tampabay.com

Ballfields lose support

By THERESA BLACKWELL
Published May 23, 2007


CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners looked less likely to allow ballfields in the Brooker Creek Preserve on Tuesday after learning there were other options.

But in a workshop session packed with preserve supporters, commissioners appeared just as likely to stick to the county's plans to build a water blending facility in the northern part of the preserve.

No formal vote was taken on the controversial proposals, nor on a third issue the commission addressed: whether to pass an ordinance that would require a public referendum before county parks and environmental lands could be sold or transferred.

But the meeting brought some good news for Brooker Creek enthusiasts who have fought the ballfields. The county has signed a lease with East Lake Youth Sports Association to use a 38.5-acre site in the preserve north of Old Keystone Road.

But Tuesday, Paul Cozzie, the county's bureau director of culture, education and leisure, presented a slew of new options for ballfields. Some would require other governments' cooperation or even land purchases before ballfields could be planned.

The sites included a large parcel adjoining Canal Park in Oldsmar, several sites now privately owned in East Lake, three East Lake schools and a site at the corner of East Lake and Keystone roads.

Then Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris approached the podium and offered up a large site in Tarpon Springs. She said the city had planned to build fields there, but didn't have the money.

"We are giving you that open hand as an option, " she said. "We are ready to go. You can start building tomorrow."

The room was packed with proponents for protecting the Brooker Creek Preserve. About 35 speakers spoke to the commission. Of those, only two supported ballfields in the preserve.

"I think the county put the cart before the horse, entering into a lease agreement before exploring other options, " said John Miolla, president of the Crescent Oaks homeowners association and the co-founder of the new Council of North County Neighborhoods.

Bryan Kutchins, counsel to the East Lake Youth Sports Association, was one of the minority speakers. "Extremism is tyranny. Extremism is intolerance, " he said. It doesn't work well in the Middle East, he said, and it does not work well in the East Lake community.

Commissioner Susan Latvala said she would like to stay the course, to continue the county's commitment to providing ballfields at the Old Keystone Road site, saying ballfields in Tarpon Springs would not meet the needs of the East Lake Youth Sports Association.

Commissioner Ken Welch agreed that the commission should continue its commitment to the sports group, but he said that could be done at another site.

Other commissioners also said they supported considering other options and directed county staff members to take a closer look before June 21, the next commission work session on the preserve.

County utilities staff members were also ordered by commissioners to drill deeper on two options for building a proposed water-blending facility on 46 acres already cleared inside the preserve on Trinity Boulevard. Both options pare down the county's original proposal.

But a majority of the commissioners Tuesday indicated they still favored building a blending facility as a long-term solution to updating the county's water system. They largely ignored another pair of options offered by utilities director Pick Talley, including just replacing the aging Keller treatment plant on Old Keystone Road. Talley said he believed such an option wouldn't meet the county's needs as long as a new blending facility would.

Commissioners also ordered the county's staff to refine the language of an ordinance Latvala has proposed for limiting when county parks and environmental land could be sold, possibly incorporating more of the recommendations made by the Environmental Science Forum, a county advisory group.

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

If you go

Next meeting

Pinellas County commissioners are next scheduled to discuss proposed changes to the Brooker Creek Preserve on June 21 in the fifth floor commission chambers at the County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.