ST. PETERSBURG — Despite rumors to the contrary, Charles, the venerable live oak of Historic Roser Park, is not on the chopping block.
That's one of the facts neighborhood advocate Kai Warren offers to combat what he describes as "hysteria" surrounding the city's plan to route a recreational trail through the community of about 130 homes just south of downtown.
"They're painting a picture of this great swath of concrete," said Warren, who lobbied for the project, part of the 2003 City Trails master plan.
Those against the pedestrian and bicycle path, an extension of the Historic Booker Creek Trail that runs through nearby Campbell Park, have circulated a petition to stop the $2.5 million project. They say it will intrude on their picturesque enclave, ruin its character and charm, destroy its wildlife, reduce green space in the small neighborhood park and devastate a precious tree canopy.
Supporters counter that the trail will bring exposure and economic advantages to their tucked-away community of surprising inclines, brick streets and early 20th century homes.
"It's a great way to expose Roser Park to people who won't come down here normally," said Warren, who has twice served as neighborhood president. "It also affects the commercial businesses in a positive way. It's good for real estate values."
Jeff Strickrott and his wife moved to Roser Park from Kissimmee more than four years ago. Originally from upstate New York, he fell in love with the area and says he is not completely against the trail, just its design.
"The proposed trail is no different from adding a modern building to the area," Strickrott said via email. "It would negatively impact the character, look and feel of the neighborhood."
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places — the city's first such neighborhood — the hilly enclave south of All Children's Hospital and Bayfront Medical Center got its name from Charles M. Roser, inventor of the Fig Newton. Roser began buying property in the area in 1911. About 60 homes were built between 1914 and 1916, with 20 more added by 1921.
The recreational trail will mark the second phase of the Booker Creek Trail. The first runs from Tropicana Field to Sixth Avenue S and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street S.
The Roser Park section would start at that point and continue through a park that bears the same name. It will end at 11th Avenue S and Third Street S.
A third phase, to begin this summer, will continue past the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and end at Dalí Boulevard (Fifth Avenue S) and First Street S.
Mayor Rick Kriseman and city administrators are expected to make a decision about how — and possibly when— to proceed with the Roser Park phase in the coming weeks, said Cheryl Stacks, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
Adam Gyson, who moved to Roser Park almost three years ago with his wife, Sarah, objects to the trail cutting through the park.
"You're going to lose 100-year-old oaks," he said. "My wife and I walk that trail two times a day. We spend a lot of time in it and we see amazing things every day. … There are otters in the creek. We see eagles and hawks."
As many as 94 trees could be removed, Stacks said, but twice as many will be planted in their place.
Since landscaping "is such a signature part" of the neighborhood's park and the overall Historic Roser Park community, she said the city plans to work with its landscape architect, a consultant and residents to develop a replacement plan.
Some residents also are concerned about the trail's proposed width: a 10-foot-wide concrete path with 2 feet of pavers on either side to allow for handrails. Retaining walls of rusticated brick will be added as needed.
Strickrott would like to see the trail narrow through the park and wants a separate trail for bicycles on Roser Park Drive. Another option would be to move the trail south, through the Bartlett Park neighborhood, he said.
Stacks said the width is necessary because the trail, which will be paid for with capital funds and possible grants, must comply with ADA regulations and national standards.
The controversy has heated up over the past year as the trail has been talked about at neighborhood association and public meetings.
According to City Council member Karl Nurse, there was "a moderate amount of angst" at a recent April meeting. He has since discussed the project with city staff.
"I encouraged them to work as hard as they could in design to minimize impact but to build it," he said. "I've seen a dozen of these projects happen and the cycle is always the same. The anxiety and the concerns people have, usually we can address most of them and when they're done, they are overwhelmingly happy."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.