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Council gets fresh review on parks master plan

August 14, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The Cape Coral City Council gave its Parks Master Plan great reviews Monday.

The elected board also said that residents need to be educated on what the details will be so they can make an informed decision when they go to the polls and vote on the referendum for $60 million in General Obligation bonds to create new parks and renovate old ones.

Gary Aubuchon, Joanne Elardo, Pascha Donaldson and Linda Prince, appointed by the city's administration to a "stakeholders" group, each spoke about the parks plan and that, if the referendum passes, residents would then have input on the specific amenities they may want at a particular park in the plan they will be asked to vote upon.

"The bond has to pass for this to be relevant. City officials have to let citizens know what the bonds mean to them and why it's in their best interests to vote for it," Aubuchon said. "People get stuck on details which may not happen. This is the start of a conversation."

"Think ahead. We're asking the public to not let money be the issue. This is a quality-of -life issue," Donaldson said. "We moved here because of the parks. As we grow we need to continue that value."

The G.O. Bonds would mature within 15 years and would be paid for through a separate ad valorem, or property, tax. The starting rate is estimated to be .37 mills, or 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed taxable valuation. The rate then would be adjusted each year based on total taxable values citywide. Based on current trends, the millage will likely decrease every year, officials said.

Park and Rec Director Kerry Runyon said the costs are for Phase I projects, which would pay for the necessities. Phase II projects would come later and aren't included in the master plan. They would include boardwalks, indoor facilities and the like.

Among the projects are $10 million in improvements to the Cape Coral Yacht Club; $5 million for Lake Kennedy, including Sun Splash; $4 million for Lake Meade and nearly $3.5 million each for Cultural Park, Festival Park, and Yellow Fever Creek, an environmental park.

Among the items not included in the plan is the purchase of the old golf course acreage, which City Manager John Szerlag said has taken longer to negotiate than expected because of issue involving contamination cleanup on the site. Another item not included is a proposed sports complex at Oasis High School.

City Council as a whole liked the overall proposal and showed support as it has in the past.

However, with a vote pending there still weren't enough details, some said, stressing also the need for the smaller, or neighborhood, parks.

"We need to be more specific. We can't generalize. Sands Park needs something. We need to get the neighborhoods on board and we need to show them what we can give them," Councilmember John Carioscia said. "We need to know if the families will enjoy it and are willing to pay more."

"We did great on the larger parks, but we need to define the needs of the smaller parks and see what they will get there," Councilmember John Gunter said. "It's an investment for families and children. This would benefit the city and the people."

Councilmember Dave Stokes, who voted against the parks plan in April due to a lack of detail and the price tag, said he was still against the plan as tendered. He added there is, however, a need for neighborhood parks in the north.

"I think the voters need to look at the plan carefully and decide for themselves," he said Tuesday.

Most of the public comment on the plan were positive, though here was concern regarding who is using city parks now and whether they are non-profit or not.

Resident Dan Sheppard suggested the city perform an audit on who uses the parks, an idea that Councilmember Jennifer Nelson and Gunter seemed to agree with.

Ralph Santillo said he would like the Southwest Florida Military Museum included in the package, as it receives more than 40,000 visitors a year free of charge and feeds local veterans and pays a hefty mortgage to keep it open.

Most on council said the parks plan was for open spaces, but agreed to discuss the museum at a future meeting.



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