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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 3 years ago

Neighborhood pushes for parkland purchase

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

For more than a decade, Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores residents have eyed a property in the heart of the neighborhood as potential parkland. With the land on the market, they hope the county is willing to buy it to make their vision a reality.

Even as developers planned to construct 23 houses on the land as recently as 2009, the Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores neighborhood association hoped to turn the 8.4-acre property located at 4200 Bay Shore Road into a park. The large neighborhood — with more than 1,200 homes — only had two small parks, and petitions circulated three years ago showed the residents’ desire for something more substantive.

“We have a lot more young families in the neighborhood even than when I first moved in a few years ago,” said David Morriss, neighborhood association president. “Right now, there's really no good neighborhood gathering place.”

Due to the economic downturn and objections from some residents, the development never came to fruition, and the Bank of Commerce acquired the property at an auction in September. With the bank assuming ownership, residents believe it’s the right time to obtain the land. If they wait too long, however, they fear another developer could buy the property.

Since its creation in 2005, Sarasota County’s Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program has led the acquisition of 16 properties to be turned into parks. The residents of Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores hope to see the Bay Shore Road property added to that tally, and the county says it is looking into the potential purchase.

Kim Heuberger, the county’s manager of parkland acquisition and development, said the property had been nominated through the neighborhood parkland acquisition program.

“We look to potentially work with the bank in the future, but, right now, there isn't any kind of an agreement,” Heuberger said.

One problem may arise from diverging valuations of the property. County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said in an email Feb. 6 that the bank’s asking price of $4.1 million exceeded the county’s appraisal of the property. Charlie Murphy, president and CEO of the Bank of Commerce, said the bank’s price was set after a recent appraisal, and that the county had not made a formal offer.

“We have a lot of interested parties that are calling,” Murphy said.

In 2010, the County Commission approved a $3.3 million purchase agreement for the property, but the contract was never executed.

The county will continue to monitor the situation to see if it can reach a deal. Heuberger said the city has prioritized this property to become parkland, and that it would remain of interest to the county as a result.

“It stands out as one we'd want to keep an eye on,” Heuberger said.

“We see this as the last real opportunity to acquire this for parkland,” Morriss said.

Contact David Conway at [email protected]


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