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A Times Editorial

Preserving waterfront land was a no-brainer

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001

Overlooked amid the recent government hubbub in Port Richey is the city's opportunity to preserve a piece of old Florida.

While deadlocked elections and grand jury investigations grabbed the headlines, the city agreed recently to take over management of waterfront property being purchased by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The pristine land, bordering the city's Brasher Park and Salt Springs Run, had been targeted for development last year. But the city's Planning and Zoning Board turned down the bid for the 217-unit Salt Marsh Landings condominiums in October.

Some might bemoan a missed opportunity for a growing tax base, but that is short-sighted. The rejuvenated commercial corner of Ridge Road and U.S. 19, home to the recently opened Wal-Mart Superstore, more than compensates for the missed residential growth.

Besides, a collection of condos and townhouses was a poor fit for the undeveloped strip and would have required a change in the city's comprehensive land-use plan.

Public confidence in the propriety of the housing project was poor from the inception. The citizens board was given a short time to review the plans, and others wondered why the city's own engineering consultant also represented the developer.

Scrapping the development was a no-brainer.

"If we have the opportunity to conserve, let's conserve," City Manager Vince Lupo said last week.

It's the correct attitude. Instead of dealing with twice as much traffic on Old Post Road and concerns about stormwater runoff, the city obtains a parcel near its hike-and-bike trail and waterfront park.

The marshy area of the land will remain as is, but the city has the potential to turn the southern portion, which is high and dry, into a park with grills, picnic tables and perhaps playground equipment. No park plan yet exists.

The preserved land resembles but won't rival the 3,400-acre Werner/Boyce Salt Springs Run State Park under development along the western edge of urbanized Pasco County.

Still, it can provide a pleasant diversion for city residents and a reminder of what the area looked like when Port Richey came into existence 76 years ago.

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