TEMPLE TERRACE - The city's bat population will remain homeless for a while longer.
In response to an outcry from residents opposed to building a new bat tower in Riverhills Park, the Temple Terrace City Council has asked the city staff to take 30 days to identify other potential sites for the replica of the city's original bat tower.
On Thursday, the Temple Terrace Preservation Society, which has been shepherding plans to build a new bat tower, withdrew its request to build it at the city-owned park.
"The Temple Terrace Preservation Society will work directly with the city on one or two more potential bat tower sites in the city that we have in mind that we know will meet the detailed and specific design parameters of the project," Councilman Grant Rimbey said in a statement. "If these locations do not work we will consider terminating the project."
Rimbey is a former president of the preservation society and has been involved in replacing the city's historic bat tower for years.
The move by the preservation society occurred one day after council members voted unanimously to expand the potential list of sites for the bat tower.
"Let's look at other options that are out there ... and see if those options will work," Mayor Frank Chillura said Tuesday. "I think patience and knowledge will pay off."
About 40 people signed up to speak to the city council about the bat tower at Tuesday night's regular council meeting.
Residents, who packed the city council chambers and adjacent city hall lobby, waited nearly three hours to address the board about the tower. Two people asked Rimbey to recuse himself from voting, a request he rejected, saying he receives no financial benefit from the bat tower project.
Most of the speakers were opposed to plans by the preservation society to build the tower in the city-owned park where an annual art festival, a road race and other community events are held.
Scott Hines and several of his neighbors on Riverhills Drive want the preservation society to find another location for the tower farther away from their houses.
"People are not forced to be so close to a bat tower anywhere in the world and certainly not just out their front door," Hines said.
Temple Terrace resident Melissa Jones, who is Hines' daughter, said she would be afraid to take her children to Riverhills Park if the bat tower is there.
Carla Stevens, who said she live around the corner from the park, said she "didn't want to take the chance" something bad would happen with a bat tower nearby.
Ann Winter, another Riverhills Drive homeowner, said she was concerned the bat tower would negatively impact the value of her home.
They were not swayed by Cyndi Marks of the Bat Conservancy who tried to alleviate fears about bats spreading rabies and other diseases. She said about two Americans die from rabid bat bites a year.
Of the five bat species in Temple Terrace, the Brazilian free-tailed bat is the one most likely settle in the bat tower when it's completed, Marks said. Several evening bats also are likely to move in. Marks, who worked with the preservation society to find the park location, said she would be willing to help city officials with a new search.
Preservation Society President Tim Lancaster had been leading the effort to keep the spot in the park overlooking the Hillsborough River.
Rimbey spoke on behalf of the group in Thursday's announcement.
"While we feel the Riverhills Park site is a good one and we have more than satisfied the multiple concerns of the neighbors and the city with expert insight and letters of support, there's increasing misinformation about the project and the animosity and anger the project is generating is the very antithesis of what we intended to do, and which is the mission of our group." Rimbey said in the release.
"While we value the city as a partner in this project, we feel that what we have been asked to do by the city and council thus far has been excessive for any city civic group."
The preservation society also is working under a time crunch. In April, Hillsborough County awarded the preservation society a $22,500 matching grant with a stipulation to complete the project by October 2014. The group raised its half through community support.
The bat tower will resemble the city's original bat tower built in 1924 and burned down by an arsonist in 1979. The new tower will be large enough to accommodate 600,000 bats.