Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Working Together Again on Springs

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Working Together Again on Springs

Article excerpt

The former secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs had to referee, but political leaders of North Port and Sarasota County are once again working as partners in Warm Mineral Springs.

The big winners: the springs and the public.

First, judging by an all-day meeting on Wednesday, the city and county governments will keep the springs open after the June 30 deadline to find a new manager.

Second, they agree it's important to collect baseline data on the property's characteristics so they don't unwittingly damage it.

Third, they will solicit ideas on what, if any, changes to make on the 81-acre site, which is now, essentially, a public park, although one with a $20 admission charge.

The stakes are considerable. Warm Mineral Springs has archaeological and environmental attributes worthy of research and protection. And, its small, spring-fed, heated body of mineralized water attracts tourists, particularly Europeans, who believe in its healing powers.

The city and county bought the property to ensure its preservation, but in November, North Port Mayor Linda Yates, joined by commission newcomers Cheryl Cook and Rhonda DiFranco, surprised the county by announcing that the city wanted to sell its half of the partnership.

On Wednesday, their reasoning finally became clear. They feared the county was pushing for an investor to erect a big hotel on the undeveloped portion of the site.

Well, they weren't all wrong. In fact, county Commissioner Joe Barbetta said as far as he was concerned, the idea of not having a hotel was a deal-breaker.

The meeting might have broken up right then, except that former DCA chief Steven Seibert, called in as facilitator in the county's last-ditch effort to avoid going to court, kept pushing for areas of agreement.

DiFranco, pressed by county Commissioner Christine Robinson, also exhibited a bit of statesmanship by admitting she could back off her vote to sell if the two sides could set new rules on how to handle the solicitation for development ideas. …

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