Conservatory Park planning nears completion

MANATEE — The park will not have basketball courts, tennis courts, skate parks or climbing walls.

Instead, the Conservatory Park off University Parkway will be more of a nature park, one that is expected to mimic the calm pace of its surroundings.

Some residents around the proposed Conservatory Park, just south of the Palm-Aire neighborhood, asked for a “passive” park, and after years of debates, planning and budgeting, it appears they will get what they want.

Mike Sosadeeter, a Manatee County project manager, expects construction of the 55-acre park to begin as early as late fall. The park is on the Conservatory property and is a part of the 113 acres purchased by Ryland Homes in 2004. The county and state persuaded Ryland to preserve a 55-acre tract that includes wetlands, woodlands and a 10-acre lake in its center.

County commissioners and planners expect the work to be completed by 2014 at a cost of more than $2 million.

Although the park is labeled “passive,” it will include a canoe/kayak launch, fishing pier, lakeside observation area, picnic pavilion, grills, restrooms, playground equipment, a hard-surface trail (for walkers, runners, bicyclers and skaters) and a loop trail with exercise stations.

In 2005, some residents voiced concern about the traffic that could distract from the pristine area.

“It’s not a place where somebody’s going to rent something for a family reunion,” said District 5 county commissioner Donna Hayes. “They could, but there’s other places they could go. I’d say 85 percent of the traffic in the park will be people who surround the park. And they’re going to go on foot, probably.”

Hayes said part of the original plan included the park being used for educational classes.

Sosadeeter said the county is going through its final site plan and could complete permitting by late summer.

“There’s been a lot of community involvement, which is very important,” Sosadeeter said. “The neighborhood wanted the park to be kept as natural as possible.”

The park will have two entrances. One will be off Whitfield via Timberlake and DeSoto Woods drives to the east gate. The other will be off Palm-Aire Drive and down Conservancy Drive to the west gate.