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Crystal River mayor: Damato driving 'wedge'

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By Eryn Worthington

CRYSTAL RIVER— Mayor Jim Farley feels County Commissioner Dennis Damato is driving a “wedge” between the city and county in a proposal to revitalize Crystal River.

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Farley contends a plan drafted by Damato that calls for the formalization of a resort district, downtown/historic waterfront district and town center/environmental district largely overlaps a plan city officials had in place in 2008.


In a meeting with the Chronicle Editorial Board on Wednesday morning, Farley and City Manager Andy Houston displayed the county’s recent revitalization plan, “Partnership for a New Beginning,” and the city’s existing plan, “Visioning Plan for Downtown,” and questioned how Damato could imply his concepts are new or original. The county’s conceptual plan for the city was presented at a public workshop on Thursday, Dec. 20, at the Plantation on Crystal River, attended by county and city officials. Farley was not in attendance, indicating on Wednesday he was unable to adjust his schedule to accommodate the workshop.
 

Houston and Farley said in 2011 Damato met with Crystal River Director Planning and Community Development Jackie Gorman to discuss the redevelopment issue; then, in August 2011, came forth with his plan.


“It is a partnership agreement and concept, in which I highlighted potential funding that the Citrus County commission has in place to do their project,” Damato said. “Impact fees, Cutler Spur and park impact fees were collected and must be spent in that district.”


One area both Farley and Houston said the county’s plan fails to address is revitalization of the U.S. 19 corridor. While Damato proposes the development of a town center at the location of an existing strip mall, Farley and Houston said the concept is good, but purchasing the property and developing a town center would be a project for the private sector.


Noting the unlikelihood of a rebound of retail businesses in the near future, Farley and Houston said they would welcome county input on how to bring improvements to the U.S. 19 area. However, they also noted Damato played a major role in the relocation of county government satellite office out of the city to Meadowcrest.


“Crystal River does need economic turn around, once they define standards,” Damato said on Wednesday.


Damato has proposed placing a park on vacant, privately-held land at the corner of U.S. 19 and Citrus Avenue for use as an entertainment venue. Farley said that location is impractical, given the proximity to the busy highway. In addition, the Tarmac Mine in Levy County is projected to result in 500 rock trucks a day traveling through the city, passing within feet of the corner lot. When that concern was brought to Damato’s attention, according to Farley, Damato suggested two venues be established, which Farley said makes no sense.


Damato — whose commission district includes the city of Crystal River — once served on the Community Redevelopment Agency, but Houston and Farley said the city’s revitalization plan was crafted after Damato’s involvement on the CRA and is not an extension of work he had done while serving on the agency.


In speaking with the editorial board, Farley was blunt in assessing Damato’s personal style, calling him “boisterous, arrogant and patronizing.” While saying he supports city revitalization efforts, he suggested the county designate another official to work with the city if it is to be a joint initiative.