Despite the fact that the Bayfront Park concept plan eliminates a baseball-field requirement, the Town Commission will move forward with the plan and work to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles that go along with making the concept a reality.
At its Thursday, May 21 regular workshop, the commission gave town staff and Town Attorney David Persson permission to start a yearlong process that involves updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan to eliminate the baseball field as a park requirement.
Persson also explained at the meeting that The Longboat Key Community Center Inc., which donated the central portion of the park in 1993, must sign off on the decision to remove the ballpark. If the association doesn’t, the park’s paid mortgage could be rescinded.
Before agreeing to make the changes, the commission toyed with the idea of taking the easy way out.
“I’m personally unhappy that we are eliminating the ball field in the first place,” Mayor Lee Rothenberg said.
Commissioner George Spoll suggested that a ball field, in some form, could still be placed on the site.
But Vice Mayor Robert Siekmann pointed out that the public picked a park concept without a ball field.
“Why do we hold public meetings if we don’t care what the public has to say?” asked Siekmann, who also pointed out that the commission already gave its blessing for the Sarasota County Commission to review the park concept at a June 9 meeting.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told town staff that they shouldn’t let the ball-field-requirement hurdle affect its decision to plan the park.
“No one mentioned wanting to play ball there at three public hearings,” St. Denis said.
The conversation led Spoll and others to change their minds about keeping a ball field that rarely sees any use.
“This plan represents the public’s wishes, and we should respect that,” Spoll said.
Persson and town staff will now move forward with zoning and Comprehensive Plan changes.
The lengthy process will also give the town more time to figure out how to pay for a park concept that calls for a new 15,000-square-foot community center, a new multi-use basketball court and relocated tennis courts.
New park amenities that received favorable responses from residents also require money to pay for a fishing pier near the site of the park’s two current dock locations, a relocated dock and boatlift and a kayak pavilion and kayak wash-down area.
The commission, which foresees a potential $1 million revenue shortfall this summer, agreed that no budget money will even be considered for the project for at least another two years.
PARK CONCEPT PLAN
• A new 15,000-square-foot, community-center building
• Multi-use sports court
• Tennis courts
• Separate restroom facility
• Dock and boatlift
• Kayak pavilion and wash-down area
• Fishing pier
• Half-mile walking loop
• Mangrove informational walking area
• Multi-use active-and-passive recreation areas
• Covered areas with picnic tables and barbecue grills
• Retain existing rec center building for art classes