tampabay.com

Pasco won't play along

Proposals for Brooker Creek ballfields anger Trinity residents.

By THERESA BLACKWELL AND CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published May 11, 2007


TRINITY - A stand of oak and scrub, 200 feet deep, is all that separates Martin Pijanow-ski's home in Fox Hollow from a looming fight over 46 acres of the Brooker Creek Preserve.

Just south of Trinity Boulevard and the Pasco County line is where Pinellas County is thinking of putting four fields for soccer, football and lacrosse.

It's a proposal that's infuriated neighbors in this stretch of the Fox Hollow community.

For one thing, neighbors charge that Pinellas officials didn't talk to them about any of these plans.

"It's disrespectful that they can do something like that without any thought to the people most affected, just because they live in another county," said John Fernandez, president of the homeowners association at Fox Hollow's Bellerive neighborhood.

Pinellas' Board of Examiners heard protests from about a dozen Pinellas and Pasco residents Thursday. It was the first of possibly six public hearings leading up to an eventual decision on a proposed land use change to allow ballfields in two locations in the preserve.

The county has had plans for the plant - called a blending facility - in the Brooker Creek Preserve for years.

But many Trinity residents didn't find out about the blending facility plans until last year, after the county had cleared the land. Officials promised residents they wouldn't see it or hear it.

But the price for building the facility came in higher than expected, so county officials are taking a second look at the project. Pinellas County Utilities will be bringing in a new analysis of options by May 19.

The momentum of recent discussion is toward building a facility smaller than originally planned, including at least a pumping station to replace the aging Keller plant.

Because a smaller facility would require less property, Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt suggested in late March that the remaining cleared land would be a good site for athletic fields.

He asked the East Lake Youth Sports Association to apply for a land use change for those acres to allow four all-purpose fields on part of the 46 cleared acres.

In early April, the sports association did just that, plus another request for more ballfields on 38.5 piney preserve acres off Old Keystone Road.

Pinellas officials like Paul Cozzie, bureau director of the Culture, Education and Leisure Department, say Trinity residents have little to worry about.

"As for the impact on those residents north of that site - the lights, the traffic, the noise - there's really not a lot to be concerned about," Cozzie said.

Current lighting technology can pinpoint the lighting and reduce the glare and spill, he said, and trees will provide some screening.

The effect on traffic should be minimal, too, he said, because about 95 to 98 percent of participants will be coming from unincorporated Pinellas County to the south and activities will be held at nonpeak traffic times. Parking will be inside the complex, not on the road.

The fields would be at least 1, 000 yards from the closest homes, Cozzie estimated, so noise should be less than the noise on Trinity Boulevard.

Not good enough, Pijanowski said.

"Most games are at night," the Fox Hollow resident said. "We can hear the band at Mitchell High School a good half-mile away. We can just about see (where the ballfields will be) through the woods."

Pijanowski could live with the water plant, he said. It wouldn't have made much noise and the community needs water. But not ballfields, he said.

Fernandez wonderered if the sports association, as a private entity, can be held accountable for problems as a public utility.

Cozzie said residents could call Pinellas officials if they have any complaints.

The fields may benefit some Pasco residents because groups such as club soccer have no county residency restrictions.

Cozzie has had some discussions with Pasco officials on sports facilities already and plans to have more.

"They are short on ballfields, too," Cozzie said.

But that's not the point, Fernandez said.

"I'd still have a problem with active recreation on a preservation, " he said.

Fernandez added that there is an existing field at nearby Starkey Wilderness Preserve.

If you go

Next meeting

Pinellas county commissioners are next scheduled to discuss the proposed changes to the Brooker Creek Preserve from 2 to 4 p.m. May 22 at commission chambers, 315 Court St., Clearwater.