DUNEDIN — Concerns about whether to use artificial turf to remodel John Lawrence Pioneer Park and if a two-stall restroom should be added to the design concept were among topics discussed at a recent Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.
City commissioners, seated as the CRA, approved a revised concept plan for downtown’s showpiece park and raised questions about planned amenities.
During an earlier CRA meeting, commissioners voiced concern over a consultant’s suggestion to replace grass in Pioneer Park with artificial turf. They asked staff to reconsider and use sod or grass. Parks department staff initially felt artificial turf would better withstand the wear and tear of foot traffic that takes place during weekly fresh markets and numerous events.
At the latest CRA hearing Nov. 21, commissioners learned that most residents commenting to the city by email as well as a pair of advisory boards that were asked to weigh in had rejected the suggestion to use artificial turf.
Bob Ironsmith, CRA and housing director, told commissioners two artificial turf vendors advised him it would only look good for about five years.
“That kind of made us think it through,” he said.
In addition, Ironsmith noted, the city’s Committee on Environmental Quality and Stormwater Advisory Committee both voiced objection to use of artificial turf.
Whitney Marsh, stormwater program coordinator, said there may be multiple benefits of artificial turf from a stormwater perspective within Pioneer Park, including reduced erosion from sediment in high traffic areas, elimination of fertilizer usage, thus reducing total nitrogen and phosphorus loadings, and reduced or eliminated use of insecticides and herbicides.
However, Marsh advised that during their October 2019 meeting, Stormwater Advisory Committee members voted against use of artificial turf within Pioneer Park. “The consensus was that … all park areas of Dunedin should utilize natural grasses, (since) artificial sod does not fit the look of Dunedin,” he said.
In addition, she said, the committee was concerned with some of the maintenance issues that may arise, as well as what the true cost savings would be over time. The committee felt analysis should take place comparing the replacement cost of the artificial turf after its life span versus the replacement cost of sod year-over-year and maintenance costs with the reduced footprint of the newly planned sod areas.
The committee’s consensus was that with the new design, foot traffic patterns may change; therefore, the city should start with sod and re-evaluate the need for artificial turf in a few years.
In her report to the city, Natalie Henley, sustainability program coordinator, noted, “Staff was disappointed to find that this product had a 4- to 5-year lifespan for the intense use it would receive.”
Henley said as a result of staff’s research and comments from the Committee on Environmental Quality, staff will be recommending continuing with the sod instead of introducing artificial turf into the park. Staff and CEQ members recognized that although sod has its drawbacks, it is a superior option than artificial turf.
The artificial turf presented health and environmental concerns.
“Staff and CEQ members felt the issue of microplastics had not been fully studied and did not want to run the risk of this pollutant in the community,” she advised. They also had concerns regarding the production process of artificial turf and the disposal aspects of landfilling the material. Staff will be researching a hardier sod product to better withstand the heavy traffic it receives.
“The decision to continue with sod has been well-vetted by staff and committee members,” she said.
Ironsmith told commissioners that in addition to staff reports, residents who sent emails felt strongly that Dunedin was a natural grass environment.
He explained along with instillation of sod and grass, the park’s greenspace will also be expanded to a larger area.
Vince Gizzi, parks and recreation director, said his department has been researching use of a more hardy grass that will better stand up to heavy foot traffic.
“We have been using Bahia sod the last few years and did research on more durable turf. No sod will hold up year-round, so we will have to sod it twice a year. We will be using Bermuda Celebration sod and overseeding with rye grass,” he said.
Gizzi said the park gets a lot of use. “It will be better, but I can’t say it will be green all year round,” he said.
In addition, staff recommended moving forward with design plans for the park and bandshell stage enhancements this fiscal year and proceeding with construction of the overall park enhancement plan in 2021.
Ironsmith told commissioner Pioneer Park restoration will be completed in two phases over two years, using $450,000 to $500,000 from the Community Redevelopment Trust Fund.
However, that cost does not include installation of a bathroom and a public art component, which will raise the final cost of the project.
The next issue to be decided is whether to locate a 20-by-16-foot restroom structure in the northwest corner of the park, with two stalls and a storage room next to a proposed seating deck area.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she has heard a lot of support for adding restrooms downtown.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes questioned whether it had to be at that location or in Pioneer Park at all. One area she suggested was Wee Garth Park, adjacent to Pioneer Park, where the city’s first water fountain was installed.
Ironsmith said the location of the restroom will be further studied.
In other restoration plans, 24-inch tall mosaic-adorned seating walls will be included in the park as part of its art component, Ironsmith said. In addition, the park’s popular stage will be refurbished. Three brick walkways, separated by greenspace, stretching north and south from Main Street to Virginia Lane are proposed.
City commissioners and the public will get to another chance to weigh in on the final design for the park at a later meeting.