I don't claim to be the father of the Neighborhood Parkland program, but I do feel comfortable claiming midwife status. I was involved in many of the early discussions regarding the need for and strategy to create such a program. So it was very gratifying yesterday when the County PARC (Parks Advisory and Recreation Council) voted to move forward with seven neighborhood parkland sites.[We considered 25.]
The county is still several steps away from acquiring or otherwise protecting these places -- work plans need to be drafted, approved by PARC, taken to the County Commission and then, if approved, followed by appraisals and negotiations (that may or may not be successful; this is a willing seller program).
But I am excited about these seven and their potential to save special aspects of our County.
Here's a capsule description of each:
Vann Farm: 10 acres. This is a ten acre site on South Macintosh that has long been a site for 4H livestock and horticulture projects. It is a unique facility that allows kids to connect with the County's rural heritage.
Oneil: 40 acres. This parcel is out at the east end of Fruitville Road. The owners cleared the understory but left most of the trees. It is contiguous with a much larger Environmentally Sensitive Lands site and PARC envisioned part of the site being joined with that larger parcel and being restored, while a smaller fraction, probably closer to the road would be more open and parklike.
Osprey Rowing Club Site: .82 acre. Sarasota has established itself as a major force in competitive rowing. Our narrow bays minimize fetch, which means good rowing conditions. This site is south of the Spanish Point Marina and Restaurant. PARC members were exited about the potential for other uses (in addition to rowing) and a possible collaboration with other rowing programs.
Venice Campground. 24 acres. One of only two campgrounds on the Myakka, this site contains nearly a quarter mile of river front and an RV campground. It is adjacent to Snook Haven and close to several other public lands (Jelks Preserve and South Sleeping Turtles). This operation can provide a Myakka-based recreational experience to thousands in the course of a year. The alternative is probably to see it sold and redeveloped as private homesites.
We also included the top three sites identified by the City of Sarasota. PARC is trying to follow the lead of the cities so we don't end up inadvertently missing a high priority of theirs while we pursue a lower priority.
Whitaker Bayou Greenway Park 4.1 Acres This site consists of eight parcels along Whitaker Bayou. Acquiring them would create a unique, more natural park, to complement Martin Luther King Jr. park to the south. the City has earmarked future dollars to develop the site. Unfortunately, there is some indication that the owner is not interested in selling at this time. Staff will develop a work plan so the County can be ready if the situation changes.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens About 10 acres. One of Florida's oldest tourist attractions (opened in 1939) the Jungle Gardens is one of a few that have persisted post-Disney. Former Sarasota attractions that have closed include Circus Hall of Fame, Glass Blowers, Floridaland, Texas Jim's Reptile Farm, and Sunshine Springs and Gardens. This is a chance to save part of Florida's cultural history and state funding is being sought.
Shady Hammock Park 16.8 acres North of Fruitville and east of Cardinal Mooney and south of Bobby Jones Golf Course. This a relatively large undeveloped site inside the City.
All seven of these sites total about 106 acres, about 1/6 of a square mile or roughly 1/3500 of the county. Not much of the total, but some truly unique opportunities.