW WAITE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2002


PORT RICHEY -- Tonight's Port Richey City Council meeting will feature just about every controversial topic in recent memory in one meeting.

On the agenda is a long awaited presentation on a waterfront development plan, talk about what to do about longstanding problems in the Building Department, and more talk about the warring gambling ships and the Pithlachascotee River.

The hottest issue right now, though, is the Building Department. In the past month, a quietly conducted investigation started by the city manager and city attorney was made public, and the council has talked about doing more investigating.

However, at their most recent meeting, council members couldn't decide how or what to investigate. Instead, they put it off until tonight's 7:30 meeting.

If the council is going to do its own probe, it will be at least the third major investigation into the department in the past two years, and by one count, it will be the sixth.

Building Official Bill Sanders wrote in a June 14 memo that in addition to the Port Richey police investigation in 2000 and the grand jury investigation in 2001, there have been three investigations into officials by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations.

Sanders acknowledges one was into something he did, but investigators determined the complaint was unfounded.

And, according to DBPR spokeswoman Lonnie Parizek, the department won't even acknowledge an investigation until a finding of probable cause is made. No finding has been made against any building official who has worked in Port Richey since the 1990s.

City officials said they have been contacted by DBPR investigators recently, but DBPR doesn't acknowledge an investigation.

The other two big items on the agenda -- gambling boats and waterfront development -- are linked. Council members have been talking for months about controlling development along the riverfront, but have always delayed any action for an engineer's plan that was in the works.

Tonight, the council will get its first look at that plan, called an overlay district. The plan would create new zoning classes on the waterfront, and limit how waterfront property may be used.

Two of the biggest users of the waterfront now are the gambling boats. The council has been talking about limiting gambling boats on the waterfront for months.

Those two companies -- Stardancer Casino Cruises and Paradise of Port Richey -- have been battling each other in Circuit Court over accusations that Stardancer boats scour the bottom of the river. A judge put in a temporary restraining order against Stardancer, limiting when its boats can sail, while a permanent order is under consideration.

Tonight, the council will be shown a video from Paradise owner Mollie Kolokithas. Kolokithas claims the video shows her competitors' boats stirring up the river bottom.

-- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com

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