Saying a pocket park next to their complex would lead to excessive noise and traffic, and a subsequent decline in their property values, residents of Windward Passage voiced opposition to the proposed facility during the Feb. 3 Siesta Key Association meeting.
Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, told the approximately 40 people in the audience the foundation had been approached about the possibility of working with community members to purchase the 1-acre vacant lot on the Gulf of Mexico, known for its view of Big Pass and South Lido Key.
“We don’t own it; we don’t have a conservation easement (for it),” Johnson said. “People in the community approached us, knowing that we’ve done this (type of project) in other areas … one of the things that we want to know is whether you’re even interested (in the park concept).”
Harold Esselborn, president of the homeowners association at Windward Passage, at 4712 Ocean Blvd., said residents already have had to put up with people gathering on the site.
“They stay there to all hours of the night, make noise, leave trash,” he said. “I understand it’s a beautiful place to see the sunset, but I think it’s infringing on the owners of the properties on the right and the left and a few doors down and across the street.”
Bernie Hurley, another Windward Passage condo owner, told Johnson: “We have one of the probably top-two views on the whole island, and we paid for it, and not only did we pay for it, we like our privacy.”
Hurley added that when he and his wife were looking at buying a home on Siesta, they considered purchasing a condo in a 150-unit complex on Siesta Public Beach. They settled, instead, on a condo in the 22-unit Windward Passage.
“I gave up beach for view and privacy,” he said.
However, one woman in the audience, who declined to give her name, told Johnson, “Green spaces are so precious, and they are rapidly, continually diminishing. I envision no cars, no parking, no kayaks, nothing beyond the seawall (on the site) … with closing hours and strict regulations. I think it would be a crime not to do (the project).”
Sean Byrne, director of land protection for the foundation, told the audience the estimated cost of the property was between $3.5 million and $4 million.
“It’s not going to be an inexpensive undertaking,” he said, adding the foundation would have to raise the funds.
Two limited-liability companies own the property, Byrne said, though a single person controls the site.
Johnson said the parcel could be made accessible to people who could walk or ride bicycles to it, and the foundation could make sure any amenities placed there were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When SKA Director Bob Waechter asked Johnson what she was going to do if the majority of neighboring residents remained opposed to the proposal, she said, “We’re just kind of dipping our toe in right now … by no means do we want to create a park where nobody wants it.”
Johnson added that her and Byrne’s appearance at the SKA meeting was their first attempt to gain public response. They planned to meet with representatives of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and Village merchants as well, she said.
SKA Director Joe Volpe suggested the condo residents next to the parcel put together a list of controls that would ease their concerns if a park were put on the site. Nonetheless, Volpe told Esselborn, “We’re going to back (the condo owners), essentially.”
Siesta resident Elizabeth Rosen, who supported the concept of the park, said she felt parking spaces would have to be provided for people.
However, Johnson said that, with the limited space, creating parking spaces would be challenging.
“There’s no place you can put parking in there, unless you buy other properties,” Esselborn said.
Byrne also had mentioned to him the possibility of putting a kayak ramp at the site, Esselborn said, adding, “We couldn’t get a permit from the county to put one in.”
SKA Director Michael Shay said a kayak weighs approximately 75 pounds.
“People who are a couple of blocks away are not going to carry a kayak,” he said, “so I’m not sure how that launch would work (without parking spaces).”
However, Shay concurred that the lot was not big enough to support parking spaces.
“I envision it as a no-parking area,” said Volpe, who lives off Treasure Boat Way, which, he pointed out, is not far from the property. He suggested that residents of his neighborhood would be interested in walking to the site, to enjoy the sunset.
SKA Director Beverly Arias told the audience she lives further from the park than Volpe and walks regularly to the Village, “and I would love a place to sit in the middle of my walk.”
Volpe then asked Esselborn, “Do you really want another condo sitting alongside you? I mean, that’s really what it’s going to come down to (if the park is not developed).”
Esselborn replied that if another condo complex were built on the site, it could produce up to $70,000 a year in ad valorem taxes for Sarasota County.
Hurley said, “If I were not an (adjacent condo) owner, I would want access to (the park).”
Hurley added, “The overwhelming consensus is we don’t want it.”
“I hear two viewpoints,” Byrne said after about 35 minutes of discussion. “One is pretty vehement opposition for doing this. The other seems to be qualified, yet tepid support.”
Johnson told the audience, “Thank you very much for this civil discourse, because we have been part of discourses that were not civil.” She added, “Our next step is still to do some more listening.”