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Concerned hundreds peek at park plans

Most of the residents who see the county's three ideas for Eagle Lake Park have other ideas for how it should look.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published May 26, 2004

LARGO - They loved the idea of a park. But most of the folks who showed up to check out the conceptual plans for the property near Belleair and Keene roads had different ideas of what type of park it should be.

About 375 people packed Largo High School's cafeteria to get a glimpse of what Pinellas County thinks Eagle Lake Park may look like within the next few years. They avidly filled out surveys and shared their opinions with officials and court reporters provided by the county.

Some of the folks at the public forum loved all three of the presentations designed by HDR, an engineering and consulting firm in Omaha, Neb.

But many had concerns about how development of the 157 acres would affect traffic, quality of life and the environment.

All of the conceptual plans include one main entrance for vehicles on Keene Road.

That worried residents who live across the street from the proposed entryway. They're afraid it will create a precarious intersection, endangering motorists and neighborhood children.

"There's no reason to have that entrance that close and in the face of all of those residents," said Stephen Romine, 36.

"We have children. We walk animals. It's just going to create congestion," Romine's neighbor, Kevin Massey, 47, added.

Others thought the county was squeezing too many activities and amenities into the park. Each design included a dog park, a playground, open play areas, bike trails, roadways, about 400 parking spaces and a disc golf course where people can throw flying discs at above-ground targets.

"We don't need a roadway. We need walking trails and bike trails," said Jerry Jacobi, 64. "We don't need Busch Gardens. We don't need a zoo."

Other residents were concerned about privacy and dips in their property values, especially Scott Summers, whose home butts up against one of the parking lots proposed in all designs.

"They want to put 69 parking spaces 20 feet behind my property line. Somewhere along the way, they've lost perspective of what this was supposed to be," said Summers, 36.

Those who live west of the park, near its southern edge, are worried about the placement of a pedestrian entrance near their residences. Because the only entrance for vehicles is on Keene, they are concerned that people will park in their development and walk to the park.

The plans preserve certain environmental elements on the property, such as wetlands areas and several acres of grapefruit and orange groves. But several residents were afraid the development would compromise the pristine property's plentiful wildlife, which includes osprey, horned owls, fox squirrels and bobwhite birds.

"Why should we go in there and destroy this land that animals and birds are coming to?" said Lee Howard, 41, who has lived across the street from the property for 38 years.

Others, such as Sharon Coe-Babbitt, had few qualms.

"It's great to have a walking park across the street. We have been wanting to go over there," said Coe-Babbitt, 53.

Her favorite plan leaves the northwest corner of the park basically untouched. That's the area where a family of bald eagles used to live before their nest disappeared a couple of years ago.

Officials pointed out that none of the conceptual plans is set in stone and that public input will shape the final product.

"As we develop, we'll certainly incorporate all of their ideas into those plans," said Len Ciecieznski, spokesman for Pinellas County.

By summer 2005, the county expects to create pedestrian entrances around the perimeter and have walking and biking trails. The following summer, construction is slated for a vehicle entrance on Keene Road leading to a single parking area, restroom and picnic shelter. As funding becomes available, the county will develop the remainder of the park.

Although officials had previously estimated the cost of the park at $5.9-million, they have more recently said they don't have an actual cost.

Tuesday's meeting also included a presentation of the county's master parks plan. Residents were also asked to fill out a survey gauging what activities and recreational programs they thought the community needed.

- Lorri Helfand can be reached at 727 445-4155 or at lorri@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 26, 2004, 01:00:46]


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