Folks are starting to see some improvements in Oakland’s five-acre Speer Park — but not everyone is in favor of all the changes being made.
The tennis courts have been repaved, giving players a smooth surface once again; however, the 10-foot-high, black-vinyl-coated, chain-link fence that goes around all four sides has elicited an angry response from a number of residents.
The subject was brought up during public comments at the March 23 Oakland Town Commission meeting.
Daniel and Pat Bodiford, who live on Tubb Street near the park, were the first to speak against the fencing.
“We like open space,” Daniel Bodiford said. “We are all in support of seeing tennis courts upgraded, (but) nothing in the meetings said anything about a back wall and fences. We were shocked to see a 10-foot fence all around. … I think we could have done without the black wire fencing.”
The Bodifords aren’t the only ones disappointed in the fence.
“I was distressed to see it go up,” said Michelle Territo, who lives across the street from the park. “I know we talked about refurbishing the tennis courts. … I certainly didn’t image it was going to be 10-foot-high chain-link fence, and I didn’t realize it was going to be 150 feet of the side of the park.”
When the town wanted to make major improvements to Speer Park, officials met with residents to get input on what they wanted to see in the park. Residents had asked the town to maintain the park’s natural aesthetic.
The town hired the highly recommended NIDY Sports Construction, of Longwood, for the tennis court project.
“It’s the standard specs that are used when you build tennis courts,” Town Manager Steve Koontz said. “When it came to the commission Dec. 8, it included all the specs, and that included the 10-foot fence.”
Mayor Kathy Stark said she asked Koontz to create a timeline of the town’s involvement with the project “so that we could see that every step of the way we did provide the property information. Nothing was done behind closed doors, nothing was decided that was different from what was voted on in the meetings.”
All agenda packets include details of all town projects, including size, height, materials and other variables. These agendas are available to the public on the town’s website the week prior to the Town Commission meetings.
“Sometimes, when you see it on paper, it doesn’t look the same way it’s going to look in real life,” Commissioner Mike Satterfield said. “I would hate to think that everything we do has to be redone. … but let’s be open minded and see what the town thinks of it.
If it comes to be that it’s a town problem, then we go back to drawing board.”
“I know staff does a good job of due diligence … of talking to the experts,” Commissioner Joseph McMullen said. “I want the audience and everyone to know that when we go into projects like this, we don’t go into it half-handed. … We do talk to experts, get opinions of other cities and towns when we do projects around town. … I don’t want people to think we’re not listening. We did do our homework.”
Lu Milliken asked if the town planned to add plants around the fence. Koontz said staff discussed plantings to soften the look.
“This is old Oakland,” Milliken said. “It’s not some shiny, new development. You’re talking about a very residential area. … We don’t want to look at anything commercial. We want it to look natural.”
“It’s still a park; we’re not turning it into commercial,” Stark responded.
“I used to have this beautiful view of the gazebo and the park … and it’s not quaint anymore,” Territo said. “What I would hope is that we can do some little modification. … We don’t need to have a sports park going on here. It’s a beautiful natural park. I just hope you will have an open mind and modify it a little bit. Improvements were needed, but maybe we could change it a little bit. It’s not a sports complex. We’re not going to have competitions going on there. … I think it would keep our town quaintness.”
After several people spoke against the fencing, the commission agreed to look into modifying it. The issue will be on the agenda for further discussion at the April 13 Town Commission meeting.
The town is tackling renovation projects in Speer Park, located at 331 N. Tubb St., as funds become available each budget year. The master plan includes new playground additional sidewalks and landscaping, updated signage, a butterfly garden, tennis and pickleball courts and a second pavilion.
The old tennis court was undersized, and the concrete surface was cracked. It had eight-foot fencing at the ends. The new court is regulation size and is constructed of asphalt, which makes it easier on the players, said Public Works Director Mike Parker. The playing surface will be painted green, and new nets will be installed.
The new pickleball court has an eight-foot black-vinyl-coated chain-link fence; the surface will be painted green. Parker said when both courts are complete, the area will get benches and sidewalks and have native Florida landscape.
Koontz said the playground will be replaced in the next phase. In keeping with the natural look, the town is installing equipment in shades of brown and green.
STREET NAME CHANGE
The town of Oakland assumed responsibility last year for all of State Road 438/Oakland Avenue — from the Oakland/Winter Garden municipal limits to West Colonial Drive. However, there are portions of the road that have not been officially renamed to Oakland Avenue, which has caused problems when residents and businesses call 911.
Orange County and the town have both issued addresses along that stretch of road; and while there are telephone numbers in the 911 system for West Oakland Avenue, there are none for S.R. 438.
The roadway now will be known officially as East and West Oakland Avenue, and Tubb Street will be the dividing line between east and west.
IN OTHER NEWS
• The commission approved the second reading of an ordinance that allows the town to make safety improvements to a crosswalk of East Oakland Avenue near Sansparilla Road. It will include rectangular rapid-flashing beacons and additional safety signage.
Town Manager Steve Koontz said the town is rolling out its public-safety campaign now and the upgrades will be installed in April. The town wants drivers to be prepared to stop once the equipment is in place and to understand the rules.
“You are required to stop for the entire time someone is in the crosswalk, not just when they are in front of you,” Koontz said.
“When the crosswalk is built and the lights are up, it is enforceable under Florida statute,” Oakland Police Chief John Peek said. “We will be able to enforce that crosswalk.”
• The commission authorized Johnson Controls to design and install a new HVAC system at Oakland Avenue Charter School. The original system was installed about 18 years ago and has exceeded its life expectancy. The estimated cost to design and construct a system that will operate in 41,000 square feet of space is nearly $3 million. The town will finance the amount over 10 years through NCL Government Capital.
• Town Manager Steve Koontz reported 237 COVID-19 vaccinations were given at two pop-up locations in Oakland.
“We did a really god job of reaching out to the Oakland community,” he said. “We had a lot of elderly residents who came in. Orange County Fire Rescue, Department of Health and town staff had them in and out, moving fast.”
• Mayor Kathy Stark read two proclamations: Water Conservation Month in March and Child Abuse Prevention Month/Wear Blue Day April 1.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.