PALM-AIRE — Residents of Conservatory Estates in the Palm-Aire community gave notice to Manatee County Oct. 12 that they would file a lawsuit against the county if it continued installing a 6-foot chain link fence for a new conservatory park behind their homes.
“I think we have all our ducks in a row,” said organizer John Bartley, noting residents feel the fence violates Manatee County land development codes. “We are going to try to put a stop order in until we can get it resolved.”
County workers began bulldozing behind people’s homes Oct. 8 to install the fence.
As of press time Tuesday, residents had not filed a lawsuit, but the action is still in consideration, Bartley said.
“We’re still trying to negotiate without going to court,” he said.
Residents said they are excited about the park itself, which will provide boating opportunities at its lake and have multiuse trails, a fishing observation deck, playground area and picnic facilities, among other amenities.
“We’re excited about the park,” Bartley said. “We’re not so excited about the way they are developing the park.”
Bartley said the use of chain-link fence violates Manatee County Land Development Code’s section on minimum required landscaping and screening buffers, which states “decorative, opaque fences shall be considered: concrete aggregate, stucco, finish (either colored or painted, brick, stone, glass block or wood. No chain link fence shall be allowed. (The exception is chain link with slats shall be allowed for the gates of dumpster enclosures)…”
If the county chooses to use the more economic chain-link rather than an alternative type, it could put the fence farther back into the woods — about 10 feet — and weave the fence through existing trees. Doing so for the residents whose properties back up to the park would give them a view of area that would more closely resemble the backyard they’ve had, in some cases, for more than 20 years, Bartley said.
Instead, the county has bulldozed along the property line, working around existing trees only.
“Our house was the first house,” resident Jenna Klosner said. “They bulldozed a five-foot area for the fence.”
Laura Brunson added: “This is an emotional issue for us who have never had anybody but cows behind us. We are opposed to the fact we weren’t included.”
But county officials say they have worked closely with groups and homeowner’s associations representing Conservatory Estates, DeSoto Woods, Highlands, the Palm-Aire Condo Association, Timberlake and Palm West Estates. They also say the fence does not violate county rules, and the chain link vinyl fence will blend in better than the alternative, more solid fence types.
“We’ve even had the county attorney’s office review it, and we are within the county’s land development code,” Manatee County Parks and Recreation Director Cindy Turner said. “In fact, even as we are going forward, the homeowners are still a partnership in creating this park.”
Project Manager Mike Sosadeeter said the county must keep the fence along the property line because the grant used to help purchase the property requires the county to maintain the entire 55-acre site. Pushing the fence back 10 feet, as suggested by residents, would make the county responsible for maintaining portions of the park that are outside the fence.
“We’d have to access it through people’s yards,” Sosadeeter said. “It’d be an operational headache, really.”
The county, however, will maintain a 100-foot plant buffer behind the fence.
“The visual intrusion (of the fence) will diminish over time,” Sosadeeter said. “Those who hate the idea can always landscape on their side of the fence. It’s our experience, with a park like this surrounded by residential neighborhoods, it’s in (the residents) best interest to have a fence there.”
The fence, he said, will protect residents from having park-goers tromp onto their property, while also helping prevent homeowners from dumping their yard waste or other debris onto park property.
Sosadeeter also said the county has been working to establish more clear-cut guidelines for fencing around parks in residential areas, but the county’s standard practice currently is to use the black vinyl chain-link fence.
Although not yet named as a factor in the lawsuit, Bartley said the park’s overall design also violates Manatee County code because it does not provide an inter-neighborhood tie between Conservatory Drive and Desoto Woods Drive. Instead, the park design includes an entrance at each end of the park with no vehicular connector.
The design, Bartley and residents said, will force more traffic onto Conservatory Drive because it is the only access for boaters. The Conservatory Drive parking area also is closer to the playground.
“If they want to do anything in the park, they’ll come to our side,” Bartley said.
Sosadeeter said the county designed the park without a connecting road to minimize impacts to the site, which had been a goal of the county and a request of residents. He also said all the facilities except the lake access have been moved closer to the center of the park so they are of equal walking distance from both entrances. If driving, however, the Conservatory Drive parking area will be closer, he said.
Despite protests from Bartley and residents in Conservatory Estates, county officials maintain the park does not violate any codes and said they are eager to get it open to the public for use.
“It’s going to be a really nice park once it’s open,” he said.
Construction is expected to last about one year.
For a rendering of the park, click here.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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