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Growth concerns shape election: County Commission District 2

Incumbent Gary Bartell touts his 12-year record on development issues, while challenger Phillip Mulrain criticizes it.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002

HOMOSASSA -- In a way, both candidates for the District 2 County Commission race are running on Gary Bartell's record.

Bartell, a Republican, points to the accomplishments from his 12-year tenure. Democratic challenger Phillip Mulrain, a semiretiree from Lecanto, singles out other issues as Bartell's shortcomings.

Bartell has worked with residents and state and federal agencies to secure $13-million for sewer projects in Homosassa and Chassahowitzka, removing the septic tanks that have polluted those rivers for decades. He wants to seek grants to do the same for residents on the east side of the county, along the Tsala Apopka lake chain.

However, while retrofitting those environmentally sensitive areas, Bartell said, the county should continue to steer growth to the central part of the county by providing the roads, central water and sewer systems needed for those newcomers.

"One of the main issues for the next decade is trying to balance the inevitable growth with protection of our natural resources and our quality of life," Bartell said.

Mulrain says Bartell has wobbled in that balancing act, however, flip-flopping on some issues and delaying actions on others.

Years passed before the sewer grants rolled in, Mulrain said. Impact fees, the construction taxes that help pay for roads, schools and other facilities for the growing community, went unrevised for a decade, he said.

As for flip-flopping, Mulrain points to an Oct. 14, 2001, article in the Citrus County Chronicle that said Bartell would support the Halls River Retreat condominium project if scaled back from 63 to 54 units.

Bartell voted against the 54-unit time share project in February, saying it was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan and incompatible with the area.

"After 12 years, I am tired of wondering what vote he will take," Mulrain said.

Bartell said the Chronicle article was inaccurate.

According to a tape of the Oct. 9 commission meeting, kept on file at the Clerk of Court's office, Bartell listed several concerns and said the project's intensity "is an issue with me."

Community Development Director Chuck Dixon told commissioners he could meet with the developer and try to scale back the project, possibly to 54 units.

"I would have that interest, to at least listen," Bartell replied, according to the tape.

Mulrain took no position on the controversial condo project and said the issue would be decided by the courts.

Looking forward, both candidates have built their campaigns around preparing the county for the next wave of growth.

Mulrain talks about infrastructure: He says the county should widen Grover Cleveland Boulevard to four lanes and build a swimming pool in the Homosassa area to provide positive activities for youths.

But Bartell said Grover Cleveland Boulevard did not yet meet the traffic counts for widening. And he asks: Where would the money for such projects come from?

"We need to maintain a fiscally conservative budget you and I can afford," Bartell said.

Bartell said the county needed to stick to the comprehensive plan to guide growth to the right areas.

He also suggests linking land use decisions to water supplies. Before rezoning a piece of property for development, he said, commissioners should consider the availability of water in that area.

The issue came to the forefront this year when the Beverly Hills developer announced plans for Tuscany, a development with 3,500 to 4,000 new homes and two 18-hole golf courses. Beverly Hills residents scratched their heads: Last year the community faced the prospect of inverted water rates because its water use was too high.

Vacant land may be abundant in Citrus County, Bartell said, but water is not.

"We can't continue to take water out of the aquifer without knowing where the next drop is going to come from," Bartell said.

The candidates

GARY BARTELL, 57, a Republican, is finishing his third term on the County Commission. He moved to Citrus County in 1988 from Gulfport in Pinellas County, where he ran his own construction company and restored antique automobiles. He also served two terms on the Gulfport City Council, from 1984 to 1988. The Cleveland native grew up in Sarasota. He has a wife and four children.

* * *

PHILLIP MULRAIN, 56, a Democrat, is a semiretired Lecanto resident making his third run for Citrus County elected office. He managed the Colonial Steak Pit between 1984 and 1992, as well as the Elegante Pelican Lounge between 1993 and 1994. Since then he has dabbled in other jobs and does periodic handyman work. The Massachusetts native served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1970 and was active in the Air Force Reserves from 1973 to 1979. He worked for several computer companies before moving to Lecanto in 1983. He is divorced and has no children.

On the issues

Mandatory garbage collection

Mulrain: Opposes, saying it would infringe on residents' rights and wouldn't deter illegal dumping

Suncoast Parkway

Bartell: Says extension is needed through Citrus County.

Mulrain: Says extension is needed through Citrus County -- even though one of the proposed corridors would pave over his home.

Gas tax

Bartell: Sees no justification for proposed 2-cent increase.

Mulrain: Supports an increase to fund additional road projects.

Grover Cleveland Boulevard

Bartell: Says the two-lane road does not yet meet the standards for widening to four lanes, but the county has received a $287,500 state grant for turn lanes and other improvements.

Mulrain: Says road should be widened to four lanes now to handle traffic and serve as an evacuation route.

Halls River Retreat

Bartell: Voted against the 54-unit timeshare condo project, saying it was inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan.

Mulrain: Takes no position, saying the courts will decide the issue.

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