At a Nov. 12 Laurel Park Neighborhood Association meeting, some residents voiced concerns that a planned multiuse recreational trail could bring traffic into the neighborhood and cause parking issues.
Bill Nichols, the project manager with the city’s public works department, spoke at the meeting to provide an update on the construction efforts, which have currently reduced Brother Geenen Way to one lane.
In addition to establishing a 10-foot-wide recreational trail across Osprey Avenue and the Hudson Bayou that will connect Laurel Park to Burns Square, the city is installing two new pipes for drainage improvements in the area. Nichols said the city hopes to complete the project by the middle of March.
Some Laurel Park residents told Nichols they were worried about people traveling to the neighborhood simply to use the multiuse recreational trail. Others voiced concern about residential trail access points, which they said could possibly draw homeless people and others into the neighborhood when they otherwise wouldn’t be there.
A particular point of controversy was a kayak launch into the Hudson Bayou near Alderman Street. Only two parking spots, including one handicapped-accessible space, will be added to accommodate the launch site.
Nichols said the kayak launch was intended to be largely for residential use. Still, several people were worried that it would draw people into the neighborhood and make what they say is already a difficult parking situation in the area even worse.
Laurel Park resident Dennis Kowal said, due to the increasing popularity of kayaking and the relative shortage of kayak launch sites, it seemed inevitable that kayakers would park in residential areas to access the bayou.
“I don’t think someone has paid attention to how popular kayaking is becoming,” Kowal said. “It’s going to become a really serious issue immediately.”
Currently, Nichols said, a kayak launch on Sun Circle in the Sapphire Shores neighborhood is the only public launch site on city-owned land. Sarasota County has five kayak trails between University Parkway and Clark Road, with nine launch sites to access them.
Residents on Ohio Place, a narrow street near the bayou that’s perpendicular to the proposed trail, were particularly concerned about a parking issue arising from the opening of the kayak launch. Kowal said the city should reevaluate the project in light of the issues raised at the neighborhood meeting, but Nichols said any action would be premature.
“We don’t know if we’re going to have a problem or not,” Nichols said. “If you did something at this point in time, it’d be pure conjecture.”
Nichols said the city would monitor the situation and, if a problem arose, look into a possible solution for any parking woes. He emphasized that the city would be in constant communication with the neighborhood during and after the construction period.
“This is attendant to the project,” Nichols said. “We have to maintain an awareness of what’s going on and what develops after it’s done.”
Laurel Park Neighborhood association President Kate Lowman acknowledged the legitimacy of the resident’s concerns, but said they had to wait and see how things played out before anything could be done.
“Hopefully, there will be some good things that come out of (the trail),” Lowman said. “If there are unintended consequences, we will have to deal with it. I don’t see how we can deal with them ahead of time.”
Although he again said the city would make sure it took action if any issues arose, Nichols suggested it would be better for the kayak launch and trail to be overused rather than underused.
“If this becomes that popular and well used, that’s the kind of problem to have,” Nichols said. “It’s going to be quite a structure; if nobody used it, it’d be an utter failure. We want people to use it.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected]