TARPON SPRINGS — City leaders will take most criticism directed at its Sponge Docks Improvement Project. Voicing it is every resident’s right.
But City Manager Mark LeCouris let it be known that a recent swirl of what he termed erroneous rumors is not being taken lightly.
LeCouris delivered a pointed introduction to an update on the project last month, calling out the person or persons responsible for falsely spreading word that the city may plan on taking private property by invoking eminent domain or other tactics.
“Being with the city for about 36 years I’ve seen just about everything, but some of the stuff this week just tops the list,” he said of the rumors.
LeCouris described the idea of the city invoking eminent domain or obtaining a submerged lands lease from the state as “preposterous,” “offensive” and “ludicrous” to himself and members of the City Commission.
What LeCouris’ five-minute opening salvo led to was a discussion of the Sponge Docks Improvement Project’s 90 percent construction plan by Tarpon Springs-based architect Ed Hoffman Jr.
Hoffman and his company, Hoffman Architects, have been working on a plan to renovate and revitalize the Sponge Docks for over two years. Over that period, there have been multiple public workshops and city commission meeting discussions designed to take in and utilize as much community input as possible.
All the feedback, both positive and negative, culminated in the near-final-product presented at the December meeting. Not everyone was on board with the concept. Included in the plan is the addition of a wooden dock along the shore, small amphitheater, floating transient dock, new landscaping, shaded areas, new brick features and wooden way-finding markers that resemble old river beacons.
Most objectors were concerned the Sponge Docks would lose its traditional feel and appearance. Other fears included hindering existing businesses and sponge boat operations and exacerbating flood issues.
Former mayor Anita Protos //said// moving forward with the project was a “sad night for Tarpon Springs” and lead to “the death of our Sponge Docks.”
Hoffman and LeCouris responded by saying the project will not increase flooding, though alleviating it in most areas is unlikely because of the layout of the area and the river.
The project will not impede on any privately owned property or the area’s functionality as a working dock, Hoffman assured, and trucks will still be able to access all roads for deliveries and pickups.
While taking into account the numerous concerns, commissioners voiced their unanimous approval to move ahead with the project.
Commissioner Townsend Tarapani echoed comments by LeCouris and Mayor David Archie, who said the plan was changed in response to some public comments.
“All of these things were put in from public input because of public meetings,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, without a doubt, this is going to be something that everybody will be proud of for years to come.”
In the next phase, Hoffman will complete the design and put the plans out for bids by March 26.
If the city commission approves a bid, Hoffman said, construction should begin during the area’s 2014 summer offseason.