Orange Park Council at odds with how to pay for better parking lot at Rob Bradley Conservation Park

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 9/8/21

ORANGE PARK – The Town Council is at odds with how to proceed in the construction of the parking lot for the Rob Bradley Conservation Park.

The 10-acre park at 670 Nelson Dr. South in Orange …

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Orange Park Council at odds with how to pay for better parking lot at Rob Bradley Conservation Park

Posted

ORANGE PARK – The Town Council is at odds with how to proceed in the construction of the parking lot for the Rob Bradley Conservation Park.

The 10-acre park at 670 Nelson Dr. South in Orange Park was unveiled 21 months ago and it’s in the design phase. One of the most important facets of the park is the parking lot because it will be used by everyone. It’s also essentially the gateway to the natural park and the only public access to the St. Johns River in the town.

The Town Council reviewed three different options for the parking lot during the Sept. 7 regular meeting and the most aesthetically attractive option came in at $226,000 over budget. The only option the town can afford with the original $200,000 that was budgeted for the lot’s construction. Think white, 57-stone, small rocks scattered about a flat surface.

“[In Djibouti, Africa], we had that 57 stone and it destroyed our shoes,” council member Alan Watt said. “It would destroy my boots in just four months of walking on it.”

Watt voiced his opposition to the stone design. The non-crushed stone option looks quite a lot nicer than the 57 stone, but naturally, it costs a whole lot more. If the town selected that option, the parking lot would take on a previous paver design. It looks like a grass lot with flat artistic pavers on top of it that run flush with the grass. It gives the entire parking lot a more elevated and natural look.

In order to afford this option, the town would need to amend the 2021-22 fiscal year budget on Sept. 21 to include $226,483 from reserves. On Oct. 1, $431,825 would be available to the council, which is enough to afford this parking lot option bid. On Oct. 7, staff said it would bring the contract up for approval.

While everyone agreed it was the nicest-looking option, not everyone agreed that much money should be spent.

“We should use the money for things we truly need,” council member Susana Thompson said. “There are so many infrastructure needs that [the additional money] could go to. We should allow the public the opportunity to voice their opinion on [it] before we go and use [this] money.”

Vice-mayor Eddie Henley said he doesn’t believe the town should spend wastefully, but the higher-costing option isn’t necessarily wasteful spending. He said he doesn’t want to build something that could float away in a flood or one that would require maintenance or reconstruction years from now.

“We have the money to do it so do we really want Bradley Park to end up looking like the Orange Park Athletic Association, where we’ll end up complaining about...or do we make it look nice (from the get-go),” Henley said.

Without an agreement, the council opted to table the discussion to give everyone more time to think about it and get more residential input.

In other business, town manager Sarah Campbell talked about the American Rescue Plan Act and how it affects Orange Park.

“[We’ll receive] $4,419,533 to bring relief to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Campbell said. “The funding, if you approve the agreement, will arrive in two weeks. You’ll receive half of the funds then and half of the funds now.”

Campbell said the funds can be spent on seven different categories. One of the categories known as revenue replacement is quite broad and it’s estimated at $1,291,000 based on treasury department formulas. She said the revenue can be spent on capital projects, so it could be spent on something like the parking lot at the conservation park.

The remaining money can be spent on public health, negative economic impact sectors, services to disproportionately affected communities, medical workers, first responder bonuses and more.

“To take a proactive approach when it comes to...recognizing our servicemen and women that were out there in the field day in and day out such as police and fire that are going out there continuously in the face of this virus...is great,” council member John Hauber said. “By accepting this money, not only does it go back into the lost revenue, but it allows us to capitalize on some of the important things going on in our community that makes us unique...so going forward with this is a great opportunity for us.”

The Town Council approved the American Rescue Plan Act funding with a 5-0 vote.

During the public comment section of the meeting, resident Sherri Snow said he was disappointed with the accessibility at the new Clarke House Park Playground. Her son requires the use of a mobilized wheelchair and his wheelchair’s wheels got stuck in the mulch surrounding park equipment. Snow said this is a huge oversight in the construction of the park.

She asked the town to install some kind of pathway around the park equipment so her son can use his wheelchair. She said the rest of the park was well done. The equipment is ADA accessible and the paved pathway leading from the parking lot to the park is ADA accessible. The town council asked Snow for some ways to make the park more accessible to her son who requires the use of a wheelchair.

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