PALMETTO - Parents and their children helped fill the chambers of the Palmetto City Commission on Monday night, and they were as upset as a manager after a bad call by an umpire.
The commissioners were being asked to approve the expenditure of $700,000 from the proceeds of the city's sale of property to the School Board, the Boys & Girls Club and Just for Girls to keep a project to build new ballfields for the North River American Little League in motion.
The league's fields were in the location of the new Palmetto Elementary School that's under construction, and in the past parents and league officials have expressed concern that their league would be left without a place to play and start to lose players.
That's starting to happen, said league president Chuck Hague, and 35 percent of the players have left.
A number of parents spoke up, with some accusing the commissioners of rejecting proposals, dragging their feet or looking to do something for a local developer.
At issue is the realignment of 23rd Street, which has to be moved in order to build a complex that will be usable not just now, but for the future, said Allen Tusing, the city's Public Works director.
He said that the current timeline is for work on moving the road to end in August 2010, and work on the fields could then begin and play on the fields could start, if all goes well, in the spring of 2011.
"If we don't move the road, we can't build the fields," said Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant. "It's not for the benefit of the developer."
Commissioner Brian Williams said that the city has to follow the county's rules on the ballfields that are built. The original drawings had no space between the fields, he said, and the county wouldn't allow that.
"We're trying to make this work for everybody," he said. "You have to be patient. A couple of years, and you're going to have the nicest complex around."
One parent, Shannon Haig, told the commissioners that their behavior at a previous meeting had been unprofessional and disrespectful to the parents, and contended that they had thrown out the original proposal.
"What a shame that the future of our children rests on politics," she said.
Bryant responded that the commissioners did not throw out the original proposal but that the county rejected it. What the parents have been shown will work, she said, the funds are there and they are moving forward.
There seems to be an impression that the city doesn't support Little League and children, Vanadore said before the vote, noting that her children played in baseball leagues and had to travel to different fields.
Commissioner Mary Lancaster said that the desire is to give the children something everyone could be proud of, and she asked for patience.
Williams added that the city had chosen to do this. "It's not something that we had to do, it's something that we chose to do," he said, adding that they have to depend on the transfer of land and the movement of roads. "You all just have to work with us there."
Finally, the commission voted 4-0, with Alan Zirkelbach absent, to approve the $700,000.
Also Monday, the commission voted 4-0 to tentatively set the ad valorem tax rate to 4.6662 and voted 3-0, with Lancaster abstaining because her nephew is a city employee, to tentatively approve the budget.
The commission also had a discussion of a proposed cell phone tower in Hidden Lakes Park. The only public comment came from one resident who said that his cell phone coverage was not good, and he hoped the new tower would mean better service.
Laura Bellflower, a land planner and attorney representing Verizon Wireless, said the tower would provide better service for Verizon and Alltel in about a mile to a mile and a half radius, and other providers could locate antennas on the tower, which would be disguised as a flagpole.
Also, the money from the lease would provide income to the city, and Bellflower promised that Verizon would help with some of the city's wireless issues, including possibly putting the city's cell phones on the Alltel network.
Commissioners also moved 4-0 to continue the hearing on the school concurrency portion of the city's new comprehensive plan, and reached consensus on having a workshop over the planned zoning for the Regatta Pointe Marina. Residents of the Regatt Pointe condo were out in force to express concern over a designation that could open that area to commercial development and block access to the water in an area that lacks sufficient parking as it is.
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