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Tensions rise at Yacht Club workshop

By Staff | Oct 11, 2019

The first two nights of the Cape Coral community parks workshop at the Cape Coral Yacht Club were rather mild affairs, with people in the half-filled building nicely asking for things such as pickleball and better soccer fields.

When it came time for Thursday’s workshop for the host site’s plan, residents came out in droves, filling the clubhouse and making their feelings known about tennis courts, parking garages and the entire process, which some said was rigged.

The Yacht Club plans are by far the most ambitious and complicated, featuring an increased beach area, more room for boats and boat parking and possibly a decked parking lot, among other things. It is expected to cost more than $10 million for the renovation, by far the biggest price tag of any park in the $60 million GO Bond parks plan.

As representatives from Kimley-Horn continued to speak, things started to get testy, and not just because there was a plan to leave just two tennis courts at the Yacht Club.

Residents were upset about the process, which they said would not allow people to make their feelings heard. Things quickly devolved into shouting.

Janos Latura claimed the city was playing a political game to push a certain concept that would leave the Yacht Club with two courts and a decked parking lot by stacking the deck with more boards about that plan than any other.

“I’m confused by this. We have a lot of older people who don’t understand and that’s not a good plan,” Latura said. “They have an agenda and they’ve set it up to lean towards it.”

Councilmember John Gunter said he wasn’t surprised by the passion, as the Yacht Club dates back to the birth of the city, but that the open dialogue/yelling produced nothing.

“Community input is vital if we’re going to make modifications and they should have the opportunity to weigh in,” Gunter said. “A few people wished they had more open dialogue, but in the short time it went that way, there were hostilities and it wasn’t constructive.”

That didn’t mean people were satisfied. Sandra Rosenthal said she understood the needs for beautification and that the city is growing, but was concerned with the expansion of certain things.

“This is a historic site and my concern is that the history will go away. I encourage tourists, but this is the only free beach. I like to come and read a book on Sundays, and I can’t because there are other people who come that come from other areas,” Rosenthal said. “Multi-level parking will also take away from the area.”

Steve Averbach said he was glad so many people voiced their concerns about the park.

“We’re concerned about turning the area into a parking garage. There’s enough parking if you set things up right,” Averbach said. “This isn’t Miami Beach and we don’t need to emulate them. This is a small park, where elderly people come to sit in the shade.”

Progress, however, seemed to please some. Laurett Arenz thought the ideas were great and didn’t even mind the parking deck.

“I was under the impression they were just going to move the ramp, but I understand it will be where the parking is and that’s great,” Arenz said. “With the waterpark, playgrounds and open space, it looks like we’ll have more access, and I think the parking garage with the restaurant is awesome. I think they’re beautifying it.”

People got a chance to have one-on-one discussions with Kimley-Horn workers and city officials. They also got to express what they wanted through color-coding, how they planned to get to the Yacht Club, and give one-word responses for what they wanted.

The tennis courts got a large number of requests in just about every exercise.

City Manager John Szerlag said this was the most democratic way to find out what the residents wanted and eventually residents found out it was true.

“There were some bumps in the beginning because the people weren’t used to this type of format. People can pick what their preferences are through color-coding,” Szerlag said. “People came up to me and said this was a good process, that they could say they want more tennis courts by just color-coding.”

Kimley-Horn will take the data it received, go back to the drawing board, and resubmit new concepts for another set of workshops at the Yacht Club on Tuesday, Nov. 12, for Lake Kennedy; Thursday, Nov. 14, for Festival Park and Yellow Fever Creek; and Tuesday, Dec. 3, for the Yacht Club Community Park.

The concepts will be adjusted, with City Council making its decision on approval in early 2020.