County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources director talks about amenities — including food trucks and playgrounds — that will be part of design
If the County Commission approves a construction contract on July 7 — as Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff hopes — ground will be broken on July 9 for the first segment of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail.
That was part of the news Nicole Rissler, the PRNR director, told an audience during a June 25 Zoom update on the North Extension.
The public will be able to view that July 9 groundbreaking via Facebook Live, she added.
The contract scheduled to be on the July 7 commission agenda will encompass the work on the North Extension segment from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street, Rissler explained. The goal is for construction to begin in late July or early August.
The proposed contracts for Segments 2 and 3, including the construction of the trailheads planned at Ashton Road and Webber Street, are anticipated to be on a commission agenda in September, she continued. Those plans are at the 90% mark, Rissler noted.
The Segment 2 work is anticipated to begin by early fall, she added. That will run from the existing Trail’s end at Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Proctor Road. Segment 3 will go from Bahia Vista to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.
Rissler pointed out that the North Extension will connect to Payne Park from both Shopping Lane and a spur south of Payne Park Village, where new townhomes are under construction on School Avenue.
The designs for the both the connector from Venice to North Port and the Pompano Avenue Trailhead — which will be next to the Sarasota Fairgrounds — are at the 60% point, Rissler reported. Updates on those will be provided later to the public, she added, as they get closer to completion.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will build the overpasses planned at Bee Ridge Road and Clark Road, Rissler affirmed — a point she previously has discussed with the commissioners. Construction of the overpasses is expected to start in FDOT’s 2024 fiscal year, she added, which will begin on July 1, 2023. Until those are completed, Rissler noted, Trail users will have to contend with signalized crossings.
Future overpasses are envisioned at the Tuttle Avenue and Beneva Road intersections, she said, but no funding has been identified yet for their construction.
Plans call for all the surface construction to be ready for Trail-goers by the end of 2022, Rissler said. However, “Some segments may open sooner, as they get completed …”
The North Extension, the North Port connector and the new trailheads will be made possible by the Nov. 6, 2018 bond referendum that more than 70% of county voters approved, she explained. That referendum authorized county staff to borrow up to $65 million for the initiatives, including acquisition of the former CSX Transportation railroad corridor along which the North Extension will run.
On June 17, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reported to the county commissioners that staff had sold another set of general obligation bonds for The Legacy Trail work. Thanks to competitive bidding, he continued, the total interest rate will be 1.63%. Other bonds for capital improvements that the county sold in May had a total interest rate of 2.68%, he pointed out.
“With the low rate,” he noted of the latest bonds, debt service in the 2021 fiscal year will be approximately $1,750,000, instead of the original projection of about $1.9 million.
“This is great work by our [Office of Financial Management] team, the Office of the County Attorney and the Clerk’s Office,” Lewis added, referring to the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller.
Food trucks, stop stations and playgrounds
During the Zoom presentation, Rissler also talked about amenities planned for the North Extension, based on surveys conducted among members of the public.
“The overwhelming [majority],” she said, wanted to see food trucks, outdoor dining space and bicycle training opportunities at the trailheads. As a result, both the Pompano and Ashton trailheads will have space for food trucks and outdoor dining. Further, Rissler continued, staff is working with a few of its nonprofit partners in an effort to create a bicycle-training program at the Pompano Avenue Trailhead. (The Pompano Avenue site formerly was home to a state and then a county driver’s license office.)
“We also saw that fitness equipment and playgrounds were high on the list of wanted amenities,” Rissler pointed out of the public surveys. Staff is working to designate future locations for playgrounds at all the trailheads, she added. Because of funding concerns, she noted, staff is seeking community partners and donors who would be willing “to help underwrite these additional amenities.”
Among other points of public interest are stop stations, Rissler continued. Therefore, staff is working with the design firm hired for The Legacy Trail project — Kimley-Horn of Sarasota — on those features, as well.
Staff considered several options for the look of the stop stations, she said; it finally settled on one that mirrors facilities already in existence on the Trail. Additionally, the typical county two-pole county shelters will be installed at some locations along the North Extension, she noted.
In regard to the Webber Trailhead: Rissler presented a design showing a playground, an area with 10 or fewer parking spaces, greenspace, and “hardscape” for bicyclists coming on and off the Trail. “This is the smallest of the three trailheads,” she pointed out.
As it will be nestled into a neighborhood, she added, staff hopes surrounding residents also will use it as a pocket park.
On Jan. 14, the County Commission approved the acquisition of the 1.6-acre parcel located at 4010 Webber Street — east of The Legacy Trail North Extension corridor — at a cost of $188,000.
Concerns of Trail neighbors
Among questions submitted to staff in advance of the presentation, Rissler explained, one of the biggest was “What will the Trail look like behind my house?”
In many cases, she said, vegetative buffers already exist, so those will stay in place. A drainage area will be located on each side of the corridor, she continued, with a 14-foot-wide berm in the center for Trail users. The grade generally will be a foot higher or lower than that of the railroad corridor, she noted.
Asked if trees will have to be removed, Rissler explained that staff would take such action only if it were absolutely necessary. Then, she said, because of County Code requirements, staff would have to plant new trees to compensate for those removed.
In situations where residential areas exist on both sides of the corridor, she said, a much wider center berm will be designed. Therefore, in the future — as funding permits — the Trail could be bifurcated in those areas to separate pedestrians from bicyclists. That would reduce the need for bicyclists, as they approach pedestrians, to have to ring their bells and call out that they will be passing.
In response to a question, Rissler said that electric bicycles area allowed on the Trail, but they cannot exceed a 15 mph speed limit.
Staff also has received many questions about crosswalks, Rissler pointed out. “This is obviously a really important part of the planning.”
Various crossing options will be utilized, she continued, including ones with HAWK signals, like the structure constructed for pedestrians who want to cross U.S. 41 near the Westin in downtown Sarasota.
Altogether, Rissler said, the North Extension will have about 14 crossings. Each intersection will be an access point for Trail users, she noted.
Other questions focused on encroachments county staff has identified. Hayley Baldinelli, manager of the county’s Property Management Division, explained that in late July or early August, contractor Jon Swift of Sarasota will send out crews to remove any fences that still stand on county Trail property, “at no expense to the homeowner.”
However, she pointed out, Swift employees will not relocate fences.
All fences, sheds and personal property are prohibited on the corridor, Baldinelli explained.
The County Commission agreed last year to allow permanent structures that encroach on the North Extension to stay in place, she noted.
Staff will be happy to talk with individual homeowners about their specific situations, Baldinelli added.