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Bait. And bungle.

March 13, 2020
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council on Monday is scheduled to re-address one of the seven neighborhood park designs the board approved in December.

The reason?

The amenity configuration for Tropicana Park has remained at a slow simmer for the past three months with a neighborhood group and a not-for-profit sports organization and its supporters placed at odds through the public -- and not-so-public -- planning phase leading up to the Council action.

Neither "side" is happy and efforts to bring them to a viable compromise through a handful of stakeholders meeting fell apart last week.

The Northwest Neighborhood Association, which claims a membership of 500-plus households, says the city presented one plan and approved another -- one that re-allocates park land for a use not originally shown.

The 13-year-old Cape Coral Rowing Club says it, and the canoeing and kayak club that since has been forced to disband, have been actively working with city staff for months to find a location within the city's parks for its growing programs. They say city staff agreed Tropicana Park was the best location.

These positions -- both accurate -- are why we say these two have been "placed at odds" for make no mistake: This is a controversy of the city's own making.

The city's administration did, at public input sessions, online, and in on-site signage depict "concept plans" for Tropicana Park. Those "concept plans" did not include space specifically carved out for water sports, i.e., "the clubs."

The city did, meanwhile, on the staff level also continue to have ongoing conversations with the rowing and kayak clubs. The rowing club is losing its location at Cape Harbour due to the site being sold; the canoe and kayak club had lost its lease with the city at Lake Kennedy due to city plans for the park there.

So bait. And bungle, causing this controversy where there should be none -- or not much of one because, no, we are not naive enough to believe every homeowner will ever be happy about the prospect of paddlers, or pickleballers for that matter, using "their" park.

What the city should have done, at both Tropicana Park and at Yellow Fever Creek Preserve, is to have presented "concept plans" -- solicited by the city and paid for with tax dollars -- that depicted the actual concepts for the parks which were being developed behind the scenes.

At Tropicana Park that was the effort, and apparent commitment, to provide a location for water sports, both competitive and recreational.

This staff-level failure has not only stirred the waters, it has detracted from and delayed what should have been the right discussion at the right time: How to best develop the acreage that is to become Tropicana Park. That means taking into account not only that site's unique attributes but its potential to become in the northwest Cape what the Yacht Club is to the city's southeast -- a waterfront gem.

We think that's a vision that has been absent through a conflict that has, instead, been focused on city actions -- a "deal" with the clubs, rather than it's inaction -- promotion of what this small park can mean into the future in terms of neighborhood desirability; amenities to compliment the Seven Islands parks component and Sirenia Vista Park; and the type of property value stability seen throughout the Yacht Club neighborhoods.

A couple of things.

First, the Northwest Neighborhood Association says its planned presence at Monday's Council meeting to oppose city staff's stated intention to more forward with the modified design plans approved in December is not "about the clubs," which they have little issue with; it's about the city's lack of transparency.

We agree.

So we suggest that Council separate the issues.

The Great Calusa Blueway -- an internationally renowned water equivalent to the Appalachian Trail -- practically runs through our backyard.

Canoeing, kayaking -- and yes, rowing -- are growing in popularity and should be part of the city's recreational offerings, if not directly through city-offered programs, then through not-for-profits not unlike Little League or Senior Softball.

Tropicana Park is a viable starting point to launch these activities with the modified amenities proposed -- floating docks, utilities and, depending on space requested, perhaps room for storage.

We emphasize starting point because, in the latest wrinkle, the city administration has come out of the final heated stakeholders session with the opinion that "a land lease is no longer the best option" for the rowing club and so is putting a "priority use agreement on the table" instead.

No surprise, this has caused new waves of controversy.

It will be interesting to hear the public benefit on that one.

And the second issue, the lack of transparency?

That one, too, should be in Council's court on Monday.

There is a pattern here -- a pervasive pattern -- of shadow proposals cast behind what the public is shown.

Let us be blunt: If the public is shown a concept plan that does not reflect the actual concept in the works, it's not a working plan, it's a lie.

We'll give that one to the Northwest Neighborhood Association.

Call it Bait and switch.

Call it Bait and bungle.

Or just call it what it is: Amateur hour.

Whatever it's called, it needs to stop. And it needs to stop now.

- Breeze editorial



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