TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Area skateboarders moved a step closer this week to having a place of their own to master the concrete — welcome news to some.
"We are all for a skate park," said Austin Weinel, 11. "It's a safe environment and your parents know where you are. I'm tired of hearing 'you can't skate here or you can't skate there.' "
Austin was among about 100 who attended a meeting Tuesday at the Jackson Springs Recreation Center, where the proposed skateboard park would be located. The audience, consisting mainly of young teens and skateboarders, listened as Mark Thornton, Hillsborough County's director of Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, spoke of what a potential park could look like and the steps it will take to get there.
If all goes well and the site, at 8620 Jackson Springs Road, is approved by the County Commission, a skateboard park could be in place by June 2013, Thornton said.
The northwest skateboard park would be the third built by the county under the Capital Improvement Plan. One such park opened recently in Brandon and an Apollo Beach skateboard park is set to open July 28. The proposed Town 'N Country site could cost up to $600,000, with the funds coming from parks and recreation impact fees.
"We have the money and we know it's needed," Thornton said of the skateboard park. "We will find a spot for it."
Several other proposed sites were abandoned in recent years after opposition from residents.
After Tuesday's meeting, residents have an additional two weeks to make comments and suggestions to county officials. The comments will be compiled and in another 30 to 45 days, another public hearing will be held.
The proposed Jackson Springs plan calls for a skateboard park of up to 11,000 square feet and a new multipurpose court. Parking at the recreation center would be relocated, as well as the basketball courts. A berm would be built to shield the adjacent neighborhood from potential noise.
"We try to be good neighbors," Thornton said.
The skateboard park would be fenced and access controlled. That way, the county staff will know who is in the park at all times. Helmets will be required and anyone under 18 must sign a release. When it comes time to design the facility, opinions from skaterboarders and teenagers will be encouraged.
"Who knows what will happen with the skate park we have planned here," Thornton said. "The important thing is, the kids get a buy-in with the skate park and they take care of it."
In February, a group of Town 'N Country teens started a petition to get county officials' attention. Now, they are part of the discussion.
If the Jackson Springs park is built in northwest Hillsborough, Thornton said there will be four skateboard parks in the county, including the city of Tampa's skate park on East Columbia Drive. The four sites are equal distances apart, he said. Currently there is no fee to skate at the county-owned skate parks.
Not everyone at Tuesday's meeting supported the proposed skate park. Stanley Krick, a long-time Town 'N Country resident, said the park is going to cost him more in taxes.
"I do not want to see this out here and I'm probably in the minority," Krick said. "I'm concerned about graffiti. This will be a nice concrete pad for graffiti. My taxpayer dollars will be used to clean it up."
But the supporters were plentiful.
"Anytime it's something for the kids, I'm all for it," said Rich Silkworth, a Town 'N Country resident since 1974 and the vice president of the Town 'N Country Civic Association. "My only concern is if that basketball court is going to be big enough."
Michelle Taylor asked all the skaters to stand, causing the majority of those in attendance to rise to their feet. She said skateboarders cross all racial and socioeconomic lines.
"Skaters and boarders have an opportunity to intermingle in a way that others can't," Taylor said. "We are looking at creating something that will allow all the kids to get off the street. If we don't find something for them to do, they will find something to do. And it may not be what we want them to do."
Demorris Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.