Palmetto considers sale of 'soccer fields,' more improvements coming to boat ramp

PALMETTO -- To some Palmetto residents the property near the city's cemetery is known for soccer, while to some city officials it has always been thought of as a spot for cemetery expansion.

Neither is true after determining the property's history. City officials are now discussing placing the 3.8 acres in the 800-900 blocks of 14th Street West into surplus for potential sale. The three parcels run from Eighth Street West to 10th Street West, a road the city envisions as becoming its next commercial corridor.

Purchased from Thomas Taylor in 1947 for $1, the lots have stood mostly vacant for decades. Commissioners Tambra Varnadore and Tamara Cornwell acknowledged that residents use the vacant land for recreation, so the potential to implement some kind of recreational use could be in the property's future.

"If you wanted to keep the property to the south recreational, you could talk to Manatee County about moving its tennis courts," said Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Burton, who noted the county would likely be open to no longer having to take care of its courts. The city could build new courts to complement residential uses near the three parcels.

"So basically, you would see it as commercial on 10th, residential and then something like the tennis courts," said Burton. A recommendation to move the property into the city's surplus category would have to be an official action at a future commission meeting.

Riverside Park improvements

Just months after the grand opening of the Riverside Park boat ramp improvements, the city is moving forward with enhancing the parks' atmosphere. On Monday architect Jon Moore, of Palmetto's Moore2Design presented a conceptual design for a new concession stand, bait shop and viewing deck.

The project would replace the existing pavilion at the park entrance and would complement the Florida Department of Transportation multi modal trail project from the Green Bridge to Riverside Drive and eventually into the city. With foot and bicycle traffic expected to increase, Moore said the connection to the proposed trail is important.

The project would double the number of rest rooms currently on site and allow walkers and bicyclists easy access to water. The new pavilion would be split in two with a bait shop area to the west and an 1,100 square foot food service area to the east.

Visitors could walk between the two shops on a covered breezeway and walk onto a 1,400 square foot covered deck that would be built overhanging the mangrove trees at the edge of the river. The entire complex would be connected with sloping ramps toward the new boat ramp to allow boaters access to the new pavilion. The design was presented at the city's work shop and added to the CRA agenda during the city commission meeting.

While commissioners support the project, Varnadore voted against moving forward from conceptual to actual design. She has objected to the city commission's tendency to add late agenda items past public notice. Doing so flirts with Sunshine Law violations, depending on the magnitude of the decision, she said. Varnadore said this was one of those decisions that require more public notice and input.

"It needed to be advertised," she said.

"I don't object to the project, but I do object to the process because you are talking about changing the waterfront."

The vote to move the project into the design phase was approved 4-1.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.