Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
City broke rules for park cleanup without regrets

More than 50 people turned up Tuesday for a meeting led by City Commissioner Clayton Lopez about recent renovations to the pocket park on Poorhouse Lane that had surprised some neighbors.

Yes, Lopez said, the city went in without permits or public warning and added playground equipment, fenced in 425-square feet with ropes and 4-by-4 wooden posts and put down two 10-by-15 feet concrete "pads" to meet Americans With Disabilities standards.

But Lopez and a few city leaders Tuesday said they did the right thing.

"The park was being neglected and we needed to do something," Lopez said Tuesday, surrounded by family members of the park's namesake, musician William "Bill" Butler. "There were people who wanted to have a nice park."

City Manager Bob Vitas said staff failed to get the proper permits before installing playground equipment and fencing in the green space with rope and wooden stakes.

"There was definitely a breakdown," Vitas said, at the end of a 1.5 hour meeting held at the park. "Permits should have been done first. They got done after the fact."

But the majority of locals gathered Tuesday praised city staff for cleaning up Butler park, off Poorhouse Lane in Old Town, and said it was long overdue for the neglected spot.

"I've lived here 16 years; I didn't know this park was here," said Maribel Paez. "I would've brought my five kids here."

Paez only discovered the pocket park a week or so ago, after her 5-year-old grandson, Tate Weaver, insisted she come with him to see the spot.

While the meeting ran on, at least three children played on the new equipment, which was all recycled from the closed Glynn Archer School and the Truman Waterfront.

Greg Veliz, the city's director of community services, told the crowd he was proud of the work done to a park so neglected that it had become a dumping ground for locals and a stinky flooded pool after rain.

"We wanted to take back this park," said Veliz. "This was done with good intentions."

The cleanup was done in response to complaints from the Butler family, who plan a reunion at the spot Aug. 2, to mark the 30th anniversary of musician Bill Butler's death.

Veliz said no further additions or expansions are planned for Bill Butler Park, but his staff will keep up the grounds from now on.

The community meeting, which came after several neighbors cried foul over watching a team of city workers come through and make the park changes without warning, included many locals venting over the lack of attention paid to the tiny park until now.

"I love this park," said Quanisha Barthelemy, 15. "Me and my cousin were raised at this park, those swings over there. We stopped going to the park because of dog owners. Nobody wants to step in that stuff."

A man who would only give his name as Calvin told city leaders that he personally has had to patrol the park and run off vagrants who drink and sleep there.

The other day someone was smoking crack cocaine there, he said.

"I grew up in this park," said Calvin. "I'm out here every night. I'm not for benches at all. It's me by myself running them off."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

Calvin, who is black, added the police don't patrol Bill Butler Park, but they have stopped him on walks to the corner store for questioning.

"They stop me," he said.

Tuesday's meeting drew City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who said he is standing beside Lopez in favor of the park renovation.

"To neglect a city park is a damn shame," said Yaniz, who then asked the group if they wanted additional lighting at the park.

"A park is not for people who can get in a private plane and go somewhere else," Yaniz said. "A park's for families working their [butts] off to take the kids out to."

As for the homeless, Yaniz made his strongest comments yet publicly.

"If you don't want to work for a living, if you want to sit on your butt on a bench and drink liquor, I have no respect for you," Yaniz said.

Veliz and Lopez told the crowd to call them with any questions or concerns about the neighborhood park.

"Nothing will be done without your input," Lopez said.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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