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Bait. And switch.
March 6, 2020

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While the perceived impacts of playgrounds, pickleball and possible watersport leases have dominated the discussion over concept plans vs construction design, a major deviation to the Cape's presented $60 million Parks Master Plan has perked behind the debate.

And that's too bad because the city's decision to carve out room for a commercial/industrial component in one of the Cape's few true preserve areas is a betrayal of astounding magnitude.

For a myriad of reasons.

First some background.

Cape Coral City Council on Monday approved the design elements for three community parks with the improvements to be funded with general obligation bonds. The GO bonds were approved in 2018 by voters who not only agreed that the Cape needed more recreational facilities for our growing population but backed that belief by agreeing to higher property taxes to pay for it.

Among the plans approved Monday was the final design for the development of Yellow Fever Creek Preserve, a 197.6-acre tract off the Del Prado Extension, that the city told voters would be used for "passive recreation" -- better hiking trails, an equestrian trail, a dog park, disc golf and space for primitive camping.

The city-owned preserve abuts a 333.8-acre county Conservation 20/20 parcel, which also has trails, and both parcels are considered environmentally sensitive.

Here is where things get bogged in the shadows.

While the city was discussing and promoting concept plans for its portion of Yellow Fever Creek Preserve, while those plans were posted on the city website and plastered across a GO bond billboard onsite, city staff was all the while working on plans to locate a $10 million municipal utility project in the northeast corner of the park.

Those now-approved utility project plans call for an entrance roadway off the extension, at least two 40-foot-tall water storage tanks for irrigation water (possibly two additional potable water tanks in the future); a man-made lake of approximately 15 acres, with a proposed five-foot berm, to provide needed fill; as well as a water retention area and related components for the facility.

The plan, to be paid for with utility funds, has apparently been on the drawing board since 2008 -- long, long, long before the city started collecting "citizen input" that ultimately was aptly summed up in its own "one-word exercise" still posted on the GO Bond website for the park.

That input?

Residents enumerated their vision, their expectations, their hopes for Yellow Fever Creek Preserve with thesaurus-like precision: "Natural." "Unobtrusive." "Quiet." "Inviting."

Pretty much what was on the concept plan before the conceptual dog park area became a water storage plant.

Now city officials say that concept plans are just that -- concepts. They say residents who were interested in park development should have gone back to the GO Bond website to stay current.

Well, yes, we guess.

One can make an argument that a court is a court even if it's a different sport. That's a reasonable subject of debate -- or even a plan change.

A dog park to a utility facility, however, is not. Water tanks are not a park amenity nor, one can argue, do they belong in the lone park the city dubbed a preserve. It is not reasonable substitution but bait-and-switch -- especially as the city asked property owners to tax themselves for lack of park land.

Let us say that again: The city told the voters that the $60 million Parks Master Plan was needed because the city has neither enough land, nor enough facilities, to service the Cape's growing population -- which is where? Yes, the north Cape where the city chose to take park land for the advancing UEP.

The city's main argument is economics and officials have packaged that rather prettily: They say that Yellow Fever Creek Park Preserve is the only cost-effective site for the necessary utility infrastructure to serve the area.

That argument is worse than disingenuous, it's an outright misrepresentation.

The city owns acreage practically across the street.

Officials chose not to encumber the so-called Academic Village parcel with "large, ugly" structures because they want to retain maximum ability to sell that site to developers should the option arise and its own plans continue to stagnate.

So how did a proposed-but-not-really-proposed dog park in the most protected of land designations, a preserve, become a utility site?

Three possibilities come to mind.

One, bureaucratic incompetence -- one hand simply not knowing what the other was doing. The parks department and related consultants did not know about the utility plans and vise versa and so blithely pursued their respective agendas.

Two, the city's administration knew that the departments were operating on parallel tracks but everything was perking along on government time -- i.e. the projects remained largely at staff level with individual components dribbling to Council and the public, when necessary, until the inevitable conflict crossroads.

Or three, -- the public was intentionally shown ain't-gonna-happen schematics while the utility component moved toward fruition with money spent and agreements entered into until all the pieces of the puzzle were firmly in place.

We're not sure which glass of Kool-Aid to sip so we'll let you pick your poison.

Any of the three is enough to make you retch.

We do know one thing, however:

The city should be able to do better than this.

Much better.

Perhaps the real question is, do they feel any need?

- Breeze Newspapers

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