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    Lake Park loss may be a boon elsewhere

    The St. Petersburg City Council waffled on the sale, meaning $3-million in state funding fell through. The county now hopes to secure that money for other parks.

    By LOGAN D. MABE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    NORTHDALE -- When a plan to buy Lake Park from the city of St. Petersburg fell through, the county lost $3-million in state funding for the purchase. But the good news is the money could wind up being used to buy more park land at other locations.

    County officials wanted to buy the 400-acre Lake Park from St. Petersburg, which has used it as a source for drinking water for decades. The plan would not have affected the well field, except to limit any future wells to the perimeter of the property.

    The county has leased the park property for $1 a year for about 40 years, and Hillsborough officials wanted to ensure the future viability of the park by having the deed.

    But City Council members split 4-4 and could not reach agreement on a course of action.

    "They could not make a decision on which way to go," said Kurt Gremley, acquisition manager for the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Programm. "They wouldn't vote to consider the sale and they wouldn't vote to reject considering the sale. The one thing that is certain is that the $3-million grant from the Florida Communities Trust fund will be surrendered."

    Gremley said his department will review the comments made by City Council members and try to decide whether to make another bid for the property.

    In the meantime, ELAPP officials can make a pitch for state money for two other properties it has purchased.

    "The silver lining to this is that because there's such severe competition for FCT grants, and we're so close on two projects, this funding might help up with those," Gremley said. It's common, he said, for the county to purchase land for environmental protection, then seek reimbursement from the state.

    One of those properties in the 126-acre Town 'N Country preserve, which the county recently bought from the city of Tampa. That grant application is for $1.2-million. The second project is the River Hills Park addition in Temple Terrace.

    "There is the potential that (the surrendered $3-million grant) could help fund these other projects," Gremley said. But there's no guarantee that the projects will make the cut. Florida Communities Trust has about $22-million for local communities, but has received applications for about $115-million in grants, Gremley said.

    And a Lake Park proposal could resurface in future funding years.

    "We're going to review our potential options," Gremley said. "We'd like to return to the (St. Petersburg) City Council at some point to re-present this. At what time is another matter."

    - Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or by e-mail at mabe@sptimes.com.

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