Park grant prompts questions

Two Dunedin commissioners want a full discussion of the proposal before committing money.

Published May 6, 2007

DUNEDIN - For a second time, the city will pursue a multimillion dollar state grant in hopes of acquiring waterfront property for a new city park.

But commissioners still won't commit to following through on the plan to acquire the roughly 6 acres that straddle Bayshore Boulevard.

And on Thursday night, two of the five commissioners expressed frustration that they weren't told sooner of the grant application, due Wednesday. The matter hasn't been discussed at a commission meeting since October.

Commissioners Dave Eggers and Julie Scales expressed surprise that the grant application was moving forward and questioned why they weren't kept better informed.

"I think for an application to be submitted where the city may be committing to large sums of money without a full public discussion for the benefit of the citizens is just unacceptable and I think outrageous, " she said Friday.

Mayor Bob Hackworth countered that although there was no formal resolution, staff was directed at the Oct. 5 commission meeting to pursue funding options for the property.

At issue is rare vacant property north of downtown that is owned by country music songwriter, millionaire and longtime Dunedin resident, J.C. Weaver, who has said he'd like to keep it from developers.

The property stretches from St. Joseph Sound on the west to the Pinellas Trail on the east.

It's the second year the city will ask the Florida Communities Trust, a state land-acquisition program, for help buying the property. Weaver's asking price for the property is $18-million, but city staff have questioned if it's worth that much.

Commissioners were told Thursday they weren't committed to a certain price or to even buying the property. There is also the option to reject grant money if the city is approved, said Assistant City Manager Harry Gross.

City staff said a nonprofit conservation group, the Trust for Public Lands, is helping with this year's grant application in hopes of improving the city's odds.

Among the key changes in the two-phase proposal that would involve some level of city-matching funds: The property would be divided into north and south parcels so that each phase would include access to the water and Pinellas Trail. Last year's application split the property into a waterfront parcel and a trail parcel.

If a grant is accepted, two appraisals would be required to set a purchase price. Weaver has indicated he would be willing to donate a portion of the price to help offset the city's matching requirement.

The city will find out in September if its application was successful.