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County buys key piece for Sebring Parkway II

SEBRING - After seven years of wrangling over landscaping, engineering, business signs and a parking lot, commissioners paid $500,000 for two slivers of land from Yarbrough Tire totaling less than 3,000 square feet.

That's enough for County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete to construct a sidewalk and a right turn lane from Sebring Parkway Phase II onto Youth Care Lane.

The agreement didn't come without disagreements over attorney fees and other numbers. The agenda item said the county would pay $447,146. Bottom line: $486,405 will be paid for a parcel in front of Yarbrough Tire, and another $13,013 for another from the vacant lot next door, which the Yarbroughs also own.

Last month, Danny Yarbrough told the Highlands County Commission that maps were off by as much as 30 feet, and that cars would have been driving over his septic tank.

Currently, northbound traffic stacks up on weekday mornings and afternoons on Sebring Parkway, where parents drop off and pick up their children at Fred Wild Elementary. The school board fenced the entire campus for safety. Now, the only entry point from Sebring Parkway is to turn east onto Youth Care Lane, and drive in from the rear of the school.

"This has been going on for five years," a frustrated Commissioner Ron Handley said.

"Seven," Yarbrough corrected.

"We could spend more time arguing," Commissioner Jim Brooks interjected. "I'm in favor of settling this today."

Commissioner Don Elwell agreed. The vote was 5-0.

Former commissioner and current Boom Boom Guns co-owner Geri Canale asked permission to lease a former clay pit that the YMCA had leased. The BMX track borders County Road 17A in Avon Park.

"I can't tell you how many times people have asked for a place to shoot or sight-in a rifle," said Canale. The Highlands County Gun Range & Archery Club wants to lease the property, which she said had Sheriff Susan Benton's blessing since the law enforcement range can't be lent to private citizens.

Currently, Canale said, people can use a pistol range for that single purpose, but often fire weapons on their own properties. "They say, 'I'm only using a .22. Well, a .22 will go about a mile and a half."

Commissioner Jack Richie of Lake Placid agreed. "I hear shooting by my place all the time. You don't even go outdoors on New Year's."

Although Elwell pointed out that the county did not require the YMCA to bid to use the clay pit for a BMX track, County Administrator June Fisher suggested that the commissioners follow Florida Statutes 125.35: the county must lease real property "to the highest and best bidder."

Fisher said other parties have approached her about reopening the BMX track, "They haven't followed up."

The YMCA returned the land to the county a few years ago, she said. "It was an activity that ran its course."

"By going to consider requests for proposals, we could conceivably get a request from someone who wants to mine the rest of the clay out there, right," Brooks asked.

No one else has requested to use the land, said Bill Youngman, who rose from the audience. "You have the power to do this today. I strongly suggest give it over to Mrs. Canale and her group, so we'll have a place where we can all shoot safely."

"Just the past weekend," citizen Jack Nelson agreed, "we had to drive all the way down to east of Okeechobee. It would really be nice if we could drive six or seven miles. There are several hundred shooters who want a place. I am 100 percent behind it."

The commissioners went out for bids.

The school board and the Town of Lake Placid asked the county to use $99,000 in a recreation fund to build rest rooms and a parking lot next to the school's tennis courts. The money in the fund, said county Parks and Natural Resources Director Vicki Pontius can only be given to municipalities.

"Why are we paying for all that?" Elwell objected.

School Board member Bill Brantley said the tennis courts are used by schools during a 12-week tennis season. The rest of the time, they're used by the citizens of Lake Placid. "You can go by there any day of the week, it's full."

But they ask to use the school rest rooms, which creates a school security problem, and they park on the side of the road and open their doors into oncoming traffic, which Town Administrator Phil Williams said creates a traffic hazard.

"Is there a tennis association?" Handley asked.

"There are several groups," Brantley said.

Perhaps those groups should collect donations and pay for the improvements, he suggested. He also balked at the price tag.

"It should be done, there's no question," Richie agreed. "The only question is, 'Who is going to pay for it? I think that's where we're at. I'd like to see the school board step to the plate more."

"We do this for all the municipalities," Harris suggested.

The fund the money comes from, which has almost $900,000 in it, is an infrastructure fund, Elwell suggested. "We might to want to use it for a building, or something."

Last week, the commissioners talked about how they'll they find $9 million to build a new sheriff's office.

Harris glanced at Elwell and said in an ironic voice, "Thanks for that, commissioner."

"Just saying," Elwell smiled.

The commissioners agreed to ask the county staff to determine how costs could be cut.

The Humane Society of Highlands County asked commissioners to waive $4,525 in fees for a new shelter and kennels, and Roger Dale Polston asked the county to additionally waive landscaping and irrigation requirements.

"They plan to replace the existing building," Gavarrete said.

Elwell suggested a split.

"Can we cut it in half and still cover our costs?" Commissioner Greg Harris asked.

Yes, Linda Conrad, zoning supervisor, agreed.

Commissioners also agreed to pay $186,198 for a VHF Simulcast Paging System, used by 911 operators to ask fire departments to respond to emergencies.

Commissioners agreed on $40,000 for a Lake Clay stormwater retrofit Phase II.