NAPLES — Looking for an alternative to paving the lily pond at the Naples Zoo, a group of county leaders and zoo officials met Tuesday to explore options that would allow for a planned parking expansion while preserving the pond that some have called a local treasure.
“If we can have the essence of the pond and the place preserved, it’s a win/win for everyone,” said local landscape architect Ellin Goetz.
The county is planning to put a parking lot on the south end of the zoo property, which would connect to a kayak launch for the Gordon River Greenway. To accommodate trucks making deliveries, they planned a service road that would require dry retention storage and paving the pond.
However, that plan has drawn criticism after local artist Paul Arsenault began speaking out and urging local officials to find a solution to save the pond.
Tuesday, members of the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department, the zoo, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Conservation Collier and others met to talk about alternatives to the current plan to remove the pond.
The group came up with five alternatives to the current proposal:
■ Leave the pond as is
■ Leave most of the pond
■ Create an entry into the new zoo parking lot at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s entrance
■ Use the current pond as wet storage and find dry storage elsewhere
■ Move the access road into the zoo north of Fleischmann Boulevard.
Members of the group are going to flesh out the alternatives and come back with sketches of the of the proposals next week. The group will then try to determine how much the alternatives would cost, what variances would be needed and the agencies that would be involved.
But the alternatives present challenges as well.
Doing nothing will not allow the county to build much needed parking on the zoo property — parking that would be used for zoo patrons who currently park at Fleischmann Park or the Coastland Center mall.
Creating an entry at the Conservancy entrance also has issues, although officials from the Conservancy offered the entrance as an alternative.
Jeff Curl, a Naples landscape architect representing Conservation Collier, questioned whether there was enough space on Goodlette Frank Road to accommodate a left turn lane for traffic at the Conservancy entrance.
“That’s a shaky proposition,” he said. “It’s going to be money and width that we don’t have right now.”
Tony Ruberto, a senior project manager with the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department, said the Conservancy entrance would only provide one means of exit when fire officials require two.
Andrew McElwaine, the Conservancy’s executive director, also pointed out that the property near its entrance is rife with gopher tortoises and could present a challenge when connecting the property to the zoo.
“To move the gopher tortoise, which is a state threatened species, to save some koi, I don’t know what we are trying to do,” he said. “And you would need a permit to relocate the gopher tortoise, which we have opposed in the past.”
Further, officials said the traffic light would have to be moved from its current location near Lake Park School north to the Conservancy entrance, which would affect the Lake Park neighborhood and the school.
The group also came up with ideas to move the access road into the zoo north of the current Fleischmann Boulevard entrance, which could affect traffic trying to turn onto Golden Gate Parkway, as well as suggestions that the entrance go on Golden Gate Parkway. However, the zoo does not own the 22 acres north of its property abutting the parkway.
Those attending Tuesday’s meeting hope to have a better idea of how the alternatives would shake out next week.
“Things can work out if government is behind it,” said Rocky Scofield, a member of the Naples Zoo’s board of directors. “But vetting all of this, it will take money and time. And we don’t know how it is going to work out.”