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Site for new park put neighborhoods at odds

Not only did the unfortunate selection of the Inverness Highlands location for a new park put aircraft safety and funding in jeopardy, that choice created an unnecessary conflict between two otherwise compatible neighborhoods. Neither Inverness Highlands nor Royal Oaks deserved to be placed in conflict.

The neighborhood controversy centers on effective control of traffic into and out of the new park. The Highlands folks contend they were "promised" a second entrance to the new park. If such a promise were indeed made, it was based upon the presumption that Airport Road south of the airport would be used for the second entrance. Now comes the clinker!

On Nov. 7, 1997, the state Department of Transportation informed the county that Airport Road could not be used for safety reasons. So, back to the drawing boards.

Citrus County commissioners then directed their staff to see if other options were available to create a second entrance. The staff conducted a survey and found only one other viable option: Construct a road through the archery range on the northern edge of the airport. That option required the use of England Boulevard, one of two entrances into the private Royal Oaks community of 200-plus homes. Royal Oaks residents turned out en masse April 7 to protest the archery range option.

The major argument made by Royal Oaks against that option were (1) it would force park traffic through their private community using their private roads, and (2) it would create tremendous vehicle safety problems at the intersection of England Boulevard and U.S. 41. It also likely would require closing one of the two entrances into their community.

The Royal Oaks spokespersons argued that it was unproven that a second entrance to Holden Park was necessary. The commissioners decided to examine the traffic flow over a reasonable time before determining what further traffic control steps were necessary. The Highlands residents are unhappy with this decision, but some appear chary about forcing their need for traffic controls on another neighborhood. Neither they nor Royal Oaks wish to be regarded as NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) opponents.

The entire history of this ill-begotten park shows how even small bureaucracies can put their feet in their mouths. Questions:

Who recommended this site? Did the commissioners have adequate staff information before approving that location?

Why were aircraft safety and funding not considered at the time of site selection?

Why was construction begun before an acceptable road configuration was determined and in place?

Why was the original park design expanded to provide five soccer fields, a playground, a basketball court, a baseball field and walking trails without regard to increased traffic that expansion would cause?

Was there close coordination and meaningful dialogue among the Parks and Recreation Department, aviation authorities and the Public Works Department before the first spade of dirt was turned?

Did the planners realize that night lights could not be used by the park for aircraft safety reasons and that use of the fields would be severely limited for that reason?

The history of this park, not yet open, suggests a series of bureaucratic bungles. So, here we are. We have a too-large park with only residential street access. We have a neighborhood conflict, and we also have the commission and staff searching diligently for an acceptable location for another park access.

Both Inverness Highlands and Royal Oaks hope one can be found.

_ Bob Schultheis lives in Inverness. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.