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Active versus passive park use designation to dominate city council meeting

Megan Holmes

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Historic photo of Spa Beach, courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

After a lively, debate-filled City Council meeting last Thursday night, in which the council rejected the proposed public art sculpture by Janet Echelman, this week’s meeting is sure to look tame by comparison.

However, according to Councilmember Gina Driscoll, controversy continues to boil on one particular agenda item that came to the forefront during the Echelman discussion.

On Thursday, the City Council will consider an item proposed by the City of St. Pete’s Leisure Services Administrator Mike Jefferis to amend the City Code, changing the definitions of active park uses and passive park uses.

According to Jefferis, in a letter to the council, the amendments would follow both the evolution of the city as an arts destination and the guidance of the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan.

The issue came to a head as the Echelman sculpture was to be erected on Spa Beach, currently designated a passive park. Public art is not currently on the list of allowed uses for passive parks, as outlined in City Code.

Now, the city seeks to remove that obstacle.

According to city code, passive parks are meant to be “unprogrammed.” The proposed amendments to the definition of a passive park would include “shade structures and public art,” and clarify that “playground apparatus includes splash pads.”

The Active park uses or “programmed” uses will also change, to include intended uses specifically outlined for the new Pier structure, including, “vessel docking facilities with passenger loading/unloading zones, and facilities or uses accessory to or utilized in connection with the described uses of this definition. Active park uses shall also include passive park uses, as defined in this section.”

The reading of this specific ordinance represents a change of course for the administration, who originally asked the council to change Spa Beach’s designation from passive to active. Now, they seek to change the City Code instead.

Some council members and their constituents are concerned about what the changes in designation could mean for the future of passive parks like Spa Beach.

The Catalyst will continue to track this story as it goes through City Council.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jay Miller

    July 18, 2018at4:16 pm

    A “passive” park is essentially a nature preserve. Spa Beach was created by dredge and fill and was never a natural ecosystem. If Spa Beach is a “park,” there should be opportunities for the public to use it that would include swimming, boating, running, picnicking and yes, public art. When was the last time you someone actually using this “park” (except on a few days annually when they erect bleachers for special events like dog competitions and volleyball matches)? Northshore Park is a great park because it offers opportunities to gaze at the water and enjoy outdoor activities.

    • Avatar

      Megan Jones

      July 24, 2018at3:18 pm

      Seriously? You want a strip mall there too? You are splitting hairs to disregard Spa Beach as a nature preserve simply because it was man made. I am vehemently against changing the designation because that leaves every other “passive” park vulnerable to development like Crescent Lake, for example. This isn’t really a “public park” anyway if you want to split hairs even further. If the designation is changed, you won’t have to worry about gazing at the water. You’ll be gazing at a million overweight tourists on jet skis.

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