Sidewalks in Lake Park digs up controversy with property owners

The path least traveled to Lake Park Elementary School is getting paved.

Digging began Wednesday for a new sidewalk along 14th Avenue North from U.S. 41 to the school as one of six City of Naples projects getting funding from the Florida Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program.

Property owners along the street were pleased about the idea that has been in the works for years until they walked outside to see as much as half of the front lawn gone.

“In my head, it’s the song lyrics ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,’” said Kathleen Erickson, who owns a lot on the corner of 14th Avenue North and 11th Court North.

“I know it’s the city’s right of way, but I’ve lived in this house my whole life,” said Erickson, who was upset to learn the plan included getting rid of a palm tree she planted 30 years ago.

“I know it’s the city’s property, but I’ve been irrigating that lawn, mowing that lawn, fertilizing it for 50 years,” she said.

The disruption was unfortunate because as Lake Park residents and city officials acknowledged, 14th Avenue North doesn’t have anywhere near as much school walking traffic as 13th Street North.

Erickson counted one walker go by her house on the way to school Wednesday.

However, utilities and Mahogany trees line nearly the entirety of 13th Avenue North, creating several more hurdles to construction, said George Archibald, a city transportation engineer.

Erickson’s neighbors, City Councilman Sam Saad and his wife Amy Saad, who is president of the Lake Park Neighborhood Association, said they too were shocked to learn of the location of the otherwise welcomed sidewalk.

Archibald said the FDOT’s plans were made available to property owners at an Association meeting held this spring.

Saad said he didn’t recall seeing the final design plans indicating how close the sidewalks would be to the homes while at that meeting. Saad, similar to about six other property owners gasping at orange paint lines and stakes marking the new sidewalk’s location in the middle of several front yards, anticipated the sidewalk to be closer to the bike path. That bike path is a paved shoulder along the side of the street.

Further irritating the property owners, they said, was that it’s the third time in three years that the city is involved in a project that requires digging up the lawns. Swales were put in last year and new palm trees were put in the year before that.

“What is the point of a planning department? Is the definition of planning lost on you?” Erickson asked of Archibald as several property owners gathered Wednesday afternoon to meet with city officials near the soon-to-be sidewalk.

“Kick me in the shins,” Archibald said, smiling as construction workers continued digging after 5 p.m.

The city would make concessions, he then said. Also he was changing the communication process on these projects to work closer with FDOT on behalf of citizens. This is the second of six similar projects, he said.

The next one, along Central Avenue, is coming with door-to-door meetings with each property owner after sending a highlighted graphic indicating their property line and the project location. It’s not only to avoid the types of problems experienced Wednesday on 14th Avenue, but also because Central Avenue is lined with many more items that need removal or relocation than a couple trees and fences—as was the case on 14th Avenue North, Archibald said.

“…Because Central Avenue is a better neighborhood,” Erickson quipped and then followed with a smile.

She was pleased to hear Archibald say that the city would replace her trees with either another palm or hedge on her property.

Negotiations were made with other property owners, including Doug Hendry and Trish Hendry, who look to retain some of their yard after meeting with officials.

There wasn’t much time for negotiation beyond the street meeting as the project needs to be complete within 30 days as mandated to get state funding, officials said.

“This would have been acceptable if we had time to fight a valiant fight to protect the integrity of the neighborhood,” Erickson said.

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