Some residents of Pensacola’s Scenic Heights community are petitioning city leaders to reconsider plans for a land swap that would clear the way for construction of a new soccer complex in their neighborhood.
For those upset by the land deal, the pivotal moment occurred on Nov. 8, 2018.
It was then Pensacola City Council voted to move forward with plans to exchange city-owned land next to the Vickery Resource Center at the Roger Scott Complex on Summit Boulevard for the Northeast YMCA property near Hitzman Park on Langley Avenue - for the purpose of building a soccer complex there.
“Seeing no other speakers, please vote,” Council President Gerald Wingate instructed.
The panel voted 5-0 in favor of pursuing the land exchange, with members Sherri Myers and Jewel Cannada-Wynn absent.
Afterward, the dozens of youth soccer players, their parents, coaches and others at the meeting erupted with cheers and applause.
The vote for the land swap also was supported by then outgoing Mayor Ashton Hayward and followed the comments of numerous proponents who believe the ‘Y’ property on Langley is the best option for the new soccer fields.
Sam Matthews, president of the Scenic Heights Neighborhood Association, spoke favorably, with claims of involvement in the planning from the beginning and support from 1400 members on the neighborhood association’s Facebook page.
“And, I can tell you that a majority of the feedback has been ‘what’s it really gonna look like’ not ‘oh, my gosh, don’t do it,” Matthews said. “I don’t represent a vote. We haven’t taken a vote, but when you get that many people involved without any severe negative response, that’s something.”
No one at the November meeting spoke against the land-swap.
But, the problem is that many other residents of Scenic Heights, like Christa Hobgood, say they were not following on Facebook, received no notification, and had not heard about the land exchange until that night.
“I think the slap in the face for everybody was how is this going on right underneath of our noses and we didn’t even know it,” Hobgood declared.
“We’re not against soccer,” maintained resident Sharon Dickinson. “This is not a soccer verses us.”
Dickinson says their main argument is not against building the new soccer fields, but against building them at the ‘Y’ location, including a portion of Hitzman Park, a quiet, tree-covered space right next their homes. Her backyard is just on the other side of the fence.
“We have a petition with over 250 signatures, which is growing daily, of people asking our city, urging our city leaders to look elsewhere,” Dickinson said. “Like, maybe they could reconfigure Roger Scott. You know there’s no homeowners around Roger Scott and there are home owners, where there are homeowners on four sides of this park that are gonna lose property values and have noise interruptions with two seasons of soccer.”
The plan calls for construction of three soccer fields on the Langley Avenue property, one more than is there now, that can be divided up to accommodate 12 youth games at a time. There also will be a new 200-space parking lot and a new concession stand.
In addition to extra noise, there are concerns about light pollution from late evening soccer activity, additional traffic safety issues on Langley, and worsening flooding problems due to the cutting of some 200 trees, including heritage oaks.
“I would like to see someone come out here and mark all the trees so people can get a visual of what’s happening,” Dickinson noted as we walked amongst the trees in the park. She agrees that - in theory - the trees in that part of Hitzman Park should remain untouched.
Since the November vote, Dickinson and her neighbors have been pushing for a pause, while they seek answers to the questions, with large groups showing at one of the city’s Transition Team meetings, a neighborhood association meeting and the Jan. 17 City Council meeting, where many spoke for about an hour during open forum.
“You know this is a huge project here and there are a lot of questions here,” said Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who’s been asked by the Scenic Heights residents to look into the matter.
Myers missed the November vote due to car problems. She wants the council and mayor to suspend any further action until they can hold a workshop on the issue, “To get all of the information from Mayor Robinson regarding what he’s doing and primarily to give the public information, to give the council information and allow the public to be fully informed and speak.”
Myers says most critical for her is the budget issue. She says council voted on two different occasions, September 2017 and September 2018, to approve a total of $1.2 million of Local Option Sales Tax (round IV) funds for a soccer complex. But, she notes the money was earmarked specifically for Mallory Heights Park not far from Bayview Cemetery.
“For eight years that I’ve been on Council, I have heard nothing but, ‘We want to build soccer fields, a soccer complex, at Mallory Heights,’” she proclaimed. “Why was all this planning going on at the same time they’re asking us for $1.2 million for Mallory Heights? I mean, who’s behind all of this?”
“This is something that both the Council and previous mayor had moved forward. In fact, the Council already voted on it,” said newly elected Mayor Grover Robinson noting his plan to move forward – as instructed - with negotiations for the land swap.
“So, from my perspective, we are in charge of simply executing what’s there. If a change is to be made, the Council is gonna have to make that change. But, overall, there is a tremendous need for us to unify and put our soccer program in one place.”
Robinson points out that in addition to Council, the YMCA could choose to end negotiations. But, he believes the community could benefit, not only from the new soccer fields but also from the planned construction of a new ‘Y’ on Summit Blvd, not that far from the current site.
If the deal goes through, he’s pledged mitigation to offset issues such as noise, traffic and the cutting down of trees.
The mayor is set to discuss the land exchange further with residents, scheduled to attend the next meeting of the Scenic Heights Neighborhood Association on Thursday, February 21.
Meantime, Councilwoman Myers plans to ask Council for a meeting to review the issue, while some Scenic Heights residents plan to continue their own efforts to stop the swap and keep the ‘Y” where it is.