The Venice City Council tabled a discussion about a possible dual-purpose sports complex-hurricane shelter at Wellfield Park for the time being. Mayor John Holic placed the idea on Tuesday’s agenda.
The decision came after learning from Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines that the county doesn’t believe Wellfield is a viable location due to its elevation.
They also learned that Taylor Ranch Elementary, which was previously deemed too low, could possibly serve as a county-approved hurricane shelter if hardened, and that the proposed joint-venture shelter at the new Sarasota Memorial Hospital planned on Laurel Road isn’t a done deal.
Just days ago the county agreed during budget talks to place $3 million aside toward a shelter for 2019 to show its commitment to finding a solution for Venice area residents, Hines said.
Venice currently doesn’t have an approved shelter, and city and county leaders have been eager to remedy that situation.
There was some dismay as well as excitement that a memo by Rich Collins, with Sarasota County Emergency Management, discussing the latest shelter alternatives came out on the very day the Venice City Council was preparing to discuss a Wellfield Park shelter.
In the end, the board opted not to discuss the mayor’s Wellfield proposal, which was to ask city staff to begin discussions with county staff on a joint project.
“I just wouldn’t do anything at this point,” said Council Member Rich Cautero. “I hesitate to add any complexity (if) they are hardening Taylor Ranch for a near term solution. The (letter indicates) they already looked at Wellfield Park. I’d prefer not to complicate that at this point.”
“I had no idea they were looking at other sites than Sarasota Memorial Hospital before today,” Cautero and others said.
Council Member Charles Newsom said the new SMH hospital is not planned to be hardened for a Category 5 storm, and that most of the spaces in an emergency would likely be taken up by hospital staff and patients.
Holic said even if Taylor Ranch Elementary, located in South Venice near the City of North Port border, were opened as a hurricane shelter, it would only benefit the people in the area, still leaving a large portion of Venetians without a good option.
The letter by Collins on hurricane alternatives was short on detail, prompting Council to request closer communications with county Emergency Management officials on how the county is proceeding.