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    Week in review

    Deal might pave way for tennis courts

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 2, 2003

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County may have solved a number of disagreements in order to build a new professional tennis stadium complex off State Road 56 near Wesley Chapel.

    The county is working on a contract with Saddlebrook Resort, whose owner will build a $5.7-million tennis complex using tourism tax dollars. The initial proposed site relies on the extension of State Road 56.

    Lee Arnold and his business partner, Meadow Pointe developer Don Buck, have agreed to donate 15 acres as part of a stadium site in a future phase of their 3,500-home neighborhood.

    The Porter family, which owns the 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch, has resisted selling land for the road's right of way. The family has worried that the highway will be too late to serve their development.

    But now Pulte Homes has signed a contract with the Porter family to build on half of Wiregrass Ranch. That could guarantee an earlier completion date for construction, including the road.

    State agency backs off enforcing sandbar rules

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Sandbar rules were turning into quicksand, say state officials who have abandoned a stepped-up oversight plan for a sandbar north of Anclote Key, saying efforts to micromanage the island have proved cumbersome and overly restrictive.

    The decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection likely will end a yearlong battle between state officials committed to protecting the sandbar -- home to endangered birds -- and recreational boaters who don't want to see the party end at their favorite spot.

    Boaters using the sandbar will largely be responsible for policing themselves. The state will drop plans for a three-year pilot program intended to document the activities there.

    "We just felt that the solution became worse than the problem," said Scott Robinson, manager of Gulf Islands GEOpark, which includes Anclote Key. The state will allow overnight camping on the sandbar. Campfires also will be permitted, as will pets on leashes in a designated area on the north end of the sandbar. Alcohol will not be allowed.

    City flustered over its bingo regulations

    PORT RICHEY -- Ten years ago, Pasco County regulated commercial bingo halls out of existence after determining they made too much profit for their owners and too little for the charities they were supposed to support.

    Last fall, the Port Richey City Council passed its own bingo ordinance, but council members now say that, in hindsight, they did not realize the impact of their actions. On Tuesday, the City Council voted 3-2 to begin repealing the bingo ordinance passed in September that let the owners of a gambling boat open a commercial bingo hall.

    "None of us realized the implications," council member Phyllis Grae said last week,

    This month, the Kolokithas family, owners of the local cruise-to-nowhere gambling boat, paid $1-million for an old Red Cross building and opened a bingo hall.

    Charity bingo advocates said the ordinance would hurt their bingo games by drawing players to the commercial halls with bigger jackpots.

    The Kolokithas family has said it will sue the city to stay open.

    Safety assured, street will keep name of MLK

    TARPON SPRINGS -- W Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is here to stay.

    With no evidence that the street's name makes it hard for firefighters and police to find, city officials Tuesday said they have no plans to change the name.

    The city's decision comes a month after 233 residents signed a petition asking that two blocks of W Martin Luther King Jr. Drive be renamed Whitcomb Boulevard. Petition author Bob Jakeway, 58, complained that confusion over the street's name and location could delay emergency response times.

    Police, fire, city and county officials say those concerns are unfounded.

    Jakeway said in a telephone interview Tuesday that safety is not residents' only concern. Several in the neighborhood worry the street's name could affect property values.

    "I've talked to a few Realtors and people who have been in Tarpon Springs a long time and they've told me if we had the Whitcomb Boulevard name it could do nothing but help increase our property values," Jakeway said.

    In a letter to City Manager Ellen Posivach, police Chief Mark LeCouris said renaming the street could become "a racial issue that could divide the community."

    Lawyer's proposal: Ready, aim, settle

    INVERNESS -- An assistant state attorney smacked by new courthouse doors requested an unusual settlement from Citrus County: two hunting rifles with power scopes.

    After being injured in January by the automatic doors at the entrance of the new courthouse addition, Assistant State Attorney Jeffery Smith wrote a letter to Citrus County government requesting the firearms in exchange for clearing the county of liability.

    "I don't know if it can be done directly, or if the county will have to cough up the cash so I can do it," Smith wrote. "I want two rifles with scopes and reloading dies."

    Smith estimated the Ruger hunting rifles equipped with power scopes cost about $2,000.

    The letter raised a few eyebrows, but no cash.

    "If he had asked for a lawn mower, that would be one thing," said County Attorney Robert Battista. "When you ask for a gun, there's an immediate response, visceral as much as anything."

    In short . . .

    ST. PETERSBURG -- The 450-foot gambling cruise ship that was supposed to set sail twice a day from the city's port by March is unlikely to make an appearance until at least June, organizers say. The company still does not have title to the ship, and it recently lost its chief financial officer. Still, company officials say the project is moving forward.

    PINELLAS PARK -- Final tests have found normal traces of arsenic in the blood of all Pinellas Park firefighters who previously tested positive for high levels of the poison. The tests also indicate most of the arsenic was the type found in food sources, such as shellfish, causing a toxicologist concluded the firefighters' health was never threatened.

    Coming up this week

    On Monday, when students around the state sit down for the FCAT exam, Pinellas School Board member Mary Russell's two children won't be among them. As a parent and an educator, Russell has a lot of problems with the state's test and the pressure it places on schools and on children, but she said she made her decision as an individual, not as a School Board member. Still, her announcement had Pinellas school officials scrambling to control the fallout as schools were inundated with calls from parents wondering about the implications of skipping the test.

    Tampa will vote for a new mayor on Tuesday, and Largo gets to choose between incumbent Mayor Bob Jackson and former City Commissioner Marty Shelby.

    -- Compiled by staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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