Neighbors hope Ellenton parcel can become a "passive park"

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 9, 2012 

ELLENTON -- Neighbors of vacant property where a historic schoolhouse once stood have asked Manatee County to buy it and create a passive park there.

The property is a 1.7-acre tract owned by the Manatee School District in Ellenton, the former home to Ellenton Elementary School.

The schoolhouse was built in the early 1900s, possibly in 1918, but was torn down within the last several years, according to research done by Cathy Slusser, deputy director for historical resources for the Manatee County Clerk of Courts.

The building was too decrepit to restore, officials said.

The school board has declared the land surplus and plans to sell it, Manatee County School Superintendent Tim McGonegal said. But the board first plans to re-do its policy on local preference, giving preference to local real estate agents in handling the sale.

"It usually takes 60 days to do policy, it'll be September-ish when we actually pick a Realtor," McGonegal said. "We definitely would consider an arrangement with the county, before we even listed it with a Realtor."

The parcel is located between Leffingwell Avenue and Church Street, and is bordered by Cedar Street. The parcel's "just value" is listed at $706,349, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser's website.

Jennifer Hancock, who lives nearby, e-mailed the neighbors' wishes to the Board of County Commissioners.

"We had asked the school board last year to take the fence down, so our kids could use the field, which they did," Hancock wrote, adding that former County Commission Chairman Gwen Brown had helped to get it done.

"Since then, more and more of my neighbors and their kids are using the field for open play," she wrote.

"I am writing to find out if the county could purchase the property, so it can be used as a passive-use park. We don't need equipment on the field, we just need a green space our kids can play on safely. The only other alternative for them is to

play in the street, and we don't have sidewalks.

"We are in a bit of a park wasteland, and we really need a park we can get to," she continued, noting that the nearest park is an hour's walk away.

County Commissioner Michael Gallen has been crusading to open school playgrounds, parkland and other public facilities to general use whenever it is possible.

"I think it's a great idea," Gallen said. "If you look around, there's not a whole lot of parks in the neighborhood."

A picnic at the site is planned for July 15 for supporters of the idea, Gallen said.

A passive park is generally a green, open space set aside to preserve the natural habitat, said Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.

"They're usually areas that require little management by county staff -- think of areas like Duette or Emerson preserves," he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031, or follow her on Twitter at Sarawrites@Twitter.com.

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