Paradise saved? Plan may keep lily pond at Naples Zoo from becoming a parking lot

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Naples artist Paul Arsenault paints the scene of the lily pond of the Naples Zoo on Sunday April 8, 2012. Arsenault is painting the scene in protest of a service road that is planned to be built in the place where the pond is now. Along with the painting, Arsenault had a petition to be signed in hopes to stop the planned road.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Naples artist Paul Arsenault paints the scene of the lily pond of the Naples Zoo on Sunday April 8, 2012. Arsenault is painting the scene in protest of a service road that is planned to be built in the place where the pond is now. Along with the painting, Arsenault had a petition to be signed in hopes to stop the planned road.

Video from NBC-2

Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

1590 Goodlette-Frank Road, Naples, FL

— The lilies in the pond in front of the Naples Zoo could stay afloat after all.

After the recent uproar over the zoo’s plan to pave over the pond to build an entrance to its new parking lot, Conservancy of Southwest Florida officials offered their new entrance just to the south as a possible alternative. Collier County Commissioners also agreed to bring the pond issue back for discussion.

Zoo officials discussed the proposal during a Daily News editorial board meeting on Tuesday.

But Matt McLean, president-elect of the Naples Zoo board of directors, said the shared entrance also opens up a realm of other issues. For instance, the partnership would require creating a median opening to allow left hand turns from Goodlette-Frank Road and putting a traffic signal in at the entrance.

County officials indicated an additional traffic signal would not be in the cards because of the short distance between the current signals, McLean said. There is a signal near the post office on Goodlette-Frank Road, one at 14th Avenue North by Lake Park Elementary School and one at Fleischmann Boulevard.

“You’re talking about major changes” to Goodlette-Frank Road, McLean said.

And major changes come with a cost. While Andrew McElwaine, the conservancy’s executive director, said it would probably cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to make the needed improvements, zoo and county officials said the sum would more than likely be in the millions.

Commissioner Donna Fiala, who requested commissioners have another public discussion about the ponds, said the cost might be worth it in the long run.

“Everyone is concerned about money. But, 10 years down the road, we might say, ‘What did we do? And over a few dollars,’” she said.

The fire department said the zoo needs two means of exit and entrance to the property, county officials said. The conservancy’s offer would not necessarily provide what fire officials say they need.

David Tetzlaff, director of the Naples Zoo, said the pond was built as an amenity to the original Caribbean Gardens by the Fleischmann family in the 1950s.

By 1971 the zoo had outgrown the original entrance and his parents built new parking lots, Tetzlaff said. A footbridge was built so visitors could cross the pond to get to the zoo entrance.

The pond is not spring fed. Instead it is filled through a well. That well, Tetzlaff said, is not permitted through the South Florida Water Management District.

“If that well was turned off today, (the pond) would dry up,” Tetzlaff said.

Commissioner Georgia Hiller also brought that point up.

“Given that the zoo is changing, that pond will have to be brought up to code,” she said.

The zoo needs more parking, contrary to what opponents of the paving plan say, Tezlaff said.

“Our numbers in the last decade have doubled, but parking has stayed the same,” he said.

The current parking layout allows for about 300 vehicles over three separate parking lots, with overflow parking at Fleischmann Park or the Coastland Center mall. The new proposal will allow for about 600 parking spots in one lot.

While the project had been vetted as part of the Gordon River Greenway project, Barry Williams, Collier County parks and recreation director, said he thinks the zoo portion of the project wasn’t singled out during that process. County and zoo officials said a group of interested parties has been working on the project for a decade, but it was obvious there was a disconnect in communication.

“We want to educate people, we want to look at our plans and what our options are, what the cost will be and how we will pay for it,” said McLean.

Tetzlaff said the pond may be a Naples icon, but it’s also a big part of his family history.

“I’ve been walking across that bridge since 1971,” he said. “I totally get it. We understand the history and the emotion.”

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