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Waterfront plans need not focus on Lassing Park, residents there say

Published Sep. 6, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — They met at low tide in Lassing Park, a good-sized crowd of mostly Old Southeast and Tropical Shores residents.

As they walked beside glassy waters and a sky full of thunderclouds, they quickly made their feelings known about the city's waterfront plans. Their message to AECOM's Orlando-based consultants and City Hall?

Move along, nothing to change here.

For the next two weeks, more than two dozen community meetings and "walking audits" along the waterfront from 30th Avenue N to 22nd Avenue S will be held to gather public feedback on a waterfront plan to be unveiled next year. The goal is to arrive at a consensus on how the city should develop its waterfront.

There is no plan yet. That was a frequent refrain on Wednesday's walk, usually in response to a resident's question of what the city might have up its sleeve.

The public outreach is designed to give consultants an idea of what residents want so they can craft the plan accordingly, said Pete Sechler, a consultant who led the walking audit, the first of five planned through Sept. 19.

"Light touch, polishing the gem is the vibe I'm getting," he said about midway through an hourlong stroll along the grassy, palm-dotted park at Beach Drive SE and 20th Avenue.

That sounded about right to the three dozen or so people who showed up.

They like the easy access to the water at Lassing Park and the wide open spaces, where a game of Frisbee football was under way. They don't want any big changes to the park's quiet, neighborly feel.

More amenities? Not really. Maybe spruce up the benches that are already there, one person said.

Better access? Maybe from the water, some said, but no one wanted a parking lot.

"They're pretty much happy to say: Looks good to us," said council member Karl Nurse, who has lived in the Old Southeast for 24 years.

Neighbors have killed past proposals to build a playground, a paved path through the park and even oyster domes to prevent erosion.

"They're happy to help the city save some money," Nurse quipped.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has said the plan likely won't offer hard, deadline-driven prescriptions for the waterfront. Instead, it will offer a framework for future development. Still, big questions about what to do with the stadium at Al Lang Field and Albert Whitted Airport and how to connect the southern and northern portions of the nearly 7-mile waterfront are almost certain to be flash points.

But, if planners and city officials are true to their word, no major changes will come to Lassing Park that the neighborhood doesn't support.

If they do, Nurse predicted, City Hall should brace itself.

"They're going to listen to this neighborhood," he said. "This neighborhood has no trouble speaking up."

Voters approved a charter amendment in 2011 that requires the city to adopt a waterfront plan by July 1, 2015. The city is paying AECOM up to $500,000 to craft it.

If Nefty Pluguez is any indication, little cash should be spent dreaming up alternate visions for Lassing Park.

The U.S. Postal Service employee just moved to the Old Southeast. The "peace and quiet" of the neighborhood feel much different from metro Washington, D.C., his former home.

Pluguez, 40, and his wife, Brenda, have grown fond of taking their miniature schnauzer, Sky, to the park's beach.

"I'd rather nothing happen to it," Pluguez said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago

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