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Property matters

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Parcel of land in the heart of Crystal River comes into redevelopment focus

By Abdon Sidibe

CRYSTAL RIVER — The 2.5-acre parcel of land otherwise called the Waddington/

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Petrella property at the intersection of Citrus Avenue and U.S. 19 is in the crosshairs of dueling plans for the redevelopment of the city.

The property has been vacant for more than four decades, but recently it has come into focus for a city keen to develop a symbolic gateway to a resurgent downtown area and the designs of a county commissioner who claims his plan is the right fit.

City officials have hatched a new plan, unveiled at a recent workshop about competing vision plans for the redevelopment of the city.

Citrus County Commissioner Dennis Damato produced in December a wide-ranging plan he believes will beautify the city and fundamentally make it more attractive to business. Damato’s plan also suggested the city purchase the property and transform it into a public space with a small performance area for musical entertainment.

Damato’s plan was presented as a partnership initiative between the county and the city.

However, his plan was widely panned by city officials who accused Damato of duplicating the city’s own vision plan, which was created in 2008. City officials also said they weren’t consulted beforehand about his plans.

The city held a workshop in February to identify areas of overlap and parts of the plans which diverge.

What to do with the parcel of land on the corner of Citrus was one of the divergences.

Mayor Jim Farley called the land the “absolute worst place” for musical or other public events because of the constant noises emanating from U.S. 19.

City Manager Andy Houston suggested the property be split in two; the back of the property, which is a wetland, would be purchased by the city with county park impact fees and  used in accordance with Damato’s plan for a trailhead. The other part of the land will be left for commercial development. The city council agreed with Houston’s plan.

County Manager Brad Thorpe and Board of County Commissioners Chairman Joe Meek expressed support for city officials’ efforts for redevelopment and offered a helping hand.

Houston told the Chronicle Editorial Board on Wednesday he met with Thorpe this week and the two discussed his plans for the property, which is currently owned by Jennifer Petrella and her husband Andrew.

“Brad offered some support and willingness to move forward,” Houston said. “His only concern is that the area left for commercial development will be too small to attract buyers should the Petrellas decide to sell.”

He said he will meet today with the Petrellas to discuss his plan. Later Wednesday, Houston told the Chronicle the wetland area of the property has been appraised at $146,000. He said should the Petrellas decide to sell and the city decide to buy the commercial part, it would cost the city about $250,000.

“In that case, I would recommend landscaping the area, and maybe a temporary public parking area and putting a sign on there to let people know it is available for sale for commercial development,” Houston said.

The Petrellas paid nearly $400,000 to purchase the land last September in an auction by the Waddington family.

Contact Chronicle reporter A.B. Sidibe at 352-564-2925 or asidibe@chronicleonline.com.