Public wants to save Brooker Creek Preserve from sports fields

05/23/07 Seán Kinane
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Public wants to save Brooker Creek Preserve from sports fields

 

Seán Kinane

 

Yesterday in Clearwater, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners held a public meeting to discuss issues and policies related to Brooker Creek Preserve. One contentious topic was the proposed construction of ball fields on land that is currently forested.  Forty members of the public signed up to speak for three minutes each. The first twenty-five opposed the construction of any ballparks within Brooker Creek Preserve. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports.

  Pinellas county has promised a group called East Lake Youth Sports Association that several sports fields would be built within Brooker Creek Preserve, but citizens are fighting that plan. The county is exploring some other possibilities for sports fields besides the Preserve. One alternative was to share ball fields that already exist at nearby schools. Another alternative is to construct them at the site of a vacant lot owned by the School Board at the corner of East Lake Road and Keystone. Several members of the public preferred this idea to building in Brooker Creek, including Glen Craft.

 

 

“It seems ludicrous that we spent tons of money back in the 80s to put trees into the preserve and now we’re going to tear it up and put ball fields there. Just four hours ago I rode my bicycle by the field and looked at an absolute eyesore with two-foot high weeds. Commissioners, the kids need ballparks. That is certain. Do the right thing, purchase the field at East Lake Road and Keystone, if it gets down to that, and let’s save the jewel of Pinellas County, Brooker Creek Preserve.”

 

 

Another alternative was for Pinellas County to partner with Pasco County which has more land but doesn’t have the approximately $12 million dollars that Pinellas plans to spend on building ball fields.

 

 

The first member of the public to speak was Beverley Billiris, the Mayor of the City of Tarpon Springs. She suggested a similar partnership between her city and Pinellas County that would save Brooker Creek by building the ball fields in Tarpon Springs instead. Her idea was well received and many people who spoke after her seconded the idea.

 

 

“For the last several years, we have been proposing building five ball fields in the city of Tarpon Springs although we’ve not been able to come up with the funding to do that. I haven’t talked to my Board yet, and I’m sure they would be in total approval of this suggestion. But I’m suggesting that you consider the City of Tarpon Springs with a partnership. We have the land to build five full ball fields on our properties and would be more than glad to work with the county to do that [applause].”

 

 

During this meeting a proposed Parks and Environmental Lands Ordinance was discussed. It deals with restrictions on the sale of county owned parks and environmental lands by requiring a referendum to authorize such land transfers. The Environmental Science Forum, or ESF, is an informal group the county has put together to consult the County Administrator on current and future use of County parks and preserves, environmental lands and green space. They unanimously recommended that the county adopt the ordinance proposal, but only with some suggested amendments to address the ESF’s concerns. Walt Hoskins is the Chair of the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve. He pointed out one such concern.

“You can build, according to the current ordinance, a four-lane highway north and south and east - west, with a complete cloverleaf in the middle of it, because there’s no size limitations on the utilities infrastructure. You can build as many roads as you want to in there. There needs to be limitations. There’s a lot of these things that were put in the Environmental Science Forum recommendations that have been ignored and they still make the loopholes way too big.”

 

 

John Miolla is the President of the Homeowners Association of Crescent Oaks, a development adjacent to Brooker Creek Preserve. He told WMNF he was there representing his homeowners association to keep Pinellas county from building sports fields within the Preserve.

 

 

“We’re here to the meeting because the land-use change in the Brooker Creek Preserve, that northern portion lying north of Keystone Road, will permit the county in the future to develop it in any way they see fit. At the present time it is zoned for passive recreation as a Preserve.”

 

 

Bill Stoker is with the Alliance for a Livable Pinellas. He pointed out to the Commissioners that a majority of their constituents want to keep Brooker Creek free of ball fields.

 

 

“Change the mindset that a small group of people want Preserve preservation. The small group is the possible 100 families that want sports fields on Preserve land. There are thousands upon thousands of citizens that do not want active recreation on Preserve lands.”

 

 

Ray Wonderlick, a resident of St. Petersburg, asked the commissioners to keep Brooker Creek Preserve whole and intact and wondered how the Youth Sports Association had been promised access to the Preserve outside of normal channels.

 

 

“When county officials were asked at a recent ESF meeting several moths ago as to how the special interest group, the East Lake Woodlands Youth Sports Association had obtained the exclusive lease and $3 million approximately in promised grants. To build ball fields in part of Brooker Creek Preserve, despite contrary zoning and land management plans and lacking public scrutiny, no county person answered. A person from the Youth Sports Association answered.”

 

 

Lorraine Margeson warned that citizens are watching whether the Commissioners vote for or against allowing ball fields to be built within the Preserve.

 

 

“So I say, if you send in your bulldozers, pumping apparatus, and chainsaws and touch one leaf on Brooker Creek Preserve - as advertised for years in countless glossy brochures --- I believe that the Pinellas County citizens will make sure that the face of this County Commission changes dramatically over the next year and a half.”

 

 

Possible designs for a blending plant to pump drinking water that will be built within the Preserve were also discussed. It will replace the 55-year-old Keller pumping station. Depending on the design that is chosen, construction costs will most likely be between 74 and 87 million dollars.

 

 

You can find phone numbers and emails of the Pinellas County Commissioners by visiting their website at pinellascounty -dot- org -slash- commission .

 

 

For WMNF News, reporting from Clearwater, I'm Seán Kinane

 

 

FMI

 

 

Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners

http://www.pinellascounty.org/commission/default.htm

 

 

Environmental Science Forum

http://www.pinellascounty.org/scienceforum/

 

 

Mayor Beverley Billiris

http://www.ci.tarpon-springs.fl.us/billiris.htm

 

 

Recent Letters to the Editor in the St. Pete Times on this topic

http://www.sptimes.com/2007/05/22/Northpinellas/Today_s_Letters__Take.shtml 

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