Folkstone/Yarmouth Neighborhood Meeting No Day At The Park

Village Manager Paul Schofield takes questions from residents of the Folkstone/Yarmouth neighborhood flanked by Community Services Director Paulette Edwards and PBSO Deputy Scott Poritz.

Approximately 40 residents of the Folkstone/Yarmouth neighborhood turned out for an at-times-contentious meeting with Wellington officials under the protection of a tent on a rainy evening Thursday, Aug. 23.

At issue was a proposed park to be erected on the site currently occupied by the portion of Folkstone Circle that connects Yarmouth Drive to Carlton Street.

During the hour-long meeting, the temperature under the tent grew considerably at times, but it wasn’t the heat — it was the humanity.

On hand to address concerns and answer questions were Village Manager Paul Schofield, who claimed ownership of the park proposal, along with Community Services Director Paulette Edwards and members of the village’s planning and engineering staff.

Deputy Scott Poritz from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office also spoke and took questions, with other deputies on hand. Mayor Anne Gerwig, Councilman John McGovern and Councilwoman Tanya Siskind were in attendance to hear from the community, but they did not speak.

“The purpose of this meeting is to dispel alarms, misconceptions, concerns and to touch base,” Poritz said to begin the meeting.

He added that the PBSO had been receiving calls for quality of life issues, drug sales, vehicles speeding through the area during school hours and children crossing the street at the wrong place.

“Times change,” Poritz said, when asked why the village was revisiting a park proposal that residents succeeded in preventing several years ago. “Needs change for communities. We’re going to take a look again.”

Residents who opposed the proposed park cited a number of concerns, ranging from decreased property values to an increase in noise, vandalism and drug sales. There was also a concern that residents who turn off Greenview Shores Blvd. use the access road as a shortcut.

When asked whose idea the renewed park proposal was, Schofield said, “That was me.”

The Folkstone/Yarmouth neighborhood has seen an increase in investors purchasing rental properties over the past several years. This has resulted in shifting demographics within the community and a lower percentage of property owners residing there.

During the meeting, property owners tended to speak out against the park, while renters spoke in favor of the park. At times, they shouted at each other, despite Schofield’s pleas for them to direct their comments — and anger — at him.

Property owner Eddy Velasquez spoke out against the park and blamed “bad parents” for the neighborhood’s problems. “I wouldn’t buy a house if the park was here,” he said. “The deputies don’t know my kids, because I supervise my kids.”

Neighborhood Watch leader Mark Hilton spoke passionately in favor of the proposed park. “This is my neighborhood — I care about the kids,” he said. “To keep the kids safe, you need to do something. I know there’s people here who won’t like it, but we’re trying to help the kids.”

The owner of a property on Yarmouth Drive directly adjoining the park site spoke out against the idea. He stated he has owned his property since 1994 when it was a much different neighborhood.

On the opposite side of the proposed park are rental properties, whose residents favor the park. One renter is Talayna Harris, a mother of five children ages 17, 15, 11, 9 and 6.

“I have no problem with a park,” she said. “Give the kids somewhere to play.”

There is a concern that some drivers speed through the neighborhood to get to nearby New Horizons Elementary School. Some residents of Folkstone Circle expressed a fear that the removal of that portion of the road will result in drivers speeding to make up time as they drive the entire length of the road.

Sarah Rabideau lives in the neighborhood with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 2. “How do we deal with the traffic and speeding issue?” she asked.

Rabideau proposed closing off the site of the proposed park for several months to look at how the traffic changes.

“Traffic isn’t really the issue for us,” Schofield responded, when residents suggested speed bumps as an alternative to the park. “We end up coming back and removing most speed bumps within two years.”

The village contracted PTC Transportation Consultants to conduct a study of traffic moving on Folkstone Circle north of Yarmouth.

The survey was taken between May 7 and May 13 and resulted in a 65-page report.

Friday, May 11 was found to be the busiest of the days with 1,379 vehicles passing through, with 650 heading north and 729 heading south. The 85th percentile of vehicles were traveling at 24.5 MPH that day. The fastest speeds were recorded on Tuesday, May 5, when they reached an average 24.8 MPH. The slowest day was Sunday, May 13, when 993 vehicles traversed the road at an average speed of 24 MPH.

Jeanette Cesta wants to see the neighborhood improve but does not think the proposed park will solve the issue. She cites problems at nearby Tiger Shark Cove Park as an example.

“We can’t send kids unsupervised to [Tiger Shark Cove],” she said. “There’s hangouts — there’s fights. Another park won’t solve the issue — it won’t help. There’s no ‘neighborhoody’ place to go.”

Some felt a park close by would be a good investment in the neighborhood.

“I chose Wellington,” Johnny Harris said. “This is where I wanted my kids to be. I want my kids to play where I can see them. I want to know they’re going to be in a safe environment.”

HOA President Andy Hermida, who voiced the concerns of his homeowners at the Aug. 14 Wellington Village Council meeting, attempted to downplay the divide between renters and property owners.

“I’m in favor of a park — not in favor of closing the road,” he said. “I am concerned about property values for my homeowners.”

He requested that a study be done on the values of homes following similar park developments in Wellington.

Cari McHugh has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and spoke out against the park. She did not believe the neighborhood’s children would benefit from its development and called on parents to take a larger role. “[The park] will be an access point for drug deals,” she said. “Part of being a parent is supervising children.”