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Sarasota Thursday, May 13, 2021 1 year ago

Truck parking at Payne Park causes dust-up

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Residents complained after the city’s parks department turned the Payne Park Auditorium into office space, so staff relocated vehicles from the property.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

When Maureen Doherty visited Payne Park last month, she was struck by the sight of something she felt was wildly out of place: an assemblage of trucks parked outside Payne Park Auditorium.

Doherty highlighted the incongruity at the May 4 City Commission meeting. The land east of the auditorium features a walking trail, a sunset hill and benches. West of the auditorium, there’s a pond surrounded by landscaping and wildlife. In the middle of it all sat a fenced-in area used to house vehicles and industrial equipment.

“I don’t have to tell you what a park should look like and what it shouldn’t look like,” Doherty said.

Doherty wasn’t the only person upset. The city received complaints from residents in Alta Vista, Laurel Park and other neighborhoods surrounding Payne Park. Members of the public questioned why the city would allow the use of parkland as a parking lot and how the change went into place without notice.

Residents learned the city was using the Payne Park Auditorium as office space for the Parks and Recreation Department, and the vehicles and equipment were being stored on-site to accommodate landscaping and other parks-related work. Following the public pushback, City Manager Marlon Brown initially attempted to scale back the city’s use of Payne Park for parks operations, but based on feedback from the City Commission on May 5, Brown signaled his intent to relocate the department altogether.

“To put everyone at peace, we’ll move them out,” Brown said.

Brown explained the move to Payne Park was motivated by a lack of space in the parks department’s previous home on 12th Street. Brown said the department was working out of a trailer and was pushing beyond capacity, so staff identified the auditorium as an alternative site.

“They have about 40-something vehicles and over 80 individuals that provide services to the community on a day-to-day basis,” Brown said. “They need to come by here, get their assignments and head out to those daily assignments.”

Brown expressed hope that the city could continue to operate out of Payne Park while addressing resident concerns by moving the larger trucks off-site, restoring some blocked pedestrian access points and providing improved screening. Although Brown said the use of Payne Park would only be temporary until the city found a permanent solution, multiple commissioners expressed concern about that arrangement.

“I just think there’s probably more appropriate places to have the offices and the trucks,” Mayor Hagen Brody said. Through a spokesperson, the city said most of the Parks and Recreation Department has moved back to 12th Street, though some staff remains at Payne Park.

“As we move through the next year, I will be discussing how to move to a more permanent space somewhere else,” Brown said.

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