Stuart commissioners vote to table Sailfish Park discussion for 90 days

Stuart commissioners vote to table Sailfish Park discussion for 90 days

Stuart, Fl – After hours of public comment Stuart commissioners voted to table the vote on deciding between the two developers to develop Sailfish Park.

Commissioners met last night to discuss the future of Sailfish Park. The commission was to decide between two different developers and their visions for the property, but a large group of young baseball players and their parents argued to keep Sailfish Park the way it is.

City manager David Dyess urged the commission to make a decision and not leave the families and developers in limbo, but the commission ultimately voted to table the discussion for at least 90 days.

Prior to the meeting Commissioner Merritt Matheson wrote this:

Over the past couple of weeks, I have received a lot of feedback from the public regarding the upcoming discussion of the Sailfish Ball Fields, which will take place today. There are two meetings. The first meeting is at 3:30 p.m. where we will hear proposals from potential developers. The second will be the regular commission meeting at 5:30 when we will cast a vote regarding these two developments. It seems that this activity has caught much of the public by surprise, but the reality is that redevelopment of these fields has been a topic of discussion on the Commission for several years. I welcome all of you to provide comment. Without it, I can’t make an informed decision as your representative. I also would like to offer you all some history and background so you understand how we got to this point and how this property might fit into a larger vision of the future of downtown Stuart.

First, the history–The events leading up to Monday’s vote began a year and a half ago. It started with the need to relocate the public works garage located across Georgia Ave. from Sailfish Ball Fields. This relocation discussion began at the June 19, 2017 meeting and continued during meetings throughout the rest of the year.

During this time, several development proposals were put forth, including one from the Martin County School Board. During the April 9, 2018 commission meeting, the Commission authorized a Request for Developers Qualifications for the sale or long-term lease of the Sailfish Ball Fields and Public Works Complex. Shortly after this first public request was issued, it was canceled. Then, on July 9, the commission voted to reinstate the RFQ for the ball fields and the Public Works parking garage. As a member of the public witnessing these discussions, I felt that the Commission was not taking ample time to deliberate over this issue. At the July 9th meeting, I asked the Commission to delay any decision to change the fields. However, the commission did move forward, and the top two proposals from this RFQ are being presented at today’s 3:30 meeting.

I was sworn into office on September 9, two months after the decision to move forward with the RFQ. As I mentioned, I disagreed with how swiftly the previous commission decided to move forward with authorizing the RFQ process and asked them to delay until they had a more complete plan for how the redevelopment would best benefit Stuart residents. However, I do believe that with a clear and comprehensive plan, there are scenarios where this redevelopment could be a component of a larger restructuring and revitalization of the city’s public spaces.

Which brings me to the future vision— As you read through the next few paragraphs, I pose to you this question: Would selling the ball fields and garage be in the best interest of the public if the goal is to create an overall better community center, create more public green space on the downtown waterfront, and create the opportunity for workforce housing?

In terms of public space, it is vital that the City should offer its residents public space for sports and recreation. I would not like to see any changes to the Sailfish Ball Fields until a viable alternative is in place within the City limits. That alternative could be found in the 10th Street Community Center and adjacent Guy Davis Ball Field, located just a few blocks from Sailfish. For many years, residents, city staff and past commissioners have been pushing to further improve this complex and transform it into a one-stop destination for recreational activities for both youth and adults. This complex already has one baseball field. There is plenty of space to add a second one, which I’ve been told by a representative of Little League North will allow youth baseball to continue in the City. If youth baseball can be moved a few blocks away—with no downtime—would the public still miss the fields at Sailfish?

During my campaign, one of the issues that came up time and again was Stuart’s need for workforce housing. Over 17,000 people commute into Stuart to work on a daily basis. We want to attract young professionals to Stuart, yet there is very little entry-level housing for them. What can the City do to support this push toward workforce housing? Perhaps offer land for developers to build it?

One final consideration is the existing City Hall location. It’s been clear for many years that the City has outgrown this building. At some point in the near future, the Commission will need to decide whether to spend money to improve this location or to relocate City Hall. Does city staff need waterfront office space, or would this location better serve the public as open green space?

These are not idle decisions, which is why I encourage Stuart residents to join us on today – first meeting at 3:30 for the presentations by the developers and second meeting at 5:30 where we will deliberate on the proposals. This is the future of our City. Take time to understand the full breadth of the issues at hand and then let your voices be heard.

Commissioner Mike Meier wrote this:

No matter your position on Sailfish Park, please be civil. And please be open-minded. We commissioners are elected to make decisions for the citizens with their best interests in mind – this includes the use of their tax dollars. In order to make decisions, we must go through review processes, and I believe we should practice due diligence in our consideration, taking into account the merits of all arguments. This is our job as your elected officials.

In my view, it is important to preserve public green spaces, especially when they can be enjoyed by all. I appreciate the history of Sailfish Park. I own a small farm near Sailfish Park and I do enjoy hearing the cheers as I prune tomatoes.

On the other hand, I have been concerned that the city taxpayer maintains two public sports facilities within a mile of each other, perpetuating a self-imposed racial divide: one on the outskirts of East Stuart, and one in the heart of East Stuart. I am saddened by the implication that families do not want to play at Guy Davis because it is “unsafe”. What about the recovery housing across the street from Sailfish Park – is that safer than the residential on 10th Street? How will we ever integrate Stuart as one city with this arbitrary division? I admit I want to see Guy Davis invested in and used for the community center it is.

The vast majority of Little League players are from families outside of the city. This means that the city taxpayer is funding Martin County’s play here. This is not wrong, but it is something to keep in mind, especially given that the city taxpayer maintains not one but two sports facilities steps from each other. These, in addition to many other parks in the county, including those left unused in Jensen Beach.

What about the City of Stuart kids who don’t play in Little League? Those who can’t afford to? Is Sailfish Park important to them? Is it fair that the city taxpayers maintain two fields, while Sailfish is used only by Little Leaguers whose families can afford to pay, most of whom live outside the city anyway?

As of last roster check, it appears that only some twenty or so kids from the City of Stuart play in Little League. If Sailfish were a multipurpose park with bigger playgrounds and other equipment, wouldn’t it be a more fair, equitable space for all city kids to enjoy, not just those who play ball?

I assure you that I do not take this decision lightly, and I am sure my fellow commissioners are just as serious. There are many more issues to weigh here than just baseball. Chief among them for me are preservation of open space, and protection of city taxpayers.

After the meeting he wrote this:

Well, when you stand at the precipice, you sure can see things more clearly.

After seven hours of presentations, discussion, anger, tears, two perished motions, one seconded and then retracted (mine), the commission voted to 4-1 to table the decision on the fate of Sailfish park until March, with me dissenting.

It was always a hard pill to swallow to think about developing a park, but I really thought that by inviting development we could finally achieve the dream of a full 10th Street Rec Center. It always rubbed me the wrong way that two fields – one in the “white part” of town and one in the “black part” of town – would be maintained at the city taxpayer’s expense. It concerned me that the vast majority of the kids playing expensive Little League on city taxpayer-funded fields were from richer parts of town like Palm City and Sewall’s Point.

I made a motion to develop Sailfish Park on the condition that ballfields would be built at 10th Street first, that the proceeds from the land sale would go toward 10th Street Rec Center improvements and youth programming, and that staff would negotiate with the developer for workforce housing.

As members of the public, including some city residents, came to offer more comment, it became clear to me that this really came down to an issue of priorities rather than dollars and cents. What do city taxpayers want to prioritize?

It may not be “fair” that city taxpayers maintain a park for richer non-city kids to play on, but I’m now convinced that residents don’t care where kids come from – they want to offer a place for them to play. Few city residents would look at one of these crying kids and tell them to play elsewhere. Why then should we, as commissioners? I don’t think we were elected to do the “dirty work” – I think we were elected to be the voice of the citizen.

I retracted my motion because it became clear that even though the financial interests of the taxpayers are not best served by maintaining Sailfish Park, the heart of the community wants to give where we can for the children. It’s not “fair”, but often what’s right isn’t what’s fair.

You can watch the meeting  here


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