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Palm Beach Post (Florida)


The future of an 82-acre swath of untamed property in Palm Beach Gardens will be a park, but the county and city are at odds over who should develop it.

Palm Beach Gardens is eager to convert at least some of the county-owned property on 117th Court North into soccer fields, replacing the ones at Gardens Park on Burns Road.

The Palm Beach Gardens City Council on Friday approved spending $11.2 million in new sales tax money to buy land from the county and develop it into a soccer complex.

But Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche, who represents the northern district that includes Palm Beach Gardens, is adamant the land across from Timber Trace Elementary and Watson B. Duncan Middle Schools is not for sale.

He said $5 million of the county's own share of the penny sales tax increase will be used for a district park.

"We're not selling it partially or in whole. I don't want people in the Gardens to get their hope up and think this is a possibility," Valeche said. "If they're interested in being part of the process of developing a district park, I'd be happy to have them."

A spring training baseball stadium was also once under consideration for the site.

On Monday, after Valeche's remarks, Mayor Marcie Tinsley said she's happy to have a seat at the table. Many people who don't live in the city but do live in the county's north end participate in Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association sports, she said.

"For that reason, working out something with Commissioner Valeche would be in our best interest," she said. "We should look at every solution possible to meet our main goal."

An average of 41 percent of sports program users are not city residents, according to city spokeswoman Candice Temple.

Soccer and baseball coaches and parents packed last week's City Council meeting -- which extended to a second night because of a full agenda -- to urge the city to find more field space.

Valeche said Tinsley's suggestion last week that Palm Beach Gardens use about 20 acres for more athletic fields and leave the rest for the county isn't feasible.

Moving soccer to the land next to the city's Joseph R. Russo Athletic Complex would allow the city to expand the baseball complex at Gardens Park for another $2.5 million.

City Manager Ron Ferris last week acknowledged the plan to move the soccer fields and expand the baseball complex at Gardens Park is totally dependent on getting property from the county through a sale, lease or other arrangement.

If they fail to reach an agreement, there are other alternatives, he said.

Temple said Monday the alternatives are only conceptual, and the city isn't ready to elaborate.

"We would prefer to focus energy right now on Plan A and working with the county," she said.

A county park in the city will go through the city's development review process for approval.

The county bought the land from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for $3.5 million after county voters in 1999 approved a $24.5 million bond referendum for recreation projects, including the North County district park.

The amenities in the county park will be dependent on the needs of the area, but concept plans for a district park usually start with sports fields, trails and pavilions, said Eric Call, director of Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation.

A district park costs about $12 million to $15 million, depending on the features, meaning the county will need to find additional money to create the one in the north end of the county.

Gardens officials want to find a way to provide more field space for the families who are clamoring for it now.

"The truth of the matter is we are running out of space," said Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association President Tony Badala . "They're either going to be out there on the fields, or they're going to be causing chaos somewhere else."

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January 11, 2017


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