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Dade City, DOT to confer on bypass dispute

City officials say they can proceed with plans to protest the U.S. 98 bypass project if the talks do not end in an agreement.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


DADE CITY -- City commissioners decided Tuesday to try a few summit meetings before heading to the battlefield with the state Department of Transportation over disagreements on development of the U.S. 98 bypass.

Last month, commissioners unanimously agreed to try to force DOT to alter or abandon plans to widen the bypass to four lanes, citing a potential danger to the community and businesses and a lack of a clear need for the $26.4-million project.

But faced with a tough battle that could involve the County Commission and representatives from other cities, as well as DOT, commissioners agreed that a little discussion could go a long way.

City Manager Doug Drymon said the commissioners' displeasure reached the ears of DOT district secretary Ken Hartmann, the highest ranking agency official in the district. Drymon said Hartmann called him to discuss problems and is willing to meet with city officials to make changes.

"I think he has some real concerns about your concerns," Drymon said. "He does not want to go forward with something that you don't want. . . . I think you hit a few nerves, rung a few bells."

Commissioner Bill Dennis, the city's representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he was encouraged by Hartmann's reaction. Working with Hartmann to see what changes could be made to the proposed route might be to the city's advantage, he said. The city could always go ahead with plans to protest the project later, if no accord is reached.

"I think we at least ought to hear what DOT wants to say," Dennis said.

"Diplomacy now, warfare later," Mayor Scott Black said.

In other business, the city agreed to a small economic incentive for Vitality Beverages Inc., the company that took over the old Lykes Pasco juice plant on the city's northern border.

Commissioners agreed to refund $2,130 in construction permit fees the company has paid to develop a 3,000-square-foot building across the street from the factory, inside city limits.

Vitality plans to have 22 employees working there on the juice company's vending machines. The jobs, for the most part, will be held by employees already working for the company and will pay an average of $32,400.

Commissioners agreed to refund the permit fees, a third at a time over three years, provided the jobs remain in Dade City.

Further, commissioners agreed to study filling in the pond along Tuskeegee Avenue and eventually make the land available for development. The pond has been an eyesore for years and in the past has accumulated junk that people have thrown into it.

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