99 shade trees to be planted in Benderson Park by early April, Commissioner Maio reports

SANCA board proposes naming trail around park’s lake in memory of Bill Robinson, a past chair of the nonprofit

Cargo containers with equipment for teams stand on the grounds of Benderson Park in August 2017, ahead of the World Rowing Championships the next month. Few trees stand on the park property itself, which is bordered partly by Cattlemen Road. File photo

Having brought the topic to his colleagues’ attention several times last year, Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio announced this week that 99 trees are to be planted at Nathan Benderson Park in the coming weeks.

For a number of months, Maio served as an observer at meetings of the board of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), the nonprofit that manages operations and events at Nathan Benderson Park.

In October 2019, Maio reported during a commission meeting that he had come up with the idea of planting “200 nice size oak trees, two-and-a-half inches at chest height,” to provide canopy for the park’s many walkers, bicyclists and other users. He had learned that fines paid by people who violate county environmental regulations are set aside for mitigation purposes, he added during the commission’s Oct. 7, 2019 regular meeting. Therefore, he said, he wanted to propose paying the approximate expense of $40,000 to $50,000 for the trees out of that “pot of money.”

His colleagues offered support for the idea, acknowledging the lack of shade at the park.

With commission consensus, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis promised that staff would handle the process.

Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio. File photo

During his report to his colleagues on March 10, as they met in Venice, Maio announced that SANCA — as also promised — had begun installing a $35,000 irrigation system for the new trees. That work started on March 9, he said.

As for the trees: “We reduced the number [from about 200],” he explained, “because they’re much, much bigger trees” than planned on at the outset of the project. Each will have a span of up to 10 feet, Maio continued, with a height up to 19 feet.

The trees are to be delivered on March 16, Maio said, with the project completion set for April 3.

Then, on a related topic, Maio — whom his colleagues approved as their representative on the SANCA board, as of January — pointed out that the members of that board had voted unanimously to create a memorial for long-time SANCA Chair Bill Robinson, who had died.

“He was a very big leader [for SANCA],” Maio pointed out.

Robinson was owner of Fit2Run, which has stores in the area — including downtown Sarasota.

Running Insight said in a Jan. 16 article online that Robinson was a “[s]porting goods and running industry legend … who co-founded Florida-based Fit2Run with his son, Parks …”

Robinson died on Jan. 2 at the age of 70, the article added. He was a native of Bradenton.

(Running Insight notes on its website that its mission is “to help the business and sport of running — in all its forms.”)

During his March 10 remarks, Maio said the SANCA board members “want to name the paved running trail around the lake the Bill Robinson Lakeside Loop,” given Robinson’s ownership of Fit2Run and his dedication to SANCA. “Everybody thought that would be fitting.”

Bill Robinson served as chair of SANCA for a number of years. Image from the Nathan Benderson Park website

Then Maio asked County Administrator Lewis whether the commission could take such action. Perhaps, Maio added, Lewis could ask Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, “to just send us something or come and visit with us tomorrow, quickly,” since the March 11 commission meeting would be in downtown Sarasota at the county Administration Center.

Lewis reminded Maio that the county has an ordinance that governs the process for naming county facilities. Staff would need to adhere to its provisions, Lewis added.

“Perfect,” Maio replied. “I think we’ll be fine with that.”

Then Chair Michael Moran asked Lewis, “Did you need direction from this board?”
“To accomplish that goal, yes,” Lewis responded.

“You’re right,” Maio acknowledged the necessity of a formal decision. Would consensus work, he asked.

Moran proposed a motion, so Maio made it, and Commissioner Charles Hines seconded it. It passed unanimously.

“[The naming decision] comes back to you at the end of the process for your review and approval,” Lewis pointed out.

Section 2.2 of the County Code contains the regulations regarding the “naming or renaming of County-owned property and facilities,” noting, “[I]t is solely within the [commission’s] discretion to determine the appropriate name for County-owned property and facilities.”

This is part of Section 2.2 of the County Code. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Nonetheless, the ordinance says, “It is beneficial to the Board to obtain citizen input with respect to name designations of County-owned property and facilities through public notices and public hearings.”