Pasco commissioners delayed a vote on whether to spend $2 million of tourist development funds to expand the Wesley Chapel District Park.
County Administrator John Gallagher said he wanted to bring the issue back in two weeks along with the land donation contract between the county and the family that owns nearby Wiregrass Ranch.
“There was some concern that this needs to be done at the same time,” Gallagher said.
The Porter family, who are developing Wiregrass, agreed to donate more than 200 acres to the county for a youth sports complex or regional park. That deal has been pending since late November while attorneys for both sides iron out the legal details involved.
Chairman Ted Schrader said the Porters have not raised any objections to the expansion at Wesley Chapel District Park. “In my discussions with J.D. and Don (Porter), they have said that we’re pretty close,” he said. “There are not any details we can’t work through.”
The county is under a deadline to add more fields to the park or it risks losing the annual Dick’s Sporting Goods Lacrosse Tournament of Champions – the county’s largest tourist event. The tournament generates about $3.5 million economic impact, but it’s outgrowing the district park.
Schrader said the two-week delay would not put the county behind schedule on the park expansion since the two new fields would need to be added by March 2014. He also responded to complaints from the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association about the county’s decision to install artificial turf rather than grass fields for the expansion.
“It’s really not their decision – this is not an expansion of their facility,” Schrader said.
He said since the fields would be financed with tourism tax dollars, they would be owned and managed by the tourism office – not the parks department. The tourism department opted for turf because the ongoing maintenance costs are minimal.
Executing that agreement would also put the county in a better position to negotiate with Blue Marble Strategic, the Tampa company that wants to build a 21-field baseball complex at Wiregrass.
“We can’t finalize those plans with Blue Marble until we have the property to offer them,” Chairman Ted Schrader said.
In other business, commissioners set a timetable for hiring Gallagher’s replacement. The administrator is retiring after 30 years at the helm, but his final day was pushed back to June 1.
Commissioners will spend the month of May narrowing down and interviewing candidates to succeed him. They hope to interview candidates May 23 and 24 and make a decision May 28.
Commissioners also approved plans for two new Racetrac gas station/convenience stores in the county and for a new Circle K store across from Land O’ Lakes High School. Several homeowners in Wilderness Lake Preserve spoke against the proposed Circle K, saying the neighborhood wasn’t properly notified about the development plans.
Homeowner Mark Hankins said many residents who want the gas station oppose the size of the project.
“There are residents who want the station, but don’t feel like a 10-pump station is needed,” he said. “We are opposed to the scale of this station.”
Officials with Circle K offered to have their architect meet with residents and alter the company’s standard design to blend in with the neighborhood.