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Council member on losing end of mud pit slings a little

Rick Butler scolds colleagues for denying the fun spot.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


PINELLAS PARK- A packed house burst into applause after Rick Butler scolded a property owner and fellow City Council members before apologizing to a packed room of mud enthusiasts.

Butler's apology was for the concerns the other four council members raised when explaining why they voted to deny permission to build a mud pit. The reasons ranged from environmental - the amount of water that would be used to keep the property muddy and to rinse muddy trucks - to the practical - fear that angry homeowners would storm future council meetings if bothered by noise from the pit.

Council members also were upset because the property's owners wanted to waive all landscaping and instead contribute the cost of 29 trees and 566 shrubs to Pinellas Park's tree fund.

"I apologize for what you've just had to listen to," Butler said moments before the vote. He commented to the audience that its members were "SOL, you know what that means" because he could count the votes and knew he would be on the losing end of a 4-1 decision.

The pit would have been on a narrow strip of land on 118th Avenue N in an industrial area in the northwest section of Pinellas Park. At 100 feet wide and 600 feet long, the footprint of the approximately 1.4 acres resembles a box of spaghetti turned on its side. The site is a former kennel and is surrounded by a concrete plant and a garbage dump, among other things.

Butler was not the only council member in a testy mood at Thursday's meeting. Patricia Bailey-Snook chastised many of those who spoke in favor of the pit, where drivers would have piloted large trucks through the mud for fun. Those speakers had discounted the possibility of noise from the weekend events that could have penetrated to the politically powerful Lakes and Mainlands communities that are not far from the proposed site.

"It's nice when people come here and say their home is in Palm Harbor, their home is in Largo, their home is in Seminole and everything, and they can't hear the noise or they're on 73rd Avenue and they can't hear. If they're on 62nd Avenue, they can't hear the noise either," Bailey-Snook said.

"I think in all fairness to the long-term homeowners over there, because we have filled this room with them. ... I think this would be something that would bring a lot of heat on our shoulders from homeowners up there while these people are homeowners in some other area," Bailey-Snook said.

The question of noise was only one reason cited by the four council members who voted against the mud pit. Other concerns included the amount of water that would be used to turn the dirt into mud and then wash the vehicles before they left the premises.

Residents who objected to the idea had additional reasons ranging from concerns that the location was too small to safely conduct mudding activities. One resident cited information from the Internet that advertised one mud event as "as much redneck excitement as last year's but without the nudity."

Adjoining property owner Bob Gorby, who says he owns an auto parts salvage yard, objected because of the possibility that property values would be hurt. Butler later told him, among other things, that the land would never be a "Kohl's or ... a mall" but would always be used as a dump.

Council members were also unimpressed by representations from mud enthusiasts who said that, because there is no nearby mud pit, they sometimes trespass to indulge.

"We do go out and we do trespass, which is a lot more dangerous," Kyle Longstreet said.

And Ted Kwalwasser, who, with his father, wanted to open the pit, said, "There is a likelihood that these guys end up on golf courses and parks where they don't belong."

Butler referred to much of this when it came his time to speak. He first disposed of the idea that city officials were being "good stewards" of the land by denying the request. He referred, in part, to past permission for usages that hurt the land and to the nearby dump.

"I think our stewardship sucks," Butler said.

Council member Sandy Bradbury tried to interrupt. Butler cut her off.

" 'Scuse me," Butler said. "Now it's my turn. I've sat here 20 minutes listening to this stuff, and now it's my turn. ... Us great stewards of our city allowed them to put a garbage dump that has mountains 31/2 stories tall that (is) our gateway to our community (and causes people to) come in and look at and wonder, thank God, we don't live here."

Butler said he had participated in mud events since he was 15. Some of those were in legitimate pits, and others were on illegal areas in three counties.

"If you want to arrest me, go forward," he told Pinellas Park police Capt. John Green, who was there.

As for nudity, Butler said, "There is churches that cater to naked people. ... I don't want to burst your bubble, okay? There are some real deviants out there."

He went on to praise the "mud people who like to run their little trucks through the mud on a Saturday afternoon."

The proposed location, he said, would be perfect for mudding.

The vote left the mudders with two basic choices: Drive several hours to an existing mud pit or continue to break the law in Pinellas.

Mayor Bill Mischler, however, warned them to stay out of the Gateway area.

[Last modified November 10, 2007, 21:49:55]

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