New ballfields site pitched at Brooker Creek Preserve

A second location at the preserve is already controversial.

Published April 10, 2007

EAST LAKE - A new option for North Pinellas ballfields has emerged at the behest of the Pinellas County administrator.

The East Lake Youth Sports Association this week applied for a land-use change for a 101-acre site on Trinity Boulevard in the Brooker Creek Preserve that has been set aside for a proposed water-blending facility that might never be built.

The upside for the association is the site could provide six to eight ballfields, more than double what the association has proposed for a controversial site on Old Keystone Road that's also part of the preserve. The group has said they need five to 10 new fields for youth sports.

But the association's application is far from a done deal, despite the encouragement of County Administrator Steve Spratt.

Last week, Spratt e-mailed members of the county's Environmental Science Forum, who voted 11 to 2 against building fields on 38.5 piney acres on Old Keystone Road. Spratt suggested at least part of the Trinity Boulevard site could become an option for ballfields.

Environmentalists oppose either site and the county's own utilities director thinks it's premature to make any new plans for the water-blending site.

"We are already on record as opposing active recreation in Brooker Creek Preserve," said Walt Hoskins, chairman of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve.

Pick Talley, county utilities director, said placing highly active recreation on a site surrounded by preserve could have more serious environmental consequences than active recreation on Old Keystone Road.

About $12-million has already been spent in design and site work at the Trinity Boulevard site for the blending facility, with 46 acres of the parcel's 101 acres scraped clean. But the price for the project came in much higher than expected, so Pinellas County Utilities is taking another look at the county's options.

Downsizing the blending facility is one option for reducing the price, Spratt said, and that might leave room for ballfields.

The county staff invited the sports association to go ahead and apply for a land-use change now in case the land becomes available later. John Cueva, the county's zoning manager, said a county lawyer is working with the sports association on an agreement for using the property, should its application be approved.

Spratt made clear the association should only be allowed to build at one site or the other -not both.

And both sites would require a land-use change as both have a designation of Preservation-Resource Management, which would accommodate a water-blending facility at the Trinity site. For either to be used for ballfields, the designation must be changed to Recreation - Open Space and would require a series of public hearings.

The earliest the sports association might get heard before a zoning examiner is May 10. However, that's unlikely because the county's utilities staff isn't expected to finish its recommendations on the water-blending facility until May 19.

Talley, who plans to retire in about a year, said he's not against looking at the blending plant site as an option for ballfields, but he thinks making plans for them now is premature.

"You want to be careful of trading away your best place," he said, "if you think in future you might have a need for it."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or 727 445-4170.