Thursday, June 13, 2024

City Approves $31.2 Million Cays Park Masterplan

Overall, the park’s final design was representative of the difficulty of taking the desires of 26,000 people and cramming them into 16 acres.

A mock-up of the preferred plan for Cays Park. City Photo.

After a passionate meeting, the Coronado City Council approved a masterplan for Cays Park that includes an ADA-accessible playground, more pickleball courts, a fenced in dog park, viewing deck, and more.

Approval leaves room for the council to make final decisions and tweaks, but the masterplan will serve as a blueprint for the park for years to come. The entire cost of the project is estimated at $31.2 million, a figure that includes $13-15 million of required maintenance updates.

The plan passed in a 3-1 vote, with City Councilmember John Duncan dissenting. Mayor Richard Bailey was absent from the meeting while on an expedition to summit Mount Everest, Duncan reported.

With its approval, the council included some stipulations: That it consider adding more space between the park’s eight planned pickleball courts for viewing games during tournaments, and that it consider if a portion of the park known as “kite hill” could be adapted to cut down costs.

More about the specifics of the masterplan can be found here.

During the meeting, about a dozen residents spoke against the masterplan, asking that the city keep it as is, criticizing the project as too expensive, and saying it would change the character of the park.

One speaker likened the preferred design plan to Disneyland and said the changes would position the land as a regional, rather than a residential park.

Others opposed the lack of a skinned infield for the park’s softball field – designer Glen Schmidt, founder of Schmidt Design Group said there wasn’t enough room – and changes to the dog park.

Opponents said they have 652 signatures from residents asking that the park remain unchanged. However, Schmidt said that, in the design process, his firm sought input from all residents in a statistically valid survey, which indicated that plenty of people wanted updates.

Dog owners took issue with the shortened dog run in the preferred design plan, but council said shortening it was a compromise that allowed for amenities others needed.

The current dog park is 800 feet long, and the new one is 750 feet long. It’s a bit wider as well, with a total area of 1.88 acres, compared to the current 1.5 acres.

Dog owners said the “dog run” aspect of the design was what made it such a great place for their pets, but council members pointed out that 750 feet is still a generous length.

“If you can throw a ball 250 yards, God bless you,” said City Councilmember Mike Donovan.

The new dog park will be fenced, a feature others asked for. Off-leash dogs in the park – not just the dog section of it – has long been a contentious issue, with some saying it rendered the park unsafe for children or those uncomfortable with dogs. Duncan said he counted about 20 off-leash dogs in the park on a recent weekday morning.

Donovan and City Councilmember Carrie Downey expressed the most support for the plan, with Duncan and Casey Tanaka, who was acting as mayor pro tem in Bailey’s absence, questioning its configuration and cost.

“I would like to cut some things out of the plan tonight,” Duncan said. “That’s hard to do.”

He mentioned features such as the sunset viewing deck, which will be built over land beneath the current park that the city owns but is not currently using, thus extending the size of the park. He liked the idea, but he wanted to see a breakdown of the costs.

“Is that $3 million? Is it $500,000?” he asked.

“It says right here how much that view deck will cost, and I’m willing to pay it,” Downey said, referencing a staff report that estimates it at $524,000. “It is grand, and we’ve never done it before.”

Duncan thanked Downey for pointing her to the cost breakdown, but said he would still be voting against the plan. The audience clapped and cheered.

Both Downey and Donovan said the plan was thoroughly researched and represented the needs of all of the community.

“As someone who has severe mobility challenges, I don’t get to go to parks very often,” Downey said, noting that most parks in Coronado aren’t accessible to her, and that the preferred design plan’s walking paths are important. “We are now giving people that never had a chance to use Cays Park a chance to use it. I think that is part of the vision that we should be looking for.”

The audience clapped for that sentiment as well.

A map of the park’s planned amenities. City presentation photo.

Overall, the park’s final design was representative of the difficulty of taking the desires of about 19,000 people and cramming them into 16 acres.

For example, some parents said they wished the park’s playground were closer to the parking lot, so the park’s smallest patrons didn’t have to walk too far (potentially past unleashed dogs). But other parents said having the playground in a central location was convenient for those with kids in sports so that their other children had something to do nearby.

Tanaka said he wanted to explore options for moving the playground closer to the parking lot, which Duncan supported. Schmidt said this wasn’t doable unless it were not an ADA-accessible playground. The two councilmembers pushed back, discussing other potential locations.

“We’ve spent the last year and a half laboring over every detail and you’re sitting there trying to design this on the spot,” Schmidt said. “That is just not practical. I’m a professional, I’ve been doing this for a long time. At some point you have to trust that we’ve looked at all the alternatives and this is the best compromise that we can come to. If you’d like to have us start over, we can start over.”

Donovan, an engineer himself, backed Schmidt, saying that a plan like this would have undergone multiple iterations exploring every possibility and that the final plan would have taken these questions into consideration, but accessible playgrounds require more space. Plus, he argued, making changes now could push the design phase back a year or more.

“I don’t mean to be obtuse or ugly, but I hope you guys appreciate the time and effort and the expertise that went into putting this design together,” Donovan said. “I’m not saying we can’t tweak it, but to me, a tweak is, yeah, let’s add some room for people to watch pickleball.”

“I’m not sitting here saying anything’s wrong,” Tanaka countered. “I’m just saying, you’re an engineer, I’m a politician. I’m supposed to study the art of the possible. I trust my eyes, and I see some areas where I’m asking questions, can (moving the playground here) be done? I’m not saying (Schmidt) is wrong, but I’m saying I have a right and an obligation to ask questions and flesh out possibilities.”

Though passionate, the council remained civil.

Duncan pointed out that the last time City Council deliberated on the matter, they gave direction to Schmidt about which options they would like to consider and which (like a pond) they would not consider.

“We never took a vote, and we never said, ‘Design one master plan with every single one of these options, and when it comes to us, we must accept it other than moving some bushes around,’” Duncan said. “That never happened. That absolutely never happened.”

Duncan and Tanaka said it was appropriate for them to question how to reduce costs or if changes would be appropriate for such an expensive project with permanent ramifications. Schmidt apologized if he was short with them, and they said they appreciated the work that went into the plan.

Ultimately, Tanaka made a motion to accept the masterplan with room to look into reducing costs at kite hill and increasing the space between pickleball courts. The pickleball community had also asked for a bathroom closer to the courts, but the council agreed it would be too costly. Tanaka also dropped the matter of moving the playground.

“My belief and my purpose is not whether I mildly annoy somebody,” Duncan said. “It is to do my job for the citizens of this city. I know we all feel that way, but that is my focus when I look at these things, and that is the purpose of my comments.”

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 10 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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