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Condo talk spurs ethics complaint

Residents deserved to know the Halls River Retreat would be on the Jan. 14 commission agenda, it says.

By RICHARD RAEKE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003


A Beverly Hills woman has filed an ethics complaint against County Administrator Richard Wesch, charging that he failed to provide adequate notice that the Halls River Retreat project would be on the County Commission's Jan. 14 meeting agenda.

At that meeting, the commission voted to continue appealing a judge's ruling that overturned its approval of the contentious condo project while, at the same time, looking into buying the land and building a public park at the site.

During public comment, Blake Longacre, the developer of Halls River Retreat, told the commission that he would sell his property for an amount based on the development order. In November, Brooksville Circuit Judge Jack Springstead had struck down that development order, saying Halls River Retreat would put too many condos in a sensitive coastal zone and would violate Citrus County's comprehensive plan.

Virginia Miller, who sent her complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics on Thursday, questioned the attendance of Longacre, a Clearwater resident, at the meeting even though discussion of his project wasn't on the advertised agenda. Wesch added the item the morning of the commission meeting.

'You have to give the public sufficient notice if you're going to discuss something of that magnitude," Miller said. "It was inexcusable to put that on the agenda. It was strictly to flamboozle everybody.'

While agreeing to continue appealing Springstead's ruling to the 5th District Court of Appeal, the commission decided to pursue building a park at the site. The commission can buy the property with help from the Florida Community Trust grant program if it partners with a nonprofit group.

Miller said she was concerned that the commission would buy the property at its value under the development order, not at its real market value. The assessed value of the property, without the development order, is $461,000. However, the value of the property would be significantly greater if it could be developed. Wesch said he had not seen the complaint and could not comment on its contents.

"Additional agenda items are routine practice. We only have a legal obligation to advertise the meeting," he said. "I will deal with the specifics of the allegation once I have the opportunity to review it."

Miller's complaint is confidential, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics. If the commission finds that the complaint has merit, an investigation will follow.

-- Richard Raeke can be reached at 564-3623 or rraeke@sptimes.com.

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