A plan to expand parking at Colohatchee Park will cost $1.38 million and displace several residents whose adjacent rental units will be demolished to make way for more cars.
Park-goers currently have to park at 1975 NE 15 Ave. and walk the length of two football fields on a raised boardwalk to access the park, which is a popular place for dog-walking.
“We are doing something that will benefit the people of this city virtually forever and so it is a very, very wise investment I think,” said Vice Mayor Tom Green. “This is the only physical way we would be able to get another entrance, a much better entrance into the park.”
City commissioners voted 4-0 on March 12 to approve the purchase of two fourplexes at 2101 and 2109 NE 14th Ave. to build a new 30-space parking lot and add some park amenities. Commissioner Gary Resnick was absent but had previously voiced support for the proposal. The existing parking lot on 15th Avenue only has 24 parking spots.
Colohatchee Park is currently undergoing a $500,00 renovation. The city has added an eight-foot-wide walking track, fitness stations and expanded the dog park. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. on March 30. The park also has restrooms, a basketball court, a sand volleyball court, a playground and a pavilion.
Wilton Manors resident and retiree Lou Papa visits the park almost daily and said the added parking and renovations will be wonderful.
“I think this is one of [the city’s] treasures. I think it’s great they are doing this renovation. A lot of people use the park, and a lot more will use it when they are done,” Papa said.
But now city resident David Ross, 70, isn’t sure where he will live. The retired nurse has lived in his one-bedroom apartment at 2109 NE 14th Ave. for six years and will have to move. He is hoping to access senior housing.
“The landlord never said anything,” said Ross, who is disabled. “If they turn this into a parking lot, this street is going to be crazy. People walk their dogs back here.”
Ross was aware his building could be sold because he pays his rent on a month-to-month basis. But finding somewhere affordable to live is difficult, he said.
The two fourplexes face each other across a grassy courtyard with patio tables and ornamental trees in a tranquil neighborhood where residents ride bicycles and ducks nest among the shrubs.
Ross said nearby residents will be upset with an increase in car traffic.
The city plans to purchase the property with a two-year bridge loan from the city’s Water & Sewer Utility Fund.
“The two years will allow staff to explore alternative funding sources for this land purchase which could include grant funding, reimbursement from a potential future bond issue, or other sources that are unidentified at this time,” said Patrick Cann, director of the Leisure Services Department, in a March 12 memo to city commissioners. “Should no alternate funding be found within the two year period, the internal loan would be refinanced by a commercial bank loan.”
Commissioner Paul Rolli supported the parking expansion but said the city should find a better way to finance the project.
“I have significant issues in using the water fund in financing the purchase,” Rolli said. “Our water bills continue to increase and we continue to transfer money from the water fund to the general fund and that artificially keeps the millage rate from rising. We do not have an overall master plan for the city and continue to use a piecemeal process and do what we call economic development.”