Will consider "adjustments"

 

Voices clearly carry.

Concerns voiced during a recent city meeting about a conceptual plan for expansion of the 10th Street Ball Park in Port St. Joe were evidently heard at the county’s Robert Moore Annex.

The committee charged with drafting a plan for the park project cancelled a meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning and county and city officials will convene a joint workshop to discuss the project.

The workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET April 11 in the Don Butler County Commission Meeting Room in the Robert Moore Annex.

County Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr., who is chairing the park project committee, said the workshop was called to better understand whether "adjustments" needed to be made.

City Commissioner Rex Buzzett renewed the discussion during Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting, saying commissioners needed to be "unified" in what they wanted out of the park project.

Buzzett argued, and several residents seconded the emotion, that plans for a city/county sports complex should move to the original site across U.S. 98 from the Gulf/Franklin Center.

"It’s a blank canvas," Buzzett said of the site. "We could do it out there.

"(County officials shared the sentiment that) it is our project and the county shouldn’t be telling us where it should go."

The park subcommittee put forward a conceptual plan for approval by city and county officials in January; both boards approved the plan with little to no discussion.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Brett Lowry noted commissioners had unanimously approved the conceptual plan and Mayor Bo Patterson apologized for not ensuring that neighboring property owners were in the loop from the outset.

Since last year, Quinn and park committee members characterized the conceptual plan as just that, a concept, a soft-target for the committee to price elements and scope as a way forward.

The goal was to have an outline from which a true cost and timeline for construction, even if phased, could be extrapolated.

The costs of those elements would be drivers in crafting a  master plan, construction schedule and budget for the project; the committee must still craft both and have them approved by both city and county governing bodies.

The 10th Street park project, as a goal, was approved by the Board of County Commissioners last year.

It was described at the time as something of a change in direction, for a vision from a decade earlier of a sports complex constructed on land donated by the St. Joe Company to the city off Field of Dreams Drive near North Florida Child Development’s school.

That plan, part of a broader interlocal agreement in place at the time between county and city, was abandoned a half-dozen years ago based on changes in economic dynamics for both governing boards.

Nearly three years ago, the county approved an additional penny in bed tax collections for parks and recreation, obstensibly to revive the sports complex concept.

By last summer, with little forward movement, Quinn proposed, and was supported by the full BOCC, moving the vision to the 10th Street Park and a committee was charged with assembling a plan and budget.

The conceptual plan included expansion of the ball fields, creating nearly 300 parking spaces, adding restrooms and batting cages as well as pickleball courts.

The committee’s work had received scant public attention until two weeks ago when a number of residents living adjacent to the 10th Street complex attended and spoke during a City Commission meeting.

They expressed concerns about the scope of the undertaking and issues such as safety, stormwater and the project taking shape "in our backyards."

The aesthetics of the park, which several said is a "gem", would be degraded by the loss of trees and expansion of playing fields, they believed.

The additional parking spaces and the impact of so many more people in a residential neighborhood was criticized from a safety standpoint and several residents wondered why the project was taking shape in town.

Several noted earlier proposals to build a sports facility out on U.S. 98.

Tuesday, two residents provided a presentation about all the natural assets in the park, the trees, wildlife and green spaces, and urged that city and county not "pave paradise."

Buzzett said he had skepticism from the outset about the project being undertaken in a residential neighborhood, but his concerns "were met with deaf ears."

Buzzett said a consultant hired to assess the Field of Dreams site indicated a sports complex constructed there would not likely draw ball tournaments, a stated goal of the complex.

But, Buzzett noted, the same consultant concluded the same about even an expanded 10th Street complex.

He urged commissioners to consider their goals for the park and return to a meeting the first week of April, prior to the joint workshop, with a mission of unified vision.

"We need to be unified in what we want to do," Buzzett said. "We need to step back and look real hard."