The Longboat Key Town Commission wants to make sure the island’s residents tell the town what kind of new park and recreation center they want.
The commission will hold public meetings in the near future to gauge what residents like and dislike about a Bayfront Park concept plan.
The seven commissioners talked for almost an hour at their Thursday, May 26 regular workshop to debate what should be done and how soon the commission should move forward with aspects of a plan that call for park modifications and a proposed recreation center.
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told the commission it has access to approximately $3 million in the town’s utility fund and $4 million in the town’s unreserved fund balance to use as funding sources for the park.
Commissioner Jack Duncan said the town should hold a referenda before using taxpayer funds.
“We are cutting the taxpayer out of the decision-making process if we don’t go forward with a referenda on the park plan,” Duncan said.
Commissioner Phillip Younger agreed.
“We’re not going to be breaking ground on this anytime soon,” Younger said. “We could always pose a referenda on a straw poll basis to determine if the voters want to move forward.”
St. Denis said he just wanted to let the commission know that those funds are available.
He noted that a community center project could cost approximately $7 million and that the entire bayfront park project could cost millions more.
Vice Mayor David Brenner made the case for putting the concept plan before the residents, either in the form of subcommittee meetings or commission meetings.
“We have the cart before the horse,” Brenner said. “We are talking about a concept plan and we’re not sure what we’re implementing from it. We need to put the concept plan in front of the public to get input.”
Mayor Jim Brown agreed.
“The commission needs to vet this during public meetings to discuss what’s conceptually designed is appropriate,” Brown said. “We have to put this to the people.”
Duncan, meanwhile, worried that too much emphasis was being placed on the park concept.
“It seems we are moving too quickly on this when we have some financial concerns that are more pressing — like the pension problem,” Duncan said. “I think we are pushing too hard on this at this time. The referenda could go down in flames if we push too hard.”
Former Mayor George Spoll, however, urged the commission to still move forward with hiring a design professional to review the concept plan and make sure its scale and size are appropriate.
Spoll, chairman of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force, warned the commission to not drag its feet on the park concept.
“We have spent a great deal of time talking about the future of the Key,” Spoll said. “Unless we take steps to literally enhance and revitalize this Key, we shouldn’t even worry about the pension plan because our property values and interest on this Key are on a major decline. We have to do all these things at the same time.”
The commission agreed to move forward with public hearings about the park plan and hire a design professional to review the concept.
Bayfront Park Concept Plan
• A new 15,000-square-foot community center building
• Multi-use sports court
• Tennis courts
• Separate restroom facility
• Dock and boatlift
• Kayak pavilion and wash-down area
• Fishing pier
• Half-mile walking loop
• Mangrove informational walking area
• Multi-use active and passive recreation areas
• Covered areas with picnic tables and barbecue grills
• Retain existing recreation center for art classes
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].