Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Parks Study Surprises County Officials | Respondents Prefer More Dog Parks to Athletic Fields, Consultant Claims

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Parks Study Surprises County Officials | Respondents Prefer More Dog Parks to Athletic Fields, Consultant Claims

Article excerpt

SARASOTA COUNTY

VENICE -- Preliminary findings from a countywide parks-and- recreation study rank improvements to existing amenities, plus the creation of dog parks and fitness centers, over the expansion of athletic fields.

Announced Tuesday at the Sarasota County Commission meeting, the findings will

guide development of a long-range master plan for parks, preserves and recreation. But they came as a surprise to commissioners, who had expected demand for sports facilities to rank higher.

Constituents repeatedly have asked for more athletic fields, commissioners said. The fact the study found otherwise not only defies reality, they said, but raises questions about its validity.

The county signed a $299,800 contract with Toole Design Group in February to create the master plan, which included the gathering of public input through workshops, focus groups, special events and surveys conducted online and by mail.

Consultant David Barth, who has led master plan development nationwide, said he's not surprised by the findings.

"This is typical in almost every community we walk into," Barth told commissioners. "The perception of need is based on who is most vocal, but the reality is a larger number of people use bike trails and dog parks; they don't play organized sports. These findings are not surprising to us."

The county's own comprehensive plan calls for more recreational facilities, with a goal of one baseball or softball field per 2,500 residents and one soccer or football field per 4,200 residents.

It currently has 78 of the former and 56 of the latter -- falling short of the goal already this year with the gap progressively widening.

According to the 52-page preliminary study, Sarasota County already lacks 22 baseball/softball diamonds and four soccer/ football fields. Based on projected population growth, it will need an additional 43 and 16 such facilities, respectively, by 2035.

The numbers, said Commissioner Alan Maio, are "shocking. …

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