Even the Tampa Tribune editorial folks -- not exactly the most progressively-minded writers in the world -- want Hillsborough County to extend the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and find an alternative route around the Wilson property. Read on:
The Upper Tampa Bay Trail, when completed, will run 15 miles from Memorial Highway to the Suncoast Parkway Trail, which runs another 42 miles to Citrus County. The recreational possibilities will stretch as far for bikers, hikers, rollerbladers and others.
But the county must buy another seven miles of right of way, from where the trial now ends at Peterson Road Park to the Suncoast Parkway.
So it is concerning that Hillsborough County commissioner today may remove a key parcel from the proposed route of the trail.
County Park Director Mark Thornton says the move is necessary because a landowner does not want the trail going through her property, which she plans to develop. Should the county try to acquire it through eminent domain, the price likely would be far more than the county could afford. And if the county does not remove the land from the approved alignment for the trail, the county could be liable for the landowners' legal bills and diminishing the value of the land.
"We only have $1.8 million left for all the right of way," Thornton says. "This could end up jeopardizing the project."
He stresses the change represents no backdoor way to undermine funding for the trail. "The trail is in the county's comprehensive plan," he says. "This doesn't change the county's commitment ...."
The trail can be rerouted to avoid the contested property and still ensure the connection to the Suncoast, he says.
Commissioners, understandably, want to avoid the eminent-domain process with unwilling landowners. They can't be faulted for wanting to avoid a costly showdown. It appears they have no option but to remove the parcel from the trail's route.
But commissioners, when making the move, should also insist that another trail alignment is quickly identified and make clear this detour won't derail the prospects for a completed trail.