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Date of Issue: April 05, 2007

Neighbors reject plan for public park

lockwood pic
Park or mega-mansion?
The property at 703 N. Shore Drive owned by Harry and Karen Lockwood likely won't become a public park and botanical garden, but a three-story residence could be built on the site. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

An effort by Anna Maria City Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick to purchase the undeveloped 1.5 acres owned by Harry and Karen Lockwood at 703 N. Shore Drive through a Florida Communities Trust grant and turn the property into a public park has apparently fallen flat after some of the Lockwood's neighbors vilified the couple for even considering such a sale.

After enduring some angry denunciations from a few neighbors after the commission gave Mattick the go-ahead to seek the grant, Harry Lockwood said that "Karen and I have decided to withdraw the property from a potential sale to the city."

He believed it would be "inappropriate" to repeat some of the comments made in anger to he and his wife, he said, but those remarks gave the couple some "sleepless nights" the past week.

"Apparently, we've been called connivers, schemers and scumbags since our initial efforts to develop our vacant lot," he added.

The comments have taken the Lockwoods by surprise, particularly since Mattick and the city came to them with the idea to purchase the property.

Mattick's proposal would have created a nature park and gardens that would have preserved the trees and vegetation of the 1.5 acres, added a walking path and exercise stations and created an educational experience for Islanders and school children.

Some neighbors, however, apparently feared the project would bring more visitors to the beach and more illegal parking, along with more trash, alcohol, rowdiness and nighttime activities to the area.

Mattick said she was shocked at the behavior of some people toward the Lockwoods.

"This was my idea, not the Lockwoods. I'm very disappointed that a handful of people can make such objections and many were personal attacks," she said. "The flak they've taken is totally unjustified. It's a real tragedy. I feel really bad for them. They were trying to do the right thing, the decent thing, and all they got was grief.

"And the neighbors can't have it both ways," added Mattick. "They tell the Lockwoods they don't want a mega-mansion built on the property, then they tell them they don't want a park." A park would be preferable to a mega-mansion, which is probably what's eventually going to be built on the property when it's sold, she predicted.

Even though the offer to sell to the city is off the table, the Lockwoods can still sell the property to a developer who, under the current building codes and zoning ordinances, can tear down the front cottage, remove the trees, plants and vegetation that the Lockwoods have added since 1997, and build a "mega-mansion" on the back lot on the beach.

A new owner could also apply for a lot split and sub-divide the property to build several single-family homes.

The Lockwoods never intended to sub-divide the property to build more residences, but had considered adding a beach house. They were originally delighted at Mattick's proposal that the property could be turned into a nature park - delighted until some neighbors turned against them.

"We didn't go behind anyone's back. The city came to us. We thought it was a wonderful idea because it would keep the property as a park and could not be developed for residential houses," Harry Lockwood said.

Now, however, the Lockwoods have lowered the asking price and intend to sell to a private buyer as soon as possible. "We don't need this aggravation. We've always tried to be good neighbors. We'll just sell and go elsewhere," said Harry Lockwood.

Not all of the Lockwood's neighbors objected to the park.

Mary Creamer and Ned Perkins of Cypress Street thought the idea of a park that would preserve the "green" of the trees and vegetation of the property was "just fine." They were disappointed to learn of the personal attacks on the Lockwoods.

Even though the Lockwoods have withdrawn the property, Mattick said she'd still like to get public opinion on the idea of a park for the 1.5 acres. She invited city residents to attend the April 11 commission worksession to express their views, both pro and con.

"I'd like to see if there's any support for the idea of a park," said Mattick. "Too often in the past, the views of a minority have prevented the city from purchasing land that would have benefited everyone in the city."

She cited Villa Rosa, the five lots along Pine Avenue, and Bean Point as examples of property the city could have bought in years past to halt development and retain land for the benefit of the public. And the FCT grant would have allowed Anna Maria to buy the Lockwood property at no expense to the city treasury.

The Lockwoods have been coming to Anna Maria every winter since 1991 and purchased the North Shore property in 1997.

"This was our 'honeymoon' place," said Karen Lockwood.