The Royal Palm Beach Village Council approved master plan amendments for Royal Palm Beach Commons Park last week without two new pedestrian and bicycle entrances at the park’s north end.
Residents near the proposed entrances presented a petition in opposition to the idea at the council’s meeting Thursday, Feb. 6. The entrances were part of proposed changes to the park’s plan that include the location of a new dog park and community gardens, expand the use of the great lawn and add two restrooms.
Ed Palmowski of Heron Parkway, near one of the proposed pedestrian entrances, brought a petition signed by 32 residents opposing the village’s plan to create a new park entrance at the site of a foreclosed single-family home at 109 Heron Parkway that Royal Palm Beach had purchased recently.
Palmowski said that he and his wife, Barbara, had chosen to purchase their home 20 years ago because of the quiet neighborhood.
“Many of my neighbors have expressed the same reason for living there as well,” he said. “We settled on Royal Palm Beach because of the peaceful, hometown feel and the open neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, on the back side of a golf course.”
Palmowski said he and his neighbors were happy when the village purchased the shuttered golf course property and converted it to a park. He also applauded the council for purchasing the foreclosed home, which he said had become a blight on the neighborhood.
“The issue that we have is that when the house finally went on the market, the village quickly outbid other competitors to purchase the home and now wants to create an entrance to the park, all done without notice or solicitation of input from the surrounding residents,” Palmowski said. “The creation of a public entrance here will forever alter the configuration of this family subdivision and the character of the neighborhood.”
He asserted that the new entryway would result in more traffic in the neighborhood, with park users’ vehicles lining the streets, trash, damaged lawns and potential hangout spots.
Palmowski asked the council to halt any modifications to the existing park configuration until it can facilitate meetings with concerned residents to review the plans.
William Coyne of Sandpiper Avenue was concerned about the loss of privacy if the proposed new entrances were built. “Imagine sitting in your back yard and bicyclists peering in with no one to stop them,” he said.
Village Engineer Chris Marsh said the entrances would make the park more accessible for pedestrians or bicyclists from about 680 nearby homes. “There’s no planned parking in this area,” he said. “It would be totally pedestrian and bicycle access.”
Another proposed access is farther west at the northern end of the park, which staff proposes to purchase from one of the adjacent residents. “There is a significant gap between the locations of about 145 feet, so there would be room if one of the property owners wants to entertain selling an access there,” Marsh said.
Resident Michael Delrossi said that if the access point does move forward, it must be done properly so that it does not lead to people parking on swales and in people’s yards. Delrossi suggested hedges and other buffers to protect the privacy of adjoining residents’ homes. “I’m trying to find answers and help these people out,” he said.
Resident Jose Ospina objected to proposed bike paths in the proximity of homes, adding that residents next to the park enjoyed the current openness with no fences separating their homes from the park. “One of the nicest things about living here is we have the open space,” he said. “But having these bike paths so close to the houses is going to put us in jeopardy.”
Councilman Fred Pinto said he heard the residents’ message. “You don’t want the entrances to go in,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t have to happen.”
He stressed that the intent of the entrances was to provide more accessibility for the residents in the neighborhood. He also had concerns about the proximity of bike paths to the homes and the perception that privacy and safety could be compromised.
“I don’t think we can answer that question tonight, but I am very glad to hear your input on that,” Pinto said.
Village Manager Ray Liggins said the proposed changes came about with the addition of the dog park as a change to the master plan. “The bike path was not in the change to the master plan because that was in the plan from the beginning,” Liggins said. “This is to get council direction before we go through the official process that would include notifications.
Liggins added that vehicles were never in the plan and that “no parking” signs would be placed in the area so that it does not become a problem.
Mayor Matty Mattioli said that the plan is only conceptual and that if the residents do not like it, the council would change it.
Councilman Richard Valuntas said the plan should go through a process that would include public input. “We went through a charette with the dog park, and I don’t see why we can’t do the same thing with the entrances,” he said. “To me, it makes sense to withdraw these entrances from the proposed modification to the master plan and set up a charette on the issue.”
Councilman David Swift agreed with Valuntas regarding the entrances and the bike paths, but wanted to move ahead with the rest of the proposed master plan.
“We have to do budgets, and we have to include what we’re talking about here,” Swift said. “I have spoken to a lot of people who are very positive about all this, and you will hear from them also, but I think we can work all this out and all go home happy.”
Other proposed park changes include the addition of another exit on Royal Palm Beach Blvd. to alleviate traffic jams getting out of the park after major events, which will necessitate the relocation of a future proposed senior living facility.
The dog park would share about 2.6 acres that was originally going to be a horticultural center for use by residents. The total cost for the project is about $90,000.
Two restrooms would be added to the two existing ones on the Great Lawn, which at about $200,000 would pay for themselves in eight to 10 years, Marsh said, considering that the village rents portable toilets for major functions.
One area of the park would be modified to accommodate a performance stage, Marsh added, pointing out that the village spends about $6,000 for a temporary stage for major events.
Modifications also call for a miniature golf area and a flying disc course near the driving range.
Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara said he had several meetings with residents along Heron Parkway and it appeared that there was a great deal of information that they did not have.
“In order for them to make sense of what is being proposed, they need to have that information,” he said. “I definitely think we can do a better job of notifying and including their input.”
Swift made a motion to move ahead with the master plan amendments, excluding the two proposed new entrances, which was seconded by Pinto, with the understanding that the bike path in the park would be excluded from drawings in a future meeting since it was not part of the current agenda item.
The motion carried 3-2. Mattioli and Hmara dissented, opposed to moving forward with the master plan amendments as set out by the majority.