Oceane pocket park space remains work in progress

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

Thanks to reports of eagle-eyed neighbors, SNL learned just before Thanksgiving that a pocket park/parking space had been restored next to the Oceane condominium complex on Ocean Boulevard.

After visiting the site, this reporter could assert that the space had a much more refined look than it did in its original form. Although the surface appeared pervious, the contractor included a stop bar on the northern end of the spot. Needless to say, in an effort to maintain a park-like feel, county staff did not include such a feature in the original space.

Two other prominent features not present in the past were “Do Not Enter” and “No Parking” signs on either side of the driveway, along with a chain-and-post system blocking vehicles from heading down that driveway. At least when this reporter ambled down to the two park benches overlooking Big Pass, no one appeared to question the action.

About seven years ago, residents of the Windward Passage condominium complex on the north side of that driveway “pitched a fit,” as the saying goes, when Christine P. Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, addressed both Siesta Key Association (SKA) members and those of the Siesta Key Village Association about the potential of what is now the Oceane property being turned into a community park.

Windward Passage condominium owners complained that visitors to the park would disrupt their quality of life by being noisy, leaving trash on the ground and trying to invade their property.

The Conservation Foundation was unable to generate enough interest to try to purchase the land, which had stood vacant for a number of years before the Oceane developer purchased it.

As Johnson told SNL in September 2012, “Basically, something had to give,” to bring the idea of a small park to fruition. “There wasn’t enough community support for it,” she said, and “the owner was intractable” on the price, which was reported to have been between $3.5 million and $4 million.

Johnson added that the foundation staff was sympathetic to the owner, however, because the property was saddled with a lot of debt.

The foundation staff did search for prospective benefactors to help purchase the parcel, she said, but “[everyone contacted] thought that the price was too high.”

On Dec. 2, SNL emailed county Communications Department staff to ask about the situation with the restored pocket park/parking space. Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant finally received answers on Dec. 11.

Staff of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) told SNL that it appeared the new space was smaller than the original. “We are looking into this further for appropriate amount of space for

[compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act]

,” PRNR added, through Grant.

Further, the PRNR response noted that the original public parking space was located closer to the Big Pass access area at Givens Street, next to Windward Passage.

Staff with the county’s Planning and Development Services Department also provided comments for Grant to pass along to the News Leader.

The county’s Public Works Department will be installing new county park rules signage shortly at the parking space, Planning and Development staff wrote, though no specific date was offered, Grant added.

Finally, in response to a question about whether the Oceane Certificate of Occupancy (CO) had been granted, Planning and Development pointed out, “The site was certified by Land Development [staff] on Dec. 5. Individual CO’s will be issued on a unit-by-unit basis as those units are completed.”

The News Leader later learned that the stop bar had been removed from the spot. One of the eagle-eyed neighbors reported that information on Dec. 12. Perhaps the PRNR check on the site resulted in that change.