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Garbage taints site favored for center

A portion of the 50 acres recommended as a home for the Carrollwood Community Center is "a disaster zone.'' Six potential sites will be discussed at a meeting Tuesday.

By TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000


CARROLLWOOD -- The group that recommended 50 undeveloped acres off Lowell Road for the future Carrollwood Community Center once described the land as "magnificent greenspace" and a "peaceful oasis right in the middle of suburbia".

That was before they saw all of the property.

During a recent tour of three wooded parcels, members of the Carrollwood Area Association of Neighbors and county officials discovered that one of the tracts they were planning to buy has been used as a dumping ground.

The "property appears to have been used as a dump for a wide variety of junk, ranging from discarded vehicles to restaurant fixtures," said Carrollwood Area Association of Neighborhoods president Tom Jones in an April 28 letter to Parks and Recreation director Ed Radice.

"There's no telling what pollution exists that the eye cannot see. In short, the place is a disaster zone."

The discovery marked another disappointment after years of similar setbacks, but members of the search committee hope all their hard work is still about to pay off.

CAAN members meet with a key group of county officials at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Plantation of Carrollwood clubhouse to decide what land the county will buy with part of the $3-million in Community Investment Tax funds that have been earmarked for a community center in Carrollwood.

It could be a tough choice.

On Tuesday, the Carrollwood Village Golf & Tennis Club offered to sell 5 acres to the county for an even better price. Two months ago, club owner John Blaeser was asking $1.25-million for the parcel, but is now willing to sell for whatever an appraisal says it is worth, according to a letter from Blaeser's attorney, Vin Marchetti.

Furthermore, Blaeser will pay for half the cost of the appraisal and commit a majority of the sale profits to building recreational amenities that would serve the community center. Blaeser wants to also provide food service to the community center through his clubhouse and banquet facilities.

Radice said Blaeser's proposal and five others will be open for discussion Tuesday. Other possible sites are: 11 acres of county property at Linebaugh Avenue and Gunn Highway; 5 acres of county land near West Village and South Village drives; 8 acres behind Ben Hill Elementary School at W Village Drive and Ehrlich Road; a common area on W Village Drive across from the Village Corner shopping center; and the Lowell Road property.

"The people I've talked to on the planning committee and in the community have communicated to me that the Lowell Road property is their preference," Radice said.

Because of possible environmental damage, the search committee now recommends that the county purchase just one of three tracts, 31 acres owned the Carenno family, said John Miley, a CAAN member who helped organize the community center drive.

Miley said the original recommendation to buy all three parcels was based on maps and aerial photographs. But they had never walked all of the land until about two weeks ago.

All along, the group had intended to put the community center building on the 31-acre parcel. The other two would have provided access from Casey Road.

Unfortunately, by not buying the other two parcels on Lowell Road, things become more complicated in buying the 31-acre Carenno property, said Joel Jackson, planning and construction manager for Parks and Recreation.

Jackson said the county looked at that same site for the Regional Library, but determined that it was too low and that access by either a road or bridge would be expensive.

"It would tie up a lot of the budget to do that," Jackson said. "But any site will have positives and negatives. It could be a good site, but its got some problems. But those problems could be worked out."


-- To reach Tim Grant call 226-3471, or e-mail him at grant@sptimes.com.

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