Tax collector buying office

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By Lou Elliott Jones

The City of Williston has good news on the business front: The Levy County Tax Collector has purchased an office building in the city and a tourist destination, Blue Grotto, won approval of a land use change that may revitalize it.

Both items came up at Tuesday's Levy County Commission meeting.  Just six months ago County Tax Collector Linda Fugate and Commission Chair Ryan Bell were at odds over her plans to build an office. But on Tuesday both couldn't be happier about this new development. The commission gave her its blessing to proceed with the purchase. 

On the Blue Grotto park development, the commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a land use change for 9.9 acres of the 14-acre dive resort and RV park. Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston cast the dissenting vote. 

Fugate announced to the commission that instead of leasing land from the City of Williston and building an office, she is instead purchasing a building near the Williston hospital for about $130,000 that will meet her needs.  In May she clashed with Bell over her plans to spend $150,000 on site prep and construction using county labor on city land. 

Fugate has signed a 99-year lease that calls for $1 in rent, but if any time the office would be vacant or unused the building would revert to the City of Williston. It is similar to a lease the county has for the EMS station located across the street from the new tax collector’s office. Bell questioned the spending noting a new tax collector could abandon the Williston office and the county would have lost revenue and ownership. 

Fugate must move from her current office, a converted mobile home in front of the city police department, because the Williston Community Redevelopment Agency is preparing to renovate the median where the office is located.  

Fugate told the commission on Tuesday, “A building that is currently in Williston came up for sale and if we purchased it for $130,000 it would be a building the county would own.”. She said if the tax collector's office moved out at a later date it would be a county asset that could be sold. 

The building, which once housed a pharmacy, does not require much remodeling and the work could be done by the county's buildings and maintenance department, she said. 

She said the building on about half-an-acre has 1,700 square feet of office space and has ample parking. “It's near the school the children who have to take a test they could just walk over,” she said. The tax collector's office also handles driver license testing and renewals, in addition to collecting property taxes, and tag and license fees. 

The owner was asking over $200,000, Fugate said, but she countered with an offer of $130,000. The owner then asked $170,000 and when an appraisal was done, the appraiser could not find any comparable sales in Williston due to the slow market, but he looked elsewhere and decided on $120,000. 

Stevens said the purchase was a good deal because “as Williston's growing, it tends to grow in that direction anyway.” Speaking for the board, Stevens told Fugate, “Just to continue in the direction you are going.”


Blue Grotto land use change

On the Blue Grotto issue, Stevens disagreed with the method the park's new owners were taking to accomplish their goal of putting cabins on the site. He said instead of a land use change from Urban Low Density Residential use to Commercial use they should consider a conditional use designation. Stevens also expressed concern that the road is not able to handle traffic. 

Bell said there is another road to the west of the property that can be used for access if necessary. 

Stevens said the county's forefathers who granted the location a special exception for zoning allowing the RV park and felt a conditional change was the correct route. “A conditional use permit would allow us to mold and fit what we have in there,” Stevens said. 

Blue Grotto Property LLC, owner Dave Myler has purchased the site from Edward and Judy Paradiso, and wants to reestablish the spring as a diving and tourist destination. He said he also wants to use it in his ministry. 

Myler said he has three RVs on the property. “These guests would be diving at our site and other springs in the area and they would be using the restaurants and convenience stores,” Myler said. He said the property manager, Curt Huber, thinks three cabins would meet the needs for several years. He said later they could add more bringing the number of RVs to six which could house up to 48 people.

“We can have only so many divers in any given day on our site,” Myler said. 

One issue with the plans is how to handle sewerage. “The only issue is the sanitary and how that's going to be handled. We have the approval for the RVs. We have the approval to install and it may be that the small land use change may be necessary in order to do the septic,” Myler said. 

Myler and his consultant Clay Sweger of Eng, Denman & Associates, Inc., of Gainesville, said the land use change could help ally fears that the spring would be used for bottling water. 

Myler said, “They're not going to do that. They have to get a license for it. They're never going to get that. The way I'm developing it they're actually cementing (commercial) as its current use. That is exactly my only vision for that property.”

Sweger told the commissioners, “If you approve this, that takes the water bottling possibility off the table today. We thought that was a plus. By changing to commercial that will take the potential away.”

Commissioner Mike Joyner of Morriston made the motion to approve the change, seconded by Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland.