City planners asked an audience of locals Thursday to imagine an Indigenous Park with more benches, expanded bocce courts and a dog park relocated from its spot near Higgs Beach.
"Moving the dog park is taking an acre out of Higgs Beach that could be used as more flexible space for kids playing sports," said Paul Kissinger of EDSA landscape architects, hired to flesh out options for Indigenous Park, 7 acres off the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and White Street.
But this crowd didn't want to imagine any of the preliminary plans for developing Indigenous Park into what city staff said would complement the county's changes to the next-door Higgs Beach region.
"We've got a park across the street from a park," said City Planner Don Craig. "The county is trying to put 15 pounds of stuff into a 5-pound bag."
Craig and Kissinger unveiled the options after having met with a focus group comprising locals with a stake in the park's accessibility.
Options include moving the nonprofit Key West Wildlife Center to land near the airport. Maybe the Police Athletic League could move into the park, or the city could eliminate the stretch of Atlantic Boulevard that connects Steven Avenue to Bertha Street, planners said.
The two-hour meeting, though, was dominated by more than a dozen critics.
"You're urbanizing a wild area and I can't possibly see why you would want to do that," said Mark Hedden, a birding guide and vice president of the Florida Keys Audubon Society.
"Birds use the whole island and they need some wild spaces within Key West, as do butterflies," said writer and wildlife rehabilitator Sarah Goodwin-Nguyen. "All I'm picturing is Bayview Park, these monoculture parks. I never see anybody throwing a ball. Adding more green lawns in Key West is not the answer."
Consultants aired out three design options that they said would help blend the city's 7-acre Indigenous Park into the county's Higgs Beach recreation area as a more united development.
Yet most of the 27 locals who turned out for the city's meeting at the Harvey Government Center, 1200 Truman Ave., appeared to want the planners to leave Indigenous Park alone.
One local soccer coach, Tom Coward, however, said Key West is short on green spaces for kids to play sports and liked the idea of a place at Higgs Beach.
"The green grass area for kids to play and practice has been cut in half," said Coward. "It's a huge need for this community, with 720 kids in soccer and 250 starting to play lacrosse."
The hired consultants spoke of making the park and beach area more for pedestrians than cars.
"We think there are a lot of opportunities to enhance the existing condition of the park," said Kissinger, who was impressed by Key West's bocce league. "People are having a blast. They're socializing as part of a community, and that's what parks are for."
Craig said Indigenous Park "has been long-neglected in some senses," and the idea behind the sketches is to come up with ways to improve it, along with the 1.2-acre Rest Beach across the street.
The park has no wetlands and isn't a hardwood hammock -- a tropical-tree forest -- although a true hammock exists off Government Road, where the city could relocate the Wildlife Center, said Craig.
A bocce league representative showed up, along with members of the Key West Garden Club, Wildlife Center workers, neighborhood residents and City Commissioner Teri Johnston.
The city doesn't have the funding for any park changes and the final plans won't go to the City Commission until early next year, said Craig.
Steve Henson, who lives by the park, told city staff he liked the idea of relocating Atlantic Boulevard so that it would run behind the fence north of the bocce courts.
"You can dead-end into the park," Henson said. "That would eliminate some of the racetrack action the occurs between Bertha and White streets."