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Parks master plan stirs debate

By Staff | Aug 4, 2016

The Medical Priority Dispatch System has been a tremendous success since its inception in September 2015 according to the fire chief, while the parks master plan may be a little more ambitious than the city council can handle in one swoop.

That’s is what came out of the monthly council workshop meeting held Wednesday at City Hall.

Dr. David Barth discussed the latest on the Parks Master Plan with the city council, and reiterated his finding that the city lacks places for people to go to play.

Barth said the city needs beaches, as well as:

– Small neighborhood parks which are within walking distance to every neighborhood in the city, and include playgrounds, trees, paths and picnic areas.

– Small community parks with facilities such as pickleball and tennis courts, as well as concessions and canoe access.

– Large community parks that are anchored by an indoor recreation center and feature outdoor cafes, trails, food truck staging and more.

Overall, the city is more than 600 acres short of required recreation land for a city its size, according to the consultants. At buildout, that number increases to more than 2,500 acres.

Barth said 74 percent of them are specialized for one or few particular activities and that many are short on amenities.

Barth added the city also needs more programs such as special events (and areas to hold them), adult fitness and wellness programs, especially for those over 50.

But when it came time to Barth to show his priority projects and their costs (as much as $70 million), the council had questions.

Councilmember Jim Burch said he was surprised the old golf course property, which is zoned appropriately for recreation, wasn’t mentioned as a possible location for a park.

“We can’t not afford to get those 170 acres. It needs to be part of this study. It defies my imagination that we ignore this,” Burch said. “Take a third of the $70 million, buy the property, and put a rec center, wellness center and track around it.”

Barth agreed, but Councilmember John Carioscia didn’t, calling buying the land a bad deal.

“This councilman isn’t about to spend $12 million on a $6 million piece of property. When you were mayor in 2008, why didn’t you float a GO (general obligation) Bond?” Carioscia asked Burch. “You could have bought it then. I’m not going to walk on that ledge.”

Councilmember Richard Leon, along with Councilmember Marilyn Stout, said it was more important to work on the parks the city has now and make them more successful and fun for all people.

“If we can make sure the foundation of our parks is in the best shape they can be and are successful, then we can use those plans to make better parks,” Leon said. “I love the direction, I want to make sure we include the young people and wi-fi.

In other business, Cape Coral Fire Chief Don Cochran said from the time of implementation to the end of the second quarter of this year, the MPDS has resulted in 1,738 fewer calls run than during the same period the previous year. That’s a 12 percent reduction in call volume, or about 6.6 fewer calls per day.

“We wanted to mitigate our response times, so we looked to reduce the number of calls, have more resources available for high priority incidents and use best practices,” Cochran said. “Ultimately, we asked if we needed a fire truck on every call. The answer is no.”

Cochran said the MPDS has been used since the 1970s and has become used nationwide. In Cape Coral, they used a “hot dispatch” where a fire truck was dispatched at once. Now, when a call is received, the call is made and the truck is held until it’s determined what the issue is. If it’s a general sickness call, the fire truck is not dispatched, according to fire Division Chief Ryan Lamb.

“The 6.6 fewer calls are big because if one station is tied up with one call and another call comes, another station has to respond and a domino effect happens. We did not need a truck on every call,” Cochran said. “It did make an impact and it will grow sequentially over time.”

Even with reducing calls, the response times haven’t improved, Cochran said. The CCFD responded to only 28 percent of the calls in five minutes or less, a new low. The target number for the city is 60 percent, with the national standard being 90 percent.

Cochran said the MPDS will help, along with two more fire stations coming in the next few years. Also coming down the pike are an advanced Vehicle Location system and a Traffic Pre-emption system.

“You can’t minimize the importance of this report. The response times are as good as they’re going to get. They can’t get better until we mitigate the situation,” said Burch.