BRADENTON -- The Bradenton City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to relocate Glazier-Gates Park to make room for a 521-unit rental housing development.
At the heart of the growing opposition is the city's decision to swap park land with the developer, Atlanta-based Hatfield Development Co., and move the park from the 1000 block of Manatee Avenue East northward to Riverside Drive East along the Manatee River.
For opposing residents and organizers of the Stone Soup Community Unity group, which has retained legal representation to stop the land swap, it comes down to trust and is little to be had for both the developers of the Villages at Riverwalk project and city officials.
"The developers want our historical Glazier-Gates Park with century-old oak trees. ... They would totally destroy it and build on it for private profit," said resident Frank Lambert.
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The council meeting Wednesday will start at 6 p.m.
Kim YoungShepard, along with others, is leading the fight to stop the land swap. YoungShepard doesn't oppose the developer building on legally purchased property and is focused on forcing the developer to build on its own land rather than destroying a public park.
"This park is well used and it's been here for more than a 100 years," said YoungShepard. "What we will be presenting Wednesday is a body of evidence that the park is well used, why this place is so special, a petition to save the park and some other surprises."
The group's online petition at change.org has garnered 460 supporters. The group also began a gofundme.com account on Sept. 10 and has raised $640 for legal fees and has retained the services of Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes.
"We are very glad to have him," said YoungShepard. "We really tried to work as a neighborhood with the city, but we don't think it's asking too much to leave the park alone. It's the people's park, not the city's."
Disputing development team's claims
To make the swap, the city council is being asked to change the land classification of the park from "recreation open" to "urban village," as part of a special area plan approval.
Hatfield, is represented locally by NDC Construction, attorney Ed Vogler and ZNS Engineering.
Vogler has countered claims the Villages at Riverwalk project would destroy local historical value, noting the development site is nowhere near a historical spring and other structures. Vogler said the project would enhance, not hurt, local history. Vogler said the project is a part of a larger revitalization of downtown Bradenton and should be embraced as such.
Planning and Community Development Director Tim Polk said he knows moving the park is controversial, but redevelopment in the Old Manatee neighborhood is in the city's comprehensive plan and master plan.
"We did the research," said Polk. "The comp plan clearly states that Indian Springs and Glazier-Gates Park need to be a part of redevelopment. When I first came here, I polled city council members as to what they wanted to see and what they want is a developer that recognizes our historical character."
Polk said he believes the Villages at Riverwalk project will open up that history to more visitors and new residents.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.