City staff is working with a consultant on a strategy for ensuring residents are satisfied with their parks options.
Residents want the city to do a better job of preserving natural areas, improving existing parks, expanding a system of trails and offering programming at recreational facilities.
These are some of the major findings from the city’s ongoing effort to create a parks master plan. On Monday, Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Fogle and consultant David Barth provided an update on the planning effort to the City Commission.
The master planning team began its work last fall, hoping to produce a series of recommendations for improving the system of 51 parks within the city. The group has held open houses and organized online and mail surveys to get a better sense of the public’s priorities when it comes to parks and recreation.
According to Monday’s presentation, the study suggests the city has a solid framework for a quality parks system, but there are several challenges limiting the existing level of service. That includes less funding for operations and maintenance than some comparable cities and fewer accessible parks than residents desire.
Barth said one issue the city may want to consider is the distribution of its parks. Metrics suggest the total acreage of city parkland is adequate for the city’s population, but many neighborhoods aren’t within walking distance of a park.
“You may generally have enough parks, but they might not always be in the right place,” Barth said.
The master planning team surveyed residents to get a better sense of the public’s wants and needs. More than 70% of the 501 respondents said they would support the city if it acquired more land to preserve green space, and more than 60% supported efforts to develop more greenways and trails. A majority of respondents offered some level of support for enhanced programming and facility improvements.
The commission accepted the report and directed the master planning team to continue with its work. The team now will focus on developing a vision and implementation strategy for improving city parks, including recommendations on funding options. Staff is scheduled to provide another commission update in September.
When it comes time to decide how to proceed, Barth said city officials will be in a position to determine the appropriate course of action for Sarasota. He said the process of tailoring parks to a specific city is a more subjective process, leaving more room for the commission to decide the path it wants to pursue.
“There’s no standards,” Barth said. “Nobody will tell you what the right level of service is for you.”
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