Wesley Chapel residents voice last-minute concerns about new park
As Wesley Chapel prepares to close on a deal to purchase their first park, some citizens made it clear they aren’t exactly onboard with the plan.
Recently, Wesley Chapel entered into an agreement to purchase a 16.5-acre parcel of land called Dogwood Acres for $750,000, which included $25,000 down in earnest money. The land would house a new park and recreation establishment.
At the council’s meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22, member Todd Hess said the closing could happen as early as Thursday, Feb. 24. However, several residents voiced concerns about the purchase.
Jeannine Kenary, one of the most vocal citizens on the issue, expressed concerns about the methods behind the parcel selection and described to council what she believed to be errors in choosing the land.
The Park & Rec committee was responsible for reviewing and ranking 20 parcels of land that were candidates for the purchase. Kenary quoted statistics that said 12 out of the 20 parcels were ranked by three or less committee members, with only two of the parcels being ranked by all members.
“How can we determine that this parcel of land is the right one to purchase when only a few committee members ranked some of the others?” she asked.
Several council members offered various reasons. Hess explained that the committee had certain standards and expectations that automatically excluded certain parcels from consideration. The village established an acreage margin as well as a spending limit. Therefore, parcels too large, too small, or over budget were immediately thrown out.
Other characteristics affecting a parcel’s eligibility for consideration was whether the land was in a floodplain region and if any of the land could be donated.
“Some parcels weren’t viable because of these issues,” Mayor Pro-tem Sondra Bradford explained.
Some citizens aren’t satisfied with the explanation, while Kenary also challenged the council regarding the committee’s evaluations because many reviews stated whether or not the parcel contained a pond.
“It just seems to me that, because all of these evaluations mentioned a pond, [having a pond] was a top priority when it came to choosing [which parcel to purchase],” she said.
Hess retorted that, even though the reviews mentioned ponds, the committee did not consider a body of water to be a necessity.
“The committee did not make a pond its first priority,” he said. “They may have had a list of questions, and that may have been first on the list, but it doesn’t mean it was the first thing they were looking for.”
Some residents are worried the property may not contain the most solid topography. Mayor Brad Horvath assured them a thorough inspection of the land had been performed and the village will pay $6,000 to address the foundation issue of the house included with the purchase.
Horvath also explained that a follow-up inspection showed no major changes to the house and its foundation over a 1.5-year period. “The house is not in any danger of collapse,” he said. “Remember that the park is for exterior enjoyment. If we can fix the house and use it, great. If not, we’ll knock it down and build what we need, like restrooms.”
Other concerns were raised regarding the types of recreation the park will offer and whether or not the benefits of the park will be worth the cost of the purchase.
“The question is, ‘Can we afford the parcel and also reap the benefits of purchasing it?’” Kenary asked.
Meanwhile, council reported that establishing a playground for the park is not currently in the budget. Citizens are worried the park won’t offer enough activities for children.
“There’s nature, running, and playing ball,” Bradford responded. “Just ask my kids. They know.”
Hess assured attendees the council is confident in this purchase and expressed a lack of understanding as to why these questions were raised so late in the game.
“We’ve entered into a contract,” he said. “Backing out now would cost us at least $25,000, and we could end up being forced to purchase the land anyway.”