The COVID-19 pandemic aside, the year 2020 brought myriad new developments and occurrences within the cities of Dade City and Zephyrhills.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the past year:
Medical marijuana dispensaries allowed
Medical marijuana treatment centers and dispensaries can now set up shop within certain areas of Dade City, following a commission ruling.
An ordinance approved in January altered Dade City’s land development regulations to make treatment facilities a permitted use in the city’s general commercial zoning district, and an allowed use in commercial and employment center planned development districts.
More specifically, the action ordinance lets medical marijuana facilities be situated along U.S. 301/U.S. 98 south and north of town, and certain pockets of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) district, while avoiding much of the city’s historic downtown main street and central business district.
The city previously had a series of concurrent moratoriums on medical marijuana treatment centers within its municipal limits dating back to 2016, to study its possible impacts.
New commissioners elected
The 2020 municipal election cycle brought aboard a pair of fresh faces to the five-member Dade City Commission — in Knute Nathe and Normita Woodard.
Nathe, an attorney at McClain Alfonso, assumed the Group 4 seat vacated by Nicole Deese Newlon, who chose not to run for reelection. Nathe in his campaign was vocal about controlling development that comes into city limits, to curb “out-of-control” growth seen in Wesley Chapel and San Antonio.
Woodard, a secretary at Lacoochee Elementary School, assumed the Group 5 seat that had been held by Eunice Penix since 1993 (Penix opted not to seek reelection.)
Woodard’s platform focused on building a strong downtown, while also advocating for more accountability and efficiency in municipal services for residents.
Meantime, Group 3 incumbent Jim Shive was elected to serve a third term on the commission.
Downtown gets stormwater relief
Dade City’s downtown streets and sidewalks have been known to be swallowed in at least 6 inches to 7 inches of standing water for days at a time after heavy summer rains.
This issue was seemingly mostly resolved when construction wrapped up in August on a $2.5 million stormwater capital improvement project.
The project generally took underground concrete piping through multiple downtown streets into an existing conveyance system into a reconfigured Irwin Pond, just past U.S. 98 and the CSX railway.
The new system runs from Seventh Street’s intersections with Church Avenue and Pasco Avenue. Then it heads east on Pasco Avenue to Third Street, before heading north up to Meridian Avenue.
The project was paid for with a combination of state appropriations, and funding from the Florida Department of Transportation and Dade City.
Snow in town?
While slightly outside the city limits, the brand-new Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park has brought an influx of visitors seeking a unique, family friendly thrilling adventure to the Dade City area.
The theme park hyped as “Florida’s first-ever snow park” opened for business in November,
at 27839 Saint Joe Road in Dade City.
There are three main attractions on the 20-acre site:
- Snowy Slopes — 60-foot-tall, 400-foot-long snowtubing hill featuring single, tandem and family-style snowtubing.
- Arctic Igloo — 10,000-square-foot enclosed circular space that is covered in snow thick enough to build snowmen, and make snow angels and snowballs.
- Alpine Village — expansive concourse area that exhibits a line of local vendors offering an assortment of food, drinks, beer, wine, craft goods and holiday gift shopping.
The park operates daily, except Christmas, from around November through March. Snowcat Ridge is owned by Point Summit Inc., which also operates TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park and Scream-A-Geddon Horror Park.
Main Street Zephyrhills garners statewide recognition
Main Street Zephyrhills Inc., annually puts on some of the city’s largest and most popular downtown events, such as the Festival of Lights, the Founder’s Day Parade & Heritage Festival, Music & Motorcycles, and others.
The 501c3 nonprofit also works closely with city leadership on other initiatives, such as creating interactive art murals, and installing public Wi-Fi downtown and more public park benches.
The organization’s varied efforts didn’t go unnoticed in 2020.
In March, it was designated Florida Main Street Program of the Month by Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee.
The monthly statewide honor is believed to be a first for Main Street Zephyrhills, which is mostly run by a large contingent of volunteers. The City of Zephyrhills does staff a coordinator to facilitate the group’s events and other programs.
Also, the organization in 2019 achieved national accreditation by the Main Street America program “for generating impressive economic returns, preserving community character, and celebrating local history.”
Zephyrhills joins water contamination lawsuit
Coincidentally enough, “City of Pure Water” this year joined a massive federal lawsuit regarding contaminated water.
In May, the municipality became a plaintiff in a multi-district litigation case filed against various companies that manufactured firefighting foams, or manmade chemicals found to contaminate groundwater, wastewater and water wells.
The chemicals in question are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), compounds historically used in carpets, clothing, food packaging and a number of industrial processes.
High levels of PFOA/PFOS were discovered in Water Well No. 1 utilized by the city’s downtown fire station for training purposes, dating as far back as 2014, officials and experts have said.
Armed with this information, the Zephyrhills City Council unanimously voted to enter negotiations for representation with Cossich, Summich, Parsiola and Taylor LLC., a New Orleans-based litigation firm. Local co-counsel includes Tampa-based firms Hobby & Hobby P.A., and Young & Partners LLP.
Zephyrhills joins more than 100 other cities and water treatment facilities across the country in the lawsuit. Other plaintiffs are as far away as California and North Dakota, and within Florida, Pensacola and Lauderhill.
Bidding adieu to local fire department
The Zephyrhills Fire Department — as it had been known for some 100 years — made its last service call in September when the agency officially became part of Pasco County Fire Rescue, through an interlocal agreement.
With the merger, the locally controlled fire department’s 24 full-time employees, two stations and apparatus were absorbed into the county’s fire and rescue operations.
The fire stations’ computer and audio systems unified within the county’s 911 operations center, too.
Along with the change, the city’s two stations have been renamed from Zephyrhills Fire Department Station 1 and Zephyrhills Fire Department Station 2, to Pasco County Fire Rescue Station 25 and Pasco Country Fire Rescue Station 29, respectively.
The merger had been inevitable for the past several years.
Besides a ballooning annual budget, Zephyrhills Fire Department over the years battled personnel turnover, staffing shortages and outdated equipment. The city also was without a fire chief for over 18 months, instead dividing those duties among three battalion chiefs.
The consolidation saved Zephyrhills from having to implement what would have amounted to a pricey fire assessment fee on residents and business owners to keep the local agency afloat.
World-class tennis center opens
Lace up the tennis shoes and prep those rackets and balls for play — because the state-of-the-art Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center is now game-ready for local use.
What began as drawings and plans on paper some four years ago has become a reality — in the form a $4.9 million athletic complex situated on nearly 10 acres of land, at 6585 Simons Road in Zephyrhills.
The facility’s centerpiece is 11 regulation outdoor tennis courts (nine clay surface, two hard surface), eight pickleball courts and four padel courts.
Attached is a nearly 8,000-square-foot indoor club housing cutting-edge health and wellness amenities that promote training and recovery via cryotherapy, salt therapy, yoga, athletic training and more. The indoor clubhouse also has a full restaurant and cafe operated by Land O’ Lakes-based caterer Mark Vesh.
The complex is named in honor of Sarah Vande Berg, a former Zephyrhills High School district champion and three-time state qualifier who died in an automobile accident in South Carolina at the age of 21, in October 2015.
The tennis center venture is a public-private partnership between the City of Zephyrhills and Pascal Collard, a longtime tennis pro and instructor serving as the facility’s CEO.
Besides public use, the facility is anticipated to be a host to national and international racquet sports tournaments.
A soft opening was held in September and grand opening in October.
Published December 30, 2020