Mayor’s request for action approved after airing of variety of concerns about a facility at that location
At the request of Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie, the Sarasota City Commission has directed staff to assess the potential of two parcels at the intersection of 12th Street and Lockwood Ridge Road as the site of a new park.
The unanimous vote came Jan. 2 in spite of various concerns voiced by three of the board members. Commissioner Hagen Brody questioned whether it would be advisable for the city to take on the expense of a new facility. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch expressed worry about the safety of residents getting to the park, given the lack of nearby sidewalks. And Commissioner Willie Shaw pointed to past uses of those parcels that could have left environmental damage.
Freeland Eddie had requested staff put the park proposal on the Jan. 2 agenda for discussion.
Noting the two pieces of property on a map she showed her colleagues, Freeland Eddie explained, “[The parcel on] one side [of the street] is heavily treed,” while the other is vacant. Twelfth Street between Lockwood Ridge Road and Beneva Road is very narrow, she continued. “There are no bicycle lanes on that whole stretch … and the sidewalks stop and start on opposite sides of the street. … It’s just not very user-friendly.”
Freeland Eddie added that the neighborhood “is in desperate need of a park that is a dedicated park.”
Tennis courts are located at the county park at the intersection of 17th Street and Tuttle Avenue, she noted, along with baseball and footballs fields and some playground equipment. However, she contrasted that facility with the type of park she envisioned on 12th Street.
A private developer owns one of the 12th Street parcels, she continued, while a church owns the other.
A Sarasota News Leader search of the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s records found that the Sarasota Metropolitan Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses Inc., which purchased it in August 2002 for $380,000, owns the property at 3229 12th St.. In 2017, the land was valued at $224,200, according to the Property Appraiser’s Office records. The total area is 142,923 square feet, the county records show.
HT LLC owns the other parcel, located south of 12th Street, the Property Appraiser’s Office records say. The company bought the property for $267,500 in April 2003, the records note. The Property Appraiser’s Office valued the land at $219,300 last year; it comprises 58,484 square feet.
Florida Division of Corporations records showed HT LLC to be inactive when the News Leader checked those files this week. The registered agent for the company was listed as J. Geoffrey Pflugner, who is a real estate attorney and partner with the Sarasota firm of Icard Merrill. The manager named in the records was C.J. Zito. His company, Presidential Apartments, primarily operates apartment complexes, according to a News Leader search of business records.
Both parcels at 12th Street and Lockwood Ridge Road have been “on and off the market,” Freeland Eddie pointed out. It would be difficult to build a commercial development on the site, she added, because 12th Street is so narrow. However, a park there could “be a buffer to the community” if someone pursued a plan to construct a multi-story apartment complex in the same vicinity, she added. That was another reason residents have asked her to gain the City Commission’s approval for staff to research the potential of the parcels as a park site, Freeland Eddie said.
Questions about the proposal
“I did walk the area over there,” Commissioner Ahearn-Koch told Eddie, “and I think the neighborhood is in desperate need of a park like that.”
However, Ahearn-Koch continued, her biggest concern was lack of sidewalk connectivity along the street.
That area is listed in city documents as one of those with a deficit of sidewalks, Freeland Eddie replied. Aides at the assisted living facility adjacent to the HT LLC parcel often take residents out for excursions on the sidewalk on that side of the street, she added. Both the aides and residents would benefit, she noted, by having the park as a destination.
Brody then brought up ha concern about the street running between the properties. “That seemed a little odd … for a park.” When he asked whether the larger parcel alone would be sufficient for a park, Freeland Eddie told him, “I don’t think so,” because of the need for playground equipment to be installed, with the goal of keeping as many of the trees as possible on the property to provide shade to park users.
“I have the same concern with the split,” Commissioner Shaw said, noting then that “an old landing strip” once existed on the southern parcel, while a train car sat for years under the Australian pines on the northern property. Site cleanup could be necessary before the land could be transformed into a park, he cautioned.
Yet another concern, Shaw continued, was the safety of vehicles entering and existing the park, because it would be right at the intersection. “The school crossing … is a real trial during the mornings.”
Shaw was referring to Gocio Elementary School, which is located on Gocio Road, north of 12th Street.
“One of the general concerns I have,” Brody pointed out, “is that we have a lot of parks that need attention, that need funding … They need to be in our budget, too, for improvements. … I just don’t want to spread ourselves so thin … when we could have higher quality on fewer parks.”
Nonetheless, Brody agreed that the location at the focus of Freeland Eddie’s proposal “is a good spot for a park.”
The owners of both parcels have been contacted, Freeland Eddie added, and they have expressed an interest in negotiating with city staff. However, she noted, she had made it clear to them that nothing could be done without City Commission approval. “What I’m asking for is just to authorize staff to do research,” she told her colleagues. Even if the board made the decision to acquire the land, she added, that step would not give the site a higher spot on the city’s priority list for park improvements.
Further, if the commission agreed to purchase the land, she said, it probably would take a year or two to conclude the transaction and complete the design concepts for the park.
Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown pointed out that staff already has begun working on a parks master plan. A survey could be distributed to residents of that area to determine the extent of interest in the city’s acquisition of the property for a park, he added.
Vice Mayor Liz Alpert responded that she felt consideration of Freeland Eddie’s proposal made sense in the context of the work on the parks master plan.
Staff will come back with a comprehensive report on its findings about residents’ wishes and the costs that would be involved in the process, Brown said.
Then Commissioner Ahearn-Koch made the motion to direct staff to assess the potential of the properties for new parkland and report back to the commission. Brody seconded it, and it passed unanimously.