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Zoning request fueling emotions

A Port Richey couple are not saying what they plan for the site, but nearby residents are worried it's an incinerator.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


PORT RICHEY -- For all the fuss, Cyndi Walker can't help but wonder how it ever got to this point.

Walker and her husband, Tim, as Gulf Line Inc., have been at the center of the latest fuss in Port Richey, a zoning dispute that has grown increasingly tense and, at the same time, spun farther away from the zoning process.

"We didn't mean to start the controversy," Walker said Wednesday. "We're honest, working people."

All the fuss has come out of a piece of overgrown, swampy property that hasn't been bought, an incinerator idea that exists only as a hand-written scribble on a zoning application and permits that haven't been issued.

For now, zoning of the property the Walkers want to buy at the end of Siesta Lane is at best stalled. The City Council sent the matter back to the zoning board for one last look, cutting off any debate before it got started.

At the June 13 meeting, the council tried to keep the discussion on the zoning matter. But the more than 70 people there had no intention of talking about zoning: They were worried that a burn pit would be built in their back yards, spreading ash and smoke through their mobile home park.

The group was reacting to the Walkers' saying months before that they might build an air curtain incinerator to burn tree limbs.

But Cyndi Walker said Wednesday that they might not put an incinerator on the property. They have other options, such as storage buildings, and other land on which to put the limb burner. But they still want the property changed from agricultural to commercial land.

"This should be strictly a zoning meeting," Walker said. "We're buying it no matter what. It doesn't matter if we put it (the limb burner) there or not."

Questions on whether the Walkers should get the zoning change have mostly been settled by city consultants. Wade-Trim, the Tampa consultants who wrote the city's comprehensive plan, reported that the zoning change should be approved.

But the consultants also said it would take a change to city code to allow an incinerator inside the city.

Council members have repeatedly said the zoning change was a given: The Walkers have a right to it.

"If it gets turned down, they'll sue us and win," council member Tom Brown said. "I'm not going to get the city sued over this."

But concern remains. Ed Schultz, owner of the Suncoast Gateway Mobile Home Village, scolded council members Tuesday night for not putting his residents at ease. Several council members after the meeting said they were at a loss for what more they could say beyond the consultants report.

Brown, for one, thinks the whole matter has gotten out of hand.

"I'm getting disgusted with it," Brown said. "I am."

And Walker said she's just biding her time.

"I still feel like I should be able to present my business when I am allowed to," she said.

"It's supposed to be due process and it's turned into a fiasco."

Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com.

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