MARCO ISLAND — It’s been in the works for at least four years and the time has finally arrived for the Marco Island community to plan for their newest park, the 6.8-acre Veterans’ Community Park on West Elkcam Circle.
City Council approved $100,000 for Sarasota-based consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates to develop the master plan for Veterans’ Park Oct. 20. The next day, the consultant was put to work, and met with committee members, members of the public and Parks and Recreation Director Dana Souza to begin the planning process.
Three more public meetings are scheduled before the master plan’s scheduled completion of May 4. Design elements, construction cost estimates and a maintenance plan are components of the master plan.
The Veteran’s Community Park Master Plan Committee includes members of the Planning Board, Beautification Committee, Arts Advisory Committee and an ad hoc committee of representatives from Veterans of Foreign Wars, residents of the Joy Circle neighborhood and the community-at-large. Four representatives from the former political action committee, Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Solutions, are also on the master plan ad-hoc committee.
A portion of the out-of-court settlement to CARES’ federal lawsuit against the city included their membership on this committee. CARES filed four lawsuits against the city over the last three years regarding asbestos cleanup on the park property following storage of Collier Boulevard construction material there.
Despite the controversial past of the property, Souza said he is confident about the future of the park.
“Rumor has it that I’m leaving,” Souza said following several days of media coverage surrounding his resignation as Parks and Recreation Director.
“This process is going to go forward perfectly with Monte (Lazarus) as your chairman and Bill (Waddill of Kimley-Horn) as your planner,” Souza added when addressing the committee at their first meeting with Waddill.
The next public meeting, November 6, will be Souza’s last meeting as the staff liaison on the project as he departs for a job in Greenville, S.C., he said.
Challenges that Souza and committee members raised in their first meeting included the layout of the park site. The property, once referred to as the “Glon Property,” near Winn-Dixie includes 12 lots bordered by West Elkcam Circle, Lambert Drive and the Rio Waterway south of Smokehouse Bay. Elkcam Circle divides four waterfront lots from the other eight lots.
Dave Gardner, a member of the committee representing the VFW, said he did not want Elkcam Circle blocked by the park.
The committee recognized this as one of several issues that would need to be worked out in the public planning process.
Other issues to resolve include the presence of burrowing owls on the site, determining if the entrance should allow for admission charges and determining if community organizations would have portions dedicated to their use.
“I certainly recommend sensitivity to neighbors, of which I’m the closest one,” said Ed Issler of Joy Circle.
The park site provides water access, which Issler and resident Herb Savage hoped would be an accented feature of the park
“I think it’s important we think of the young (people) as well as the old... We could hold (boat) races in Smokehouse Bay,” Savage said.
The park is to last 200 years and mesh with the city’s master plan of the park serving as a cultural site integrated with Town Center, Souza said.
The Town Center area, which is also yet to be planned, includes several blocks which span both sides of Elkcam Circle and Collier Boulevard.
Souza recommended a park which “captures the essence of Marco. It could interpret our history by the design,” he said.
The cultural component may also be created with on-island groups such as the Art League, Marco Players and Farmers Market.
“We stand a chance to create an art industry here,” said Keith Klipstein, president of the Art League.
Steve Stefanides recommended a 5,000-person capacity to support crowds at Christmas Island Style’s tree lighting ceremony.
Island resident Rose Patterson said she would like to see a park “for meditation, a place of silence.”
“That’s going to be an interesting design challenge,” Waddill said of the ideas for 5,000 visitors in a “silent” park.
Souza assigned “homework” to the committee members including an assignment to look at the future park site from all angles and perspectives.
The next public meeting is 6 p.m., Nov. 6 in the community room next door to the police station, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.