“We cannot go back and redo all the past votes of the commission,” Sanford Commissioner Velma Williams said when the subject was brought up at a recent City Commission meeting. “We cannot be that kind of government. I am getting frustrated about this.”
You mean the kind of government that listens to the people it represents, the kind of government that reconsiders bad decisions. Have any of the commissioners other than Mark McCarthy directly solicited input on this issue from their constituents?
My wife, Debbra, and I were the founders of the group that became The Society for the Preservation of Fort Mellon Park. In 1997-98, a group of us waged a campaign to preserve the park from commercial development. Eventually, the city won a referendum vote allowing it to use a portion of Fort Mellon Park specifically for a hotel/conference center.
When Henry Sweet, myself, then Mayor Larry Dale and City Attorney William Colbert met to word the referendum question in 1998, an addendum to the referendum was agreed to that excluded that part of Ft. Mellon Park, between Seminole Boulevard and 1st Street, running east for 600 feet from San Juan Avenue, from the referendum. It is not a coincidence that the currently developed portion of the park lies exactly within those boundaries. With that as background, here are some thoughts on building a maintenance building in Fort Mellon Park.
1. Building a maintenance facility within the boundaries of the whole of Fort Mellon Park serves the interests of the city government rather than of the citizens. This is a convenience for the city employees who take such wonderful care of our park—a tip of my hat to them!
One only needs drive by the park on virtually any day to see that it is today a destination for Sanfordites, a place that has become what Society member Mark Platz called, Sanford’s Front Porch. It provides incredible recreational facilities for our citizens at bargain prices.
Should we want to eliminate a piece of that property from citizen usage to city-employee-only usage, or should we be diligently pursuing the Phase II development of Fort Mellon Park? The question here is, in whose best interest is that trade, and the answer is clearly the city government rather than the people it represents.
2. It is almost by definition a bad business decision. You are taking off the table (remember, this portion of the park could still hold a J. W. Marriott someday) a potentially very valuable resource, as it would have to be excluded from any sale to a developer. It becomes an island of city-owned property, itself generating ongoing maintenance costs.
Additionally, should the commission decide someday to actually set aside the entire park for citizen recreation, this piece of land could house some type of recreational activity that all could enjoy.
3. The city already owns the old post office building, one block west, at Sanford Avenue and Seminole Boulevard. Why not use the money to rehab this building which is already eating up lakefront property, rather than eating up more of it?
Is the City Commission serious about the recently installed Preserve America designation, or is that only those of us in the Historic Trust? Have the commissioner’s noticed the stark contrast between American and European sensibilities on preservation being played out in our town?
On U.S. Highway 17-92, while Discount Auto Parts and KFC demolish existing buildings and build entirely new ones, Aldi is refurbishing the old Office Depot location. In the most ludicrous comparison, Mercedes refurbished the abandoned Chrysler-Jeep dealership on Rinehart Road, and Chrysler-Jeep is now building a new dealership near the theaters.
In Europe they tend to actually live that preservation stuff rather than simply toss out slogans.
4. The aesthetics of the building are inconsequential. A May 25 Sanford Herald article quotes Marc Hultin of the city parks division: “It will be one of the nicest buildings we have.” From a purely opinion point of view, I’m not sure how it can be so with an eight-foot-high wall surrounding it. But its attractiveness has nothing to do with the real issues—the good of the few or the many, potential profit or certain costs, preserve and refurbish or demolish and build?
5. If my dear late friend Millard Hunt was still around, he would have held the commission’s feet to the fire on this, but no one should have to do that. The city has an opportunity to: 1) restore and preserve a portion of Sanford history (the old post office) and leave a portion of the park for potential sale or future city development of the park for the enrichment of our citizens’ lives; or 2) they can meet a convenience need and take another portion of the park out of play and leave another abandoned building like the former Eckerd’s, except this one is on our precious waterfront. I wouldn’t have had to think long about that choice, believing that the park belongs to the people. Unfortunately, our elected officials don’t seem to hold that same belief.
Sanford District 1 Resident