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    New Tarpon commissioner plans public advisory panel

    Peter Nehr says the goal is to seek out city residents' problems and their concerns.

    By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 6, 2003

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Newly elected city commissioner Peter Nehr won't be sworn into office until next week, but he's already working on his to-do list.

    The Sponge Docks shop owner on Wednesday said he hopes his plan to form a citizens' advisory group in the next three weeks will help him get in touch with the city's needs. The goal is to seek out city residents' problems and concerns. The informal group would meet four times a year and would be open to all comers, Nehr said.

    "I want to talk to people who are involved in youth groups, in charities and businesses across the city," said Nehr, who replaces former Commissioner Beverley Billiris. "I plan to talk with a whole mix of people. I want to hear what the people I represent are thinking about."

    Nehr, 50, declined to give details on who he hopes to name to the 12- to 15-member board. He said he had not yet discussed his plan with the city's four other commissioners, but he hopes they'll participate. The board is Nehr's personal project and does not require the sanction of the city, he said.

    "If we're going to be a winning team, we're going to have to work together," Nehr said of his fellow commissioners. "They are all welcome to come and hear the public's concerns."

    Teamwork will be on everyone's minds when Nehr is sworn in at the city's next commission meeting on Tuesday. Commissioners will tackle a series of tough issues in the coming year before the next election, with development and budget concerns likely to top the list. But city officials say they hope the polite tone of the recent commission race will carry over into commission meetings.

    "We'll always act professional," said Mayor Frank DiDonato. "We'll agree to disagree when we have to and we'll try to do what's right for the people of Tarpon Springs."

    Tuesday's agenda includes a discussion of the controversial 160-townhouse development project at the former Anclote Manor psychiatric hospital. Nehr has been especially vocal in his opposition to Miami-based developer Lennar Homes' initial plan throughout his campaign, citing concerns about overbuilding.

    He is scheduled to meet with the developer to review changes at the end of this week, before it is submitted to the commission.

    "When you have a project of this magnitude, you have to make sure it's the right project, because you can't very well just tear it down once it's built," Nehr said.

    -- Candace Rondeaux can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or

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