Not in a residential neighborhood, they say



A sports complex for the community’s youngsters sounded like a grand plan, but constructing that complex in the middle of a residential neighborhood maybe not so much.

That was the universal opinion voiced Tuesday night by several Port St. Joe residents who live on property adjacent to the 10th Street Ball Parks.

And they found support from Port St. Joe city commissioners who said the neighbors’ feedback should be heard by the committee, established by the Board of County Commissioners last year, drafting plans to renovate and expand the park.

The spark that brought a dozen or so residents to Tuesday’s meeting was the conceptual plan approved by the City Commission and BOCC earlier this year.

“The park is a gem, it attracts people,” said Claire Morris, whose property abuts the ball parks.

But, she said, the conceptual plan doubles the size of the ball fields, adds nearly 300 parking spaces (“Literally into our backyards”), will destroy the beauty of the park with the felling of trees and create drainage issues.

Another resident noted the conceptual plan calls for a stormwater pond directly out his back door.

And another questioned a fundamental of the conceptual plan: piping the stormwater ditch running the width of the ball park complex.

Adding to the park, to provide more recreational ideas for children, was a noble goal, but not as it is currently proposed.

“Keep the neighborhood ball fields, add some elements, but building a sports complex in the middle of a residential neighborhood makes no sense,” Morris said, with many in the audience nodding or voicing approval.

“Build it outside of town and preserve the integrity of the neighborhood.”

Commissioner Rex Buzzett, appointed to the citizens committee drafting the ball park plan, said he voiced that sentiment early on, that he knew of no sports complex of any size in a residential neighborhood.

The sports complex concept was originally destined for land donated by the city and county by the St. Joe Company for that express purpose.

The complex was part of a long-expired interlocal agreement between county and city.

That idea sat fallow, however, after the downturn in the economy last decade and the BOCC last year reignited the idea decided to focus instead on expanding the 10th Street complex.

But, several speakers said Tuesday, the focus should return to building a sports complex outside of town.

Buzzett added that his view about building a complex in a residential neighborhood fell on deaf ears at the county.

“The adjoining property owners need to be involved,” Buzzett said, noting the next committee meeting is 9 a.m. ET March 20 in the EOC building behind the county courthouse.

“Maybe we can slow this train down.”

Buzzett noted that the impacts included, potentially, the closing of Eighth and/or Tenth Street as thoroughfares between Marvin and Long.

Another speaker questioned whether attracting additional youngsters to the residential area around the 10th Street complex wouldn’t also compound safety issues.

Commissioner David Ashbrook, an executive with MainStay Suites and The Port Inn expressed skepticism that the new complex would attract the ball tournaments proponents touted.

And he emphasized that the conceptual plan was just that, a concept, far from a done deal.

“We are a long way from shoveling up ground,” Ashbrook said. “This plan has a lot of problems.”

Committee members drafted the conceptual plan almost as a wish list, outlining the various elements desired in order to determine a master plan, scope and budget.