Last Tuesday, April 2, the Greater Pine Island Elks Lodge was filled with concerned residents who wanted an opportunity to share their opinions about the use of a 40-acre parcel of land next to Phillips Park.
A park project for the parcel has been discussed since the early 2000s. The land, which is owned by Lee County Parks and Recreation, is located along Pine Island Road and Frankie Lane Drive, south of Phillips Park ballparks.
Lee County Parks and Recreation Planner Jason Lamey addressed the Greater Pine Island Civic Association Tuesday, sharing the county's updated plans for the property.
Photo Provided by Lee County Parks and Recreation
This is the proposed concept plan presented before the Greater Pine Island Civic Association for a 40-acre property owned by Lee County Parks and Recreation along Pine Island Road and Frankie Lane Drive. The plan includes a half a mile trail, an observation platform, an open space area for recreational activities, parking for roughly 15-20 vehicles, restrooms and a pavilion.
The property was purchased by the county in 1991.
According to an email from Lee County Parks and Recreation Director David Harner, the plans for the park were delayed because they found a contaminated dumpsite on the property and had to work with Department of Environmental Protection to develop a plan to proceed. He said due to that agreement, the county split the contaminated section from the parcel that will become the proposed park.
About five years ago the exotic plants were removed from the property.
In addition to discussing the park project, Lamey also discussed a gopher tortoise survey that was done on the 40-acre parcel in August 2011. He said at that time 31 boroughs were found with 25 occupied and six abandoned. Roughly seven boroughs would be impacted, which Florida Fish and Wildlife will relocate to a different site.
Lamey said the development for the park will occur on the northern half of the parcel.
The proposed plans for the property that he shared includes a half a mile trail, an observation platform, an open space area for recreational activities, parking for roughly 15-20 vehicles, restrooms and a pavilion.
"One of the main goals is to keep as much vegetation on the site as possible," Lamey said, which will include islands of existing vegetation.
Lamey said the trails would be made of compacted shells at least six feet wide, due to Americans with Disability Act requirements.
One member of the audience commented that instead of using compacted shell, the trail should come from the natural mold of people walking, so individuals can follow the land contour and natural openings.
Once the presentation was completed, many individuals from the crowd spoke on various issues that were troublesome.
Phil Buchanan started the dialogue by sharing with the county staff that what they presented was opposite of what the Greater Pine Island Civic Association agreed with in 2007.
Some of the concerns included county staff putting fertilizer down on the property where the clearing would take place, which would, in turn, increase the cost of water to maintain the property, as well as the fertilizer running into the waterways.
Lee County Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Dana Kasler said they want to use natural grass species for the area, which they will not have to irrigate. He said they want to make natural areas for a family picnic, which is why they want to utilize natural grass in the open space area.
The crowd instantly objected to the natural grass area because they felt there was no need for it to be a part of the park.
"We can't put them in a wooded area and have a picnic," Kasler said. "We have to have a place where you can put down a blanket."
That response again did not sit well with the crowd. Many individuals shared that there are plenty of areas on the property that could be used as a destination for a picnic; therefore an open area did not have to be created and native grass did not have to be planted.
"If we do develop this, we need to have some facilities as bathrooms and parking," Kasler said.
The crowd again disagreed with the proposed facilities and parking on the acreage because it would take away from the value of the property in its natural state.
"We don't want it bulldozed," Buchanan said. "We don't want pavilions."
He asked the county staff why they would want to bulldoze the property.
"We value the native flatwoods," Buchanan said.
Concerns about the elevation of the park were also discussed because it would have secondary consequences that would change the habitat and water flow of the area.
Cindy Bear also attended the meeting to share her frustration with the process.
"Part of our frustration is that we have been there and done that," she said of the plans that were being discussed.
Bear said as a community they have made it clear that the pine flatwood uplands are important to the area.
At the end of the discussion, Buchanan made a motion, which received a unanimous vote in favor of the statement. His motion was that the entire 40-acres should be preserved other than removing exotics and putting in an informal hiking trail and observation deck out to the water. His motion also included that pavilions, parking lots and bathrooms should be across the road instead of the proposed park site.
The county staff offered to have additional dialogue in a meeting setting to discuss the park further.