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Complex land deal may fall together

In a three-way tussle over acreage, annexation and a lawsuit, Largo is offering a possible solution.

By SHANNON TAN
Published October 20, 2004

LARGO - The turf war started a year ago.

In September 2003, Largo commissioners approved the $5-million purchase of 13 acres from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

But the city needed only 5 acres for the site of a government services center or an expanded wastewater facility. Pinellas County was given the option of buying the remaining 8 acres for $3.3-million.

City commissioners annexed all 13 acres at 14840 49th Street N into Largo. But the county contested the annexation.

Then the PSTA board rejected the county's offer to buy the 8 acres, preferring that Largo work out an agreement with the county over the sale of the property.

Now it appears that the issue may finally be resolved.

On Tuesday, Largo commissioners approved an amendment to the purchase agreement that allows the PSTA to sell the 8 acres to Pinellas County - but only if the county drops its lawsuit first. Also, city and county officials have to sign off on a memorandum of understanding that the city will deannex those 8 acres and the county will provide drainage easements.

Several Largo commissioners were adamant that the revised agreement be conditioned on the county's dismissing the lawsuit.

"We have to trust the county on this," said Commissioner Pat Burke. "To trust the county just gives me heartburn."

Commissioner Charlie Harper agreed.

"For the life of me, I cannot see where the taxpayers of the city of Largo are gaining a single thing by doing this," he said. "We've got a lawsuit and we should probably win if we continue it on, and we're going to deannex property we fought so hard to get?"

The property is valuable to the county because of its proximity to the Criminal Justice Center. It is currently used by the PSTA for its administrative offices and a maintenance facility. The PSTA is moving its headquarters to a new $32-million site on Scherer Drive just south of Ulmerton Road.

"We're almost asking you to put the interests of Largo second" to the interests of the Pinellas County community, said City Manager Steven Stanton.

If Pinellas County does not close on the 8-acre property, the city has 60 days to commit to purchasing the entire 13 acres. The city could then sell or lease the property.

"I cannot see Largo coming up with $5-million to purchase the property," noted Mayor Bob Jackson. The city has budgeted $850,000 in the sewer fund and $950,000 in the Local Option Sales Tax Fund in fiscal 2005-2006 for purchasing the property.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners:

Changed the qualifying period for the March 1 election to Dec. 1 to Dec. 30, and added a polling place at Fire Station No. 40 at the corner of Whitney Road and 58th Street.

Approved the purchase of a $39,620 electronic sign on East Bay Drive at Largo Central Park to display multiple messages on programs and special events. More than 1.2-million vehicles drive on that street each month.

Agreed to erect a memorial to honor Nelson "Gus" Whitesell at the Whitesell Field softball complex. Whitesell, who died in the spring, donated the land to the city in the 1980s.

Shannon Tan can be reached at shtan@sptimes.com or 445-4174.

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:17:24]


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