LARGO, Fla. — Commissioners in Largo are a step away from giving the city’s voters a say in what happens to a large piece of city-owned property near the corner of East Bay Drive and Highland Avenue.
Porter Development hopes to buy the site to build a large sports complex that it believes will generate a $75 million dollar economic impact in just five years.
“You’ve got an 87-acre property right now that’s not on the tax rolls, under-utilized, environmentally compromised, and you’re going to turn that into this amazing development that’s going to provide active space — recreation space,” said Brian Aungst, who represents the developer, during a Jun. 21 city commission meeting.
Using the vacant site of an old city landfill, Porter Development hopes to build a 170,000 sq. ft. “active recreation center,” which will include 40 pickleball courts, 16 volleyball courts, eight basketball courts, a public lagoon, and a lot more.
“The planned Largo recreation complex would be a unique mix of indoor and outdoor recreation venues that would be the first of their kind in Pinellas County,” the developer’s website boasts.
But neighbors like Megan Jetter aren’t sold on the idea.
“My immediate reaction was, ‘Absolutely not. This cannot happen.’ I don’t want this in my backyard,” she said.
Jetter and some of the other neighbors in the surrounding communities are already fighting back. They’re concerned about environmental impact and noise from the sports complex.
“We are talking about something that potentially is open seven days a week,” worried Jetter.
They’re also concerned about the traffic the complex will add to already-busy roads.
“The biggest concern would clearly be East Bay, which is a parking lot. Ulmerton is a parking lot,” she said.
Those concerns are why she and others plan to be at City Hall Tuesday night as commissioners decide whether to add a referendum to the November ballot, which would ask voters if they’re okay with selling the city-owned land. During the Jun. 21 meeting, in the first of two required votes, commissioners voted 6-1 to add the referendum to the ballot.
“Democracy works. Great issues of public importance should be decided by direct Democracy,” Aungst, with the development team, said during the meeting. “If the final product you say, ‘You know what, I don’t think this is worth it. I don’t think it’s worth selling this property for what the current plan is.’ The referendum doesn’t tell you you have to sell. It just says, ‘Can you sell it, and should the voters get a chance to tell you whether they think that you should be able to sell it.’”
Aungst reminded commissioners that the development has already been working with neighbors to address some of their concerns and, in a previous interview, developer Les Porter told ABC Action News that he hopes to build a complex that doesn’t “disrupt the surrounding community much at all.”
According to the Porter Development website, the main points of ingress/egress will be East Bay Drive and Highland Avenue.
“We also plan on improving the current roadway to accommodate the additional traffic,” it said.
But neighbors like Jetter have their doubts. They would prefer the issue be left off the November ballot. If commissioners do place it there, however, Jetter said she and others would continue their fight.
“We will continue to speak out,” she said. “It’s near and dear to my heart because it’s in my home, but I really think the impact to the surrounding areas is going to end up more extensive than people think.”
Largo Mayor Woody Brown has said he does have concerns about traffic but has always wanted something more on the vacant property and thinks city voters should get a say.
Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m.