PHOTO/ Pru Sowers

Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez speaking at a meeting about the city’s neglect of Bill Butler Park attended by over 60 neighborhood residents.

Park protests get results



Acknowledging the city’s neglect of Bill Butler Park – and a hasty, unpermitted effort to clean up the park recently – commissioner Clayton Lopez met with approximately 60 area residents Tuesday to hammer out a plan to maintain and improve the pocket park on Poorhouse Lane.

Residents came armed with a litany of complaints, including trash dumping, uncollected dog poop, uncut grass and homeless people sleeping and drinking in the park at night. While most said they appreciated the recent improvements, which included some playground equipment, they resented not being consulted by the city community services department over the changes. A series of ropes enclosing the two primary spaces in the park make it difficult for people to access the grounds, said Sharon MacDonald. An increase in the amount of concrete and reduction of green space was a concern of Dianne Zolotow. Another woman, who asked not to be identified, was even more specific.

“It floods like hell [when it rains]. Plus it stinks. I have been one of those neighbors calling to complain,” she said.

Those complaints jostled the community services department into action recently, resulting in the new playground equipment, ropes and improved flood drainage. But those changes were made without consulting area residents and without the city obtaining the required permits. City Manager Bob Vitas acknowledged that the permits were pulled after the fact.

“There was definitely a breakdown,” he said about the permitting process. “I’m not going to hide that.”

While Community Services Director Greg Veliz said he was “proud” of the recent improvements to the pocket park, he also acknowledged that Bill Butler Park has been difficult to maintain. “We let it fall into disrepair,” he told the attendees, and “we have to do a better job getting down here.”

That was what the crowd wanted to hear. At least half of the neighborhood residents at the meeting were related to Bill Butler, the park’s namesake who was an important musician and religious figure in Key West.

“Let’s find a way to have a budget for Bill Butler Park,” said Hayward Magby.

“We can no longer make this park ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” added resident Phyllis Allen. “It needs to be put on the regular maintenance schedule. We cannot wait for a master plan.”

Allen was referring to the development of Key West open space and recreation plan that Vitas said the city is in the process of developing. Once that plan is finalized – hopefully by Christmas, Vitas said – the city can then create coordinated, longer-term park development and maintenance plans and commissioners can budget accordingly.

But that wasn’t enough for City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who attended the meeting with Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who represents the area around Bill Butler Park.

“I don’t want to do a master plan that’s finished when we’re dead. Let’s have a long term plan and a short term plan. If [Bill Butler Park] stinks, fix it,” Yaniz said.

“I get it,” Lopez said, referring to the residents’ complaints. “You won’t get everything you want. But we will listen to what you say and it will be considered in the overall plan.”

And Veliz, who has only a six-person staff to handle park upkeep for the entire city, said he would put the pocket park on the regular maintenance schedule.

“We are going to maintain this park,” he vowed. “If you don’t like what you see, call me.”

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