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Sponge Docks improvement project runs aground

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Published:   |   Updated: April 25, 2014 at 05:06 PM

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— Improvements to the Sponge Docks are on their way, just not at the scale city officials originally envisioned.

The Sponge Docks Enhancement Project, over two years in the making, is no more.

Tarpon Springs City Commissioners voted 5-0 last week to completely halt a $1 million effort after growing and sometimes vociferous pushback from residents opposed to the plan.

Now in the project’s place is a scaled-back, more modest proposal drawn up by City Manager Mark LeCouris and other interested groups that was unanimously approved.

The new proposal is comprised of four aspects: comprehensive lighting improvements, amenity replacements, sidewalk and curb replacements and landscape improvements.

“Let’s just go back to a basic plan and basic idea [and determine] what are some common elements that will not be controversial and will enhance the beautification of the docks,” LeCouris said toward the end of a contentious hour-long debate on the Sponge Docks.

Since late fall of 2011, the city had been working in conjunction with local firm Hoffman Architects, P.A. and engineering firm URS Corporation on developing and fine-tuning a comprehensive, phased-in rehabilitation of the city’s iconic district. Numerous public workshops were held and city commission meeting reports had been given since then and now, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that opposition to the project began to build.

Local attorney Mary Coburn, speaking on behalf of many plan opponents,cited a petition had garnered 577 signatures to cancel the project.

A oft-voiced complaint held that the overall improvements would tarnish the Sponge Docks’ authentic, Old World feel. The latest concern arising in the debate charged that plans to rebuild and extend portions of the docks into the Anclote River would run afoul with guidelines regarding the waterway’s status as a federal channel. Some opponents worried aloud about the Sponge Docks ability to continue operating as a deep-water working port.

“I think part of the sadness for me is the misinformation that’s going around,” Hoffman said. “It’s not like this project hasn’t been vetted. The idea that we were trying to hide something or that we were trying to sneak something through from either the staff side or the design side is just not accurate at all.”

Deeming the opposition to be to great, commissioners and city staff decided a less-ambitious course will be the best way to go.

“It is obvious on this issue and with the current plans we’re not going to be able to come to a consensus,” LeCouris said. “There is too much division. The alternate proposal, streetscape project, is in the best interest of the city.”

ehorchy@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1071

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