Anna Maria moves forward with ‘six lots’ park plan

Frustration turned to celebration at the June 27 city meeting when commissioners voted to accept a park design for the six vacant lots on Pine Avenue at Bay Boulevard after months of stalled discussion.

The city acquired the six-parcel piece of property in 2012 to prevent the possibility of a developer building rental units on the bayfront. The purchase was made following a detailed accounting of the city’s surplus budget during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Commissioner Gene Aubry said the commission wanted to ensure the city could afford to purchase the property, “and only after we were told that we could afford it, did we buy it.”

Once the city had the property, discussions ensued on what to do with it. Aubry suggested the property be used as an open park and presented a minimal landscaping plan that included planting mature live oaks.

He was approached by Rex Hagen in January with an offer to fund the landscaping and trees, but plans then stalled over parking concerns, restrooms and the park’s layout.

Hagen offered to pay for the trees, but also wanted public bathrooms installed on the property. He offered to pay for the construction and one year of maintenance. Hagen said if the bathrooms did not work out to the city’s liking, the city could remove them after the first year.

He made the stipulation that he would not donate any funding toward the park without the bathrooms.

“It only took six months to get it done,” said Aubry. “I’m not being critical. It’s just the way government works, but it’s nice to see a commission in place that works in a cooperative spirit.”

Commissioners had been at odds over adding parking in the area, but ultimately agreed to create enough parking for up to 15 vehicles at the park.

“There won’t be any street parking,” said Aubry. “Vehicles will be able to drive right into the park near where the oak trees will be planted and people won’t even notice it because the vehicles will be inside the park.”

There won’t be traditional parking spaces, rather a parking area, Aubry said.

The bathrooms will be basic, too, he said.

“There will be two unisex wooden structures and they are self-ventilated, so they won’t require a lot of attention,” said Aubry. He also recommended a temporary well and irrigation lines that will be removed after a year.

Aubry said in addition to Hagen donating some $60,000, the Pine Avenue Restoration development group will pay $25,000 a year toward the park for four years.

“This is a great thing,” said Aubry. “The city doesn’t have to do anything. We’ve had some very generous people step forward to make this happen.”

The goal of the park is to make it as natural as possible, said Aubry. The concept is similar to New York’s Central Park, “but obviously on a smaller scale. But New York wouldn’t be New York without Central Park. It’s the same concept here — to have an open space for people to use as they want.”

Aubry said benches may eventually be installed at the park, “but that’s about it. No pathways will be added. It’s a beautiful area and should be left as natural as possible for people to enjoy.”

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