Is the County Commission out of compliance with County ordinance?
In all the controversy about Warm Mineral Springs, a key obligation of
Sarasota County is missing. Where is the Warm Mineral Springs Work Plan, as required by County ordinance, Sec. 90-67(d)?
Sarasota County and the City of North Port jointly purchased Warm Mineral Springs (WMS) in 2010. The 81 acre park, the only warm spring in the state, was purchased for $5.5 million by the City of North Port and by the County through the County’s Parks Acquisiton program.
Land purchased through the County’s Parks Acquisition program is subject to Sec. 90-67. Neighborhood Parkland procedure for acquisition ordinance. Subsection (d) says:
Work Plan. In conjunction with the property owner, County staff will develop a Work Plan for each site on the Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition List. The Work Plan will include proposed acquisition methods and strategy, funding sources and methods, land management strategies, potential public use and recreational opportunities, public access and costs, including start-up costs, as defined by Board resolution, for improvements to the site necessary to achieve its intended functionality. The Work Plan may include environmental inventories, audits, appraisals, and surveys. The Work Plan prepared by County Staff will be submitted to the Advisory Committee for review and recommendation to the Board. The Board may accept, reject or modify the Work Plan.
Where is the Work Plan, the land management plan? It appears this is another example of this County Commission flouting their own policies (as in their failure to implement whole sections of 2050 policy). How does land purchased through the Park Acquisition program over three years ago, in 2010, get to bypass this County ordinance and oversight by the County Parks Advisory Committee?
The 2010 election of North Port Commissioners Cook, DiFranco and Yates resulted in a North Port Commission WMS philosophy of preservation and maintaining the site as a public park. The park was closed June 30, 2013 after a contract with the operating concessionaire expired, and the County and North Port couldn’t agree on a long term strategy for the park. The park’s closure caused the nearby real estate market to decline, while would-be park members and visitors were denied access.
The park recently re-opened in April. National and State Park Concessions, the lowest qualified bidder, offered to run the park for $48,280 per month. Their contract ends in August 2014.
At their June 24th joint meeting, the City of North Port and County did not agree on a development plan for WMS. They reviewed two proposals.
National and State Park Concessions proposed an incremental approach: run the springs as a swimming facility, keep it that way for a few more years, save the income generated in a fund for future development. The two local governments would decide what that development would be. National and State Park Concessions suggests a cafe, equestrian facilities, gift shop, spa and trails.
The other proposal was from Jebco Ventures, Inc. and Angelshot, LLC. They suggest adding a fitness center, “healthy eats” restaurant, hotel, medical suites, physical therapy, possible residences and spa.
Supporters of the Jebco plan pointed to the company’s plan to quickly add water and sewer infrastructure at the site, claiming it would cost taxpayers less money. Those voting against the Jebco proposal cited the provision that the parkland be conveyed to Jebco. Jebco wants WMS acreage conveyed to the firm so they can use it as collateral for bank financing for their development project.
Does the County Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program allow purchased lands to be conveyed to development firms as collateral for financing?
National and State Park Concessions requested a 10 year lease, Jebco requested a 50 year lease.
The North Port City Commission voted for National and State Park Concessions, 4-1, with Mayor Jim Blucher dissenting. The County Commission voted unanimously for Jebco.
The County’s willingness to convey Warm Mineral Springs public parkland to a private entity, along with their failure to create a management plan and include the Parks Advisory Committee, suggests this is one more example of another potential Commission giveaway.
The County Commission owes the public answers:
- Was there ever a Work Plan? If so, what does it say?
- Has staff prepared a management plan? If so, what does it say? If not, why not?
- Can neighborhood parklands be given to a private entity for their use as collateral?
- What role does the Parks Advisory have in determining the future of WMS?
Important Note: Sarasota County Commission called for people interested in the fate of Warm Mineral Springs to be present and speak at their July 8th meeting held in Venice at Robert L. Anderson Bldg. at 2:30 (to get seats) The Robert Anderson building is located at 4000 Tamiami Trail, just behind the large County Business Bldg.