Cape Coral re-opens Coral Oaks, Seahawks Park
Cape Coral City Council on Monday narrowly voted to open its municipal golf course and the park for small plane enthusiasts, but ceded the decision of opening other city parks to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, which voted Tuesday morning to open most park trails.
County parks, with the exception of beach parks and Lakes Park, will be open to walking, biking, hiking and jogging as well as, were equestrian trails exist, to horseback riding beginning Wednesday.
City Council, by 4-3 votes, opened Coral Oaks Golf Course and Seahawks Park so they could resume business while maintaining social distancing.
The council debated whether to open the remaining city parks for walking only. All amenities (including parking) would remain closed due the continuing coronavirus pandemic and the parks would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Law enforcement would make sure all distancing guidelines are met and that groups did not congregate.
Council got a good idea of what residents wanted during a lengthy public input in which dozens of people sent e-mails, with a majority of them asking the city wait to reopen the parks, and especially the golf course, saying that it wasn’t the time just yet.
“It isn’t your right to make people sick so you can go out,” one person e-mailed.
Councilmember John Carioscia said that the city-owned course in Fort Myers has been open throughout, as have the private courses in the city.
Carioscia and Mayor Joe Coviello said they could back the decision, provided people wear masks. Councilmember Marilyn Stout didn’t think that was necessary.
“I believe in individual responsibility and don’t like government mandates. Other counties are ready for this and so should we,” Stout said before adding Seahawks Park to the mix, saying that, like golf, it would promote social distancing.
Councilmember Jessica Cosden disagreed, using the opening of Jacksonville Beach as an example, which had thousands of walkers when it reopened.
“I found those pictures disturbing. People have cabin fever and will flock to the parks when they open. It’s a bad decision even for the parks because people want to get out,” Cosden said. “We have 735 cases (of the new coronavirus, COVID-19) in Lee County and the curve isn’t flattening. We aren’t ready.”
Councilmember John Gunter agreed, saying the data doesn’t support reopening even for walking. Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said she wasn’t comfortable yet to take a “strategic risk.” All three voted against both motions.
Councilmember Rick Williams was also against reopening, but because of technical problems (he was the only council member participating from home) was unable to vote. This proved significant because his vote could have hung the council, preventing the two parks from opening.
As for the parks, the city decided to allow the county to make that move and go along with it. Carioscia said that Charlotte and Collier counties have kept their parks open for walkers.
After the BOCC decision to reopen Tuesday, the city could either call a special meeting or reopen the parks at its next meeting on Monday, April 27.
County Manager Roger Desjarlais said he recommended the city reopen its parks Wednesday at the BOCC meeting.