- January 8, 2020
Of the 125 acres in the Rosemary District, none of it is public, open space — unless you count the cemetery.
That’s why, amid a period of residential growth in the north-of-downtown neighborhood, members of the community are organizing in support of the creation of a park for the district.
On Monday, those residents made a major step toward their goal. The City Commission agreed to direct city staff to research the options for purchasing property in the neighborhood for the future development of a park. The move was a sign the city is interested in improving the conditions in an area undergoing significant growth, where more than 1,500 new residential units have been approved during the past four years.
“I think this is something we need to at least look at,” Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said.
At the same time, some officials and residents also advocated for consideration of new parks in underserved neighborhoods lacking the coordinated campaigning emanating from the Rosemary District.
“Motions made and approved without the full spectrum of the needs of the entire city are inappropriate at best,” resident Norm Dumaine said. “At worst, destructive to a process that’s meant to serve all of Sarasota’s citizens.”
The Rosemary District Association’s open space committee has identified a series of sites where it believes the development of a park would be appropriate. According to a presentation, the group’s goal is to create one larger community park and two or three pocket parks, ensuring all residents are within a 10-minute walk of a park.
“We’re behind the curve now,” said David Lough, co-chair of the open space committee.
Those residents suggested parks impact fees, generated by new development in the neighborhood, could help pay for the construction of a new park in the Rosemary District.
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said she wanted the city to examine its options in the Rosemary District, but she didn’t want to make a decision about that neighborhood until an ongoing analysis of the city’s parks needs is finalized. She said the city’s decision to create a parks district and undertake a parks master plan represented a commitment to improving parks citywide, and she was concerned about prioritizing the Rosemary District without sufficient justification.
“That’s what the district is supposed to be for, so communities are treated equitably,” Eddie said.
Although a push may have come from Rosemary District residents, city staff supported a short-term emphasis on analyzing the options in the neighborhood. Parks Director Jerry Fogle said a dwindling number of viable sites in the district was a reason to move quickly on the possible purchase of land.
“I think it has to be looked at right now,” Fogle said. “I think it has to be taken outside of the master plan process.”
Commissioner Willie Shaw was hesitant to endorse the idea of building a park in the Rosemary District. Because services for homeless individuals are located in and adjacent to the neighborhood, he said he was worried about the prospect of illicit activities occurring in an area park. Both Shaw and Commissioner Hagen Brody encouraged staff to consider options for discouraging illegal behavior in any park.
Mayor Liz Alpert said she understood that concern, but she didn’t think it was a reason for the city to withhold a park.
“I don’t think we can say we’re not going to create any parks until we have that problem solved,” Alpert said.
Although the Rosemary District Association identified sites at 1391 Boulevard of the Arts and 1420 Fifth St. as ideal, the commission did not place a limit on the properties staff will consider.
“We need our planning department and recreation to look at anything that would meet our needs as articulated,” City Manager Tom Barwin said.