Islanders who attended an informational session concerning the development of property intended as a park site told Lee County officials Tuesday that they would prefer the least intrusive plan proffered for the 40-acre parcel.
About 75 Matlacha/Pine Island residents attended the meeting at the Matlacha Community Center regarding the new park to be located on property west of the Methodist Church and south of Phillips Park
People began arriving as soon as the doors were opened at 4 p.m. Each person was handed a form with a brief explanation of "Concept Plan "A" and "Concept Plan "B." The form allowed residents to vote for the plan they favored most.
Plan "A" and Plan "B" were similar except that Plan "B" allowed for four more parking spaces and about double the paved trails. The paved trails must meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Early plans called for ballfields and space for commercial events. This would have required destruction of the only remaining native pine flat woods in the area. Pine Island residents offered resistance and the Parks and Recreation Department created the two new plans presented at the meeting. Both plans were called "passive" and scaled back the amount of clearing required. Under each of the two plans only walking trails would require clearing.
"There were several meetings held with residents over the last few years and it was decided that it would be less intrusive to create a 'passive' recreational park. The entire park will consist of a half mile walking trail, nature observation platform and limited parking. Plan 'B' has more parking and more trails that meet ADA standards," Jason Lamay, planner for Lee County Parks and Recreation, said.
Dave Harner, director of Lee County Parks and Recreation, assured the Pine Island community that Parks and Recreation "will preserve the native pine flat woods and the natural habitat of the 40-acre parcel. Our plan is to only provide trails, benches and small shade structures. The purpose of this park is to be a passive park."
Lee County Parks and Recreation is looking at three alternative trail materials. The first is a raised platform of recycled plastic "lumber." The second is a new product that was used out at Wild Turkey Strand Preserve. It is a composite material that allows the rain water to go through it. It is rock based as well as recycled materials but it makes itself into a hard enough surface so it becomes ADA accessible. The third option, and the least desirable, is asphalt. The allowed budget will determine which material will be used.
Several years ago Parks & Rec found that a portion of the parcel had been used as a dump site and contamination was present. The material was subsequently removed and the ground remediated. However this caused about a three- year delay in starting the project.
Mary Hagan, Pine Island resident and Bokeelia Civic Association member, attended the meeting and said, "I think it's a great idea. I've been waiting for it for quite a while. I understand they found some contamination that has been cleaned up and they're going to fence the area off but the park is a wonderful idea. I can see myself walking here when it's finished."
"I'd rather see the property used instead of the county losing interest and then selling it to the highest bidder who could be a developer," Mike Gibbons said. Mr. Gibbons is the president of the Matlacha Civic Association and owner of Matlacha Cottages. "Between the two plans there's no discernible difference except the amount of paved surfaces. I do like the paving material because it will reduce erosion because of baby strollers, bicycles and wheelchairs while it's wet out there."
At the end of the meeting the vote was counted. Plan "A" had the most support with 27 of the 44 votes cast. This is the plan with fewer parking spaces and about half of the planned trails paved. Plan "B" received 3 votes. Nine rejected both plans and five did not vote.
Construction is expected to begin in 2014. As of the meeting, the park is still unnamed. Parks and recreation is looking for input from the community.