Time to revisit buying Pirates Cove
Timing is everything, as I have learned.
Years and years ago I had a story about a superintendent of schools who was padding his annual income in a legal but somewhat unethical way. School board members didn’t know anything about it until I told them, and they weren’t happy.
The story ran Sunday. On Wednesday, the school board had a budget meeting and the superintendent’s special bonus was first to go.
So it is that I return to the table an issue that some thought was long dead: buying Pirates Cove.
For those new to the discussion, the former Pirates Cove property sits at the very tip of Ozello adjacent to the county boat ramp. It was a restaurant and hotel until the 1993 “no-name” storm reduced it to splinters.
Ozello residents have fought attempts over the years to develop Pirates Cove into condos or timeshares. County commissions generally agreed there are places for development but Pirates Cove isn’t one of them.
About a year and a half ago, Commissioner Jeff Kinnard suggested buying the 3.6-acre property to preserve it as a passive county park. Kinnard said there were folks in Ozello who were willing to put up some of the funds, and the county went ahead and had an appraisal done.
Well, it never happened for various reasons.
The timing is right for us to have this conversation again.
You may have noticed Ozello in the news quite a bit recently over a property owner’s plan for a commercial campground. The planning commission voted against it but it still goes to the county commission on June 20 where anything can happen. (Here's my Chronicle column about it.)
The owner of Pirates Cove, meanwhile, is in the process of a lot configuration that could result in nine homes and some commercial activity on the property. Single-family houses sound a lot better than timeshares.
A few things to consider:
— All we’ve heard from Ozello residents opposed to the glampground is how pristine Ozello is, engulfed in the St. Martin’s Marsh Aquatic Preserve. Most people will agree with this. We have only one Ozello.
That said, some would argue it isn’t up to residents to help the government buy property for preservation. It’s the government’s job. Ordinarily, I would agree. But these are not ordinary times and if the public wants property protected from development we’re going to need some imaginative thinking to get that done.
— I probably haven’t written six words in my life about rising sea levels. That’s because I had a well-earned "F" in science from first grade through high school. I don’t have a clue how this works.
But the state and federal governments recognize it and they’re giving thousands of dollars to communities like Citrus to formulate "resiliency" plans to protect property from flooding. That could eventually result in less construction near rivers, canals and swamps, or building to a strict flood code.
Preserving coastal property in an area known for flooding seems like a smart resiliency move.
As mentioned, this is not my strong area. But it is for experts and the topic should be included in the conversation about Pirates Cove.
— Regarding the argument of removing private property from the tax roll. I get it. I really do. Here’s the thing: It costs more for the county to provide services to homeowners than what they pay in property taxes.
Until we’re in the position to ratchet up impact fees, each new home is a losing proposition in the taxes-to-services ratio.
Just making a small point. Easy for politicians to say property should stay on the tax rolls but the equations aren't that simple.
— It’s the best time politically. When Kinnard brought this up before, we had two commissioners in office at the time who had zero interest in future planning. That bogged down the process and we essentially got nowhere.
Much different situation today. These five commissioners and their administrative staff want to tackle challenges and embrace opportunities.
It’ll take fortitude. Some commissioners rattle off the fact that about half of Citrus County can’t be developed because it is set aside for conservation, but most of that is state forest. The county's strategic plan starts with this theme: "Where nature and community thrive." Pirates Cove ties both together.
Kinnard sent an email Monday to several Ozello residents who are asking that the Pirates Cove idea return to the table.
He wrote: "I still believe the old Pirates Cove property should be held publicly. If/when it does become available, I will again try to get the entire piece purchased with a combination of public and private funds.”
There you go. I’m pleased to have Kinnard bring this back, at least for conversation. It’s a different board, a different day.
And did I mention the County Commission meets today? Good timing.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.