Commission runs wild over Bayfront Park discussion

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Town Manager Dave Bullock treated the town commission to what he hoped would be a brief update on the status of building the future Bayfront Park at last Monday’s commission workshop. But similar to how an insignificant splinter can turn into a serious infection, the discussion grew heated when Mayor Jim Brown and fellow commissioners said they were surprised and upset that the manager’s park plan had removed the footprint of a future recreation center and replaced it with tennis and pickle ball courts.

The Bayfront Park plan is in its final stages of approval and the commission will soon consider putting the project out to bid. But at the meeting, Mayor Jim Brown was not at all happy to see the building site gone from the plan.

“I feel like I am in the ozone,” said Brown. “I thought we were taking the cultural aspects out of the recreation center but we’re still going to build a recreational center. It was approved by the town commission and county commission and where the new recreation center was going was debated over and over.”

Bayfront Plan without Building footprint and with Dog Park

Part of the confusion is due to several renderings and several versions of the proposed park, with commissioners and staff each moving forward in their minds with a slightly modified reality.

The town commission at Monday’s workshop thought that the 2012 rendering of the park, which showed the footprint of a 7,000 square foot cultural community center and no dog park, was what was moving forward. Subsequent to 2012, the town commission purchased land behind SunTrust Bank with the idea of building a community center on that site instead of having a joint community recreation center at Bayfront Park. That decision followed the suggestions made by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), which was hired to help the town leaders fashion an implementable future for Longboat Key. One of the main edicts issued by the ULI was that the town of Longboat Key needed a gathering place or a center and that the proposed community center needs to be built near the existing churches, Publix and Town Hall and not at Bayfront Park.

The town has yet to figure out exactly what uses or the size of the proposed community center and consultants are currently exploring the issue.

Town staff, knowing that the cultural aspects were being moved, took the large footprint for the cultural community center and recreational building out of the Bayfront Plan and utilized the space for the tennis and pickle ball areas. Other changes made by staff show the inclusion of a dog park as well as some renovation to the existing recreation center building that was donated decades ago by Colony Chairman Murf Klauber.

But for Brown, not building a new recreational center was not the path he thought the town was traveling.

“The idea we were working toward was we were going to get County money and do some of the improvements until we decided what we were going to do at the cultural center near town hall. We would decide on that animal, and then we would decide on this animal,” said Brown.

Previous Bayfront Plan with footprint of Community Center on site.

Commissioner Pat Zunz said that was her recollection as well and she added, “I am sort of surprised.”

Town Manager Dave Bullock said the plan is nothing more than “lines on paper” and that there is nothing in the plan that cannot be easily moved or rearranged to accommodate whatever building they envision for the site.

Commissioner Phill Younger offered his opinion about the existing recreation center building.

“I do not know what you call that building on the plans, you call a recreation center, I personally call it a rat trap. There are a lot of good things in the plan, but then someone ignored all the studies and put things in and took things out. It is a little bit mystifying,” said Younger.

Town Manager Bullock pushed back.

“To add to the mystification, is the fact I brought the exact graphic today that I brought you in June and you told me to move forward with it,” said Bullock.

Brown said, “You brought me the exact graphic, yet I think you used different words. You said, ‘We can make this whatever you want this to be.’ I thought we were going with the 2009 and 2012 plan and we were using the plan you showed us last summer to get money from the county, but it was not our actual plan,” said Brown.

Bullock responded that the town has to land on a consensus for a concept plan.

“We can build whatever you want, but we need to have a plan,” said Bullock.

Vice Mayor Jack Duncan said it was his understanding that anything can be changed and if they want to put a recreation center in the future they can, as well as move the tennis courts.

“I think this is doable, but I’m frustrated on the process that got us here,” said Duncan.


Barking orders

Next, residents approached the commission to talk about the reality of a dog park at Bayfront. One resident said he was confused because he understood that the ULI advisory group voted against having a dog park and asked the commission if a dog park is still in play.

Brown said the ULI was an advisory committee to the town commission, but not the final decision. Another resident joked that his dog was bothered because the commission was going to take out all the power poles on Longboat Key and then also expand the beach, and dogs cannot go to the beach.

Longboat Key Rotary Club President Sydelle Pittas said that her research showed that dog parks are really not for dogs, but for people. She added that it is very important and very clear that this is something that Longboat Key lacks.

“This is an easy fix, it takes a little fencing and planning. And if it is something that does not work out, it is something to take away. I have never heard of that happening, only of people loving the paw parks,” said Pittas.

Resident Madelyn Spoll urged the commission to make a decision and move forward on the issue, which Longboat Key has been in the process of developing for almost 10 years.

“Please, no more public meetings after Oct. 30, and make a decision. Nothing has changed with the exception of pickle ball and a ball park. I beg you, no more public meetings after Oct. 30,” said Spoll.

After Spoll spoke, the commission reached consensus and the town will hold what could be a final public input meeting on the expanded Bayfront Park on Oct. 30. There was a final comment made by Vice Mayor Duncan expressing his dismay.

“I am in strong disagreement with what the town manager said. We and the ULI committee saw a plan that had a town center removed and I want to know that a recreation center is on the table going forward and could and would be accommodated somewhere on the property,” said Duncan.

Brown then added that perhaps two plans would be put in front of the public on Oct. 30, one showing a recreation center and one without.

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2 Responses for “Commission runs wild over Bayfront Park discussion”

  1. Reina Berman says:

    To our commissioners, take a short ride up to Holmes Beach and spend a few minutes at their dog park. It is a wonderful clean place where the dogs run and play freely off leash. It is also a nice social spot for the dog owners. Everyone picks up after their dogs, not like here along GMD! In season renters and snowbirds leave it for someone else to pick it up! Shame on them!

  2. rose stohmann says:

    I sincerely hope that there will be a free leash park at bayfront. Dogs cannot always be on a leash. They need to run and socialize with other dogs, just like people. Could you let me know where exactly the do park will be and when it will be completed.

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