Although they indicated they would offer no financial assistance for the project, members of the Siesta Key Village Association voiced support March 6 for a proposed pocket park on Ocean Boulevard.
Representatives of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast led a 25-minute discussion of the issue during the SKVA’s regular meeting at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar in the Village.
Christine P. Johnson, president of the foundation, told the approximately 30 people present that a pocket park “is a little piece of space in the middle of a bustling city … It’s green; it has been well-planted; it has been well-designed.”
As she had told Siesta Key Association members during their Feb. 2 meeting, Johnson explained that a couple of residents had approached the foundation about the 1-acre vacant lot on Ocean Boulevard, just north of Siesta Village, because they felt it would make a good pocket park.
“This would be absolutely fantastic (as a pocket park), because you have the wonderful views not only of the Gulf (of Mexico) but of South Lido,” Johnson said, adding that sidewalks and perhaps up to three spaces for handicapped-parking access could be put there.
However, Johnson emphasized to the group, “Right now, we have no plans in place.” She added, “We still have some research to do.”
Johnson and other representatives of the foundation, she said, were talking with residents, including neighbors of the property and stakeholders, such as the merchants group, to determine their answers to three questions:
• “Do you support making this land a community resource?”
• “What would you like it to look like?”
• “Would you be willing to help out with that (resource) going forward?”
When SKVA Treasurer Roz Hyman asked whether Johnson meant support financially or in terms of manpower to create the park, Johnson replied, “All of the above.”
As he had during the February SKA meeting, Harold Esselborn, president of the homeowners association at Windward Passage condominiums, adjacent to the vacant lot, protested that if any parking were allowed on the property, people would come from all over the area.
“What about if it were to be designed so that you can’t (have vehicles other than those with handicapped-parking permits)?” Johnson asked.
“How can you design it for them not to park along Ocean Boulevard illegally?” Esselborn replied.
Moreover, he continued, “If you say the Sheriff’s Department’s going to police this, then we’d better have a full-time sheriff’s deputy assigned there … to issue tickets.”
Albert Joerger, who had established the Conservation Foundation, asked Esselborn, “If it’s developed into a condominium tower, what’s going to stop people from parking there and going to look at the sunset?”
Esselborn said residents of Windward Passage already handle such a problem, mostly by asking people to leave the complex’s parking area.
“We’re a merchants association,” Broken Egg co-owner Bob Kirscher told Joerger and Johnson, “and, really, this has nothing to do with our mission.”
When Joerger said people might come into the Village and buy sandwiches to take back to the park, Kirscher added, “We can support it, but, as far as financially, we’re not in a position to do it.”
An SKVA member noted the property is listed for $6 million.
“Do you all have $6 million?” Mark Smith, president of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, asked Johnson and Joerger.
In the eight years the foundation had been in existence, Joerger said, “We’ve done a $9 million acquisition down on Pine Island, a $6 million acquisition in Osprey … If we find a good idea, we usually find the money.”
Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, who was a guest at the meeting, told the group that she had had numerous phone calls from residents who had voiced excitement about the proposal after it was raised during her group’s February meeting. “Many people on this Key walk,” she said, and it would be a good place for them to stop along their routes.
Additionally, Luckner said, research had shown that “property values go up when you have a protected, desirable spot like that close by.”
SKVA member Anne Johnson told the group, “Even if you don’t walk to that park, if you drive by that park, which hundreds of people do every day,” it was important to have that open space, to be able to see the sunset or the waves in the Gulf on a windy day, for examples.
Moreover, she said, “You don’t get many tastes of the water anywhere on Siesta Key,” other than the public beach.
SKVA member Helene Hyland added that people needed to ask themselves whether they preferred “a park that’s tastefully designed and patrolled and accessible for all people versus another high-rise building, maybe.”