NORTH PORT — North Port city commissioners voted 4-0 late Monday night to reject Sarasota County’s offer to purchase the city’s share of the 81-acre Warm Mineral Springs Day Spa. The county said it would buy the Springs for $2 million as long as North Port ran water and sewer lines to the spa and land surrounding the 87-degree lake, then deannex the property from the city. Commissioners said the county’s offer was terrible. Instead, they voted 3-1 to have the city manager see if any state or federal agencies are interested in buying the city’s portion of the Springs, which it jointly purchased with the county in December 2010 for $5.5 million. Commissioner Tom Jones is recovering from a stroke he suffered in January and has not attended meetings since then.
Commissioners also talked about other ways to unload the city’s share of the property. Mayor Linda Yates proposed dividing the property evenly. Showing an aerial of the property to the packed chambers, she also suggested the county be offered 21 acres, including the mineral-rich lake and spa facilities, and the city keep the remainder of the 60 acres of vacant property. The city could then sell the land to a developer. City Attorney Rob Robinson said he didn’t believe the 81 acres could be divided. He said dividing it would be complicated and potentially costly. He added the county could sue if the city sells its share of the property to a private developer because it can’t be jointly owned by the county and a developer. That limits the options commissioners have in selling the Springs. “If it were (all) vacant land, that would be a piece of property that’s easily divisible, but you have a piece of property that’s unique,” Robinson said. “There are only a few of these type of springs in the country.” Yates said she didn’t want dividing the land to be costly. “We could simply go to the county and suggest we mutually agree to divide up the land and the dirt,” Yates said. “We can say all we want to do is move on. Nobody is looking for it to have a negative impact, but we could save money if we mutually agree.” No other commissioners agreed to her proposal. Commissioner Jim Blucher proposed the city return to the original plan, an invitation to negotiate, and solicit proposals from private developers to learn the vision the private sector has for future Springs development. He said commissioners have all been presented with a few proposals. He mentioned the 66-year-old doctor who owns 16 acres surrounding the Springs and how he envisions preserving the spa and building medical facilities on his own property which borders the lake. Blucher said the doctor could lose investors and some of his “development rights” while commissioners take time debating what to do with the Springs. Yates disagreed with Blucher’s suggestion, adding the commission only rejected the “process” of the ITN back in November. After listening to Blucher’s plan and Yates’ comments about his idea, Commissioner Rhonda DiFranco said it seemed the mayor was “swaying toward an ITN.” “It sounds like you say one thing and yet you go in the opposite direction which seems so convoluted,” DiFranco said. “I think everything the county offered was bad. No way Jose. But we gotta start moving forward. I’m tired. Let’s go forward with other city business.”
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