If officials get their way, firefighters will move out and more baseball fields, parking and green space will move in to Highlander Park in the next 40 years.
Officials unveiled changes to the 2004 master plan for Dunedin’s popular Highlander Park at a public meeting Wednesday.
The plan’s most anticipated change would likely be an improved aquatic center. It would also encompass the park’s popular splash pad into an enclosed facility that could charge residents up to $8 for admission. That figure is based on a similar facility in Largo.
“People who can afford $8 for admission can afford their own pool, in my opinion,” resident Sue Gow said. “The purpose of this park is to keep the youth busy.”
Parks and Recreation Department director Vince Gizzi said the city will ensure all residents are able to use the facility regardless of cost. He did not specify how that would be accomplished.
Architectural renderings show seven baseball fields.
“Someone asked how often we would use seven fields all at once,” Dunedin Little League president Andy Sass said. “Well, there were several times over the past couple of months I would have loved to have had seven fields.”
Plans are intended to be as minimally invasive to the park’s natural setting as possible. A line of trees serves as a natural barrier for nearby homes, blocking both light and noise from neighboring communities.
“Our vision is to not lose any tree canopy,” said Lalena Sheets, who works for the Parks and Recreation Department.
Plans include newer lighting options that offer more protection from light pollution.
“Technology has come a long way in the past 10 years,” Sheets said. “The new lighting is far superior than what we have now, to the point that homes are probably better off with these lights even if they are closer in proximity.”
The plan also assumes that the fire station will move to another location, not so close to the cramped Fisher Field facility. The vacated building would then likely be used for storage.
Fire Chief Bud Meyer said the move would improve his department's emergency response ability. Parking tends to get tight near the field.
“People will park right in our driveway,” Meyer said. “We’ve had people put up yellow tape and say, ‘For the next 30 minutes, you can’t leave. Don’t respond to a call right now.' ”
The comment drew laughs but made his point.
Officials skirted concerns raised about the Nature Center.
“There are always kids on the waiting list" for programs, Ellie Kiethly said.
“It’s not going to go away,” Rod Collman of Collman & Karsky Architects said. “We just don’t know where it’s going to be yet.”
Pinellas Trail recording secretary Richard Valentine expressed his hope that the plans to improve the park would eventually include a bike trail connection to the nearby Pinellas Trail. Though it is not a certainty, the city is looking into furthering its status as a bike-friendly community.
“One of our ultimate goals is to add bicycle connectors through all of our parks, which would essentially give trail access,” city engineer Tom Burke said.
The conceptual changes to the park are not set in stone.
Any changes to the 2004 master plan must have commission approval to move forward. Officials estimate completion could take as many as 40 years.
Another public meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Dunedin Community Center.