By Jondi Gumz
With 135 members in the new Gateway to Nisene Marks State Park group on Facebook, the organizer of the group, Todd Marco, who moved with his family last July, had a question: When will the promised Aptos Village county park be planned?
It’s a practical question because he and his wife have a daughter, 6, and a son, 3.
“This is a huge thing,” Marco said.
Back in 2012, when county supervisors approved the project, the new park on .74 acre was promised as one of the community benefits of the Swenson development adding retail and restaurant spaces, plus 69 homes, and displacing a bicycle pump track that had been a local favorite.
County parks chief Jeff Gaffney has the answer.
“If the County accepts the dedication then it would be part of the public process and would include the new residents that will be immediately adjacent and/or within walking distance to the land proposed for dedication,” he wrote in an email to Aptos Times. “This would be the most inclusive and accurate reflection of what the neighbors of this size of a park might want.”
Typically Santa Cruz County notifies neighbors who live within a 300-foot radius of a property of an upcoming project.
The original parcel number is 04-101-136.
It’s not clear what might be suitable for the site — which is currently enclosed by cyclone fencing to prepare to build phase 2 — about half — of the development.
Half of the property is covered by oak woodlands, and it’s steep with slopes of 30 percent or more, according to parks commissioner Kate Minott.
The land slated for the park is held by Swenson, and Jessie Bristow of Swenson says the land won’t be turned over to the county until the development is finished.
However, one of the 2012 conditions added by the Planning Commission was to require the future park land be offered to the county after five years.
After the project was approved, Swenson decided to split the project in two phases. The final map for phase 1 was recorded in 2015; the map for phase 2 was recorded in 2020.
Given that five years have passed, should the land for the park be offered to the county by now?
Gaffney said, “No, I do not believe the time is up and more importantly we have not accepted the dedication.”
Asked about enforcing the five-year agreement, Gaffney wrote, “As I understand it, the land is available and has been dedicated in perpetuity so there is nothing left to enforce.”
Aptos resident Becky Steinbruner thinks that if the land were transferred to the County, that would speed up the process of getting the park. Is that assessment accurate?
Gaffney said the issue is money.
“We do not have money or resources to plan or construct this park and we would not speed things up if we did have the resources (until the residents were moved in),” he said. “We would want to include the neighbors (who are still populating the development) since they would be the most frequent potential users of this land.”
In other parts of the county, people who want parks have turned to private fundraising.
That’s what made LEO’s Haven at Chanticleer Park happen. Seacliff Skatepark, completed last year, had private support. Fundraising is ongoing, working with County Park Friends, for the Hidden Beach playground upgrade.
If Aptos residents want a park sooner, does that mean they should organize and raise money for it?
Gaffney answered, “This is always a very effective means to get parks developed and activated. Most likely it would accelerate things but we would still want input from the people who are moving into the development and would be the most likely users of the land.”
All the homes completed in the first phase, about 36, have been sold, according to real estate agent Alistair Craft of Sereno, but about half the units have yet to be built.
County Supervisor Zach Friend, who represents Aptos, said, “It’s true there isn’t a dedicated fund for a park — and the parcel itself is pretty difficult to do much with … But some of this is theoretical right now as we need the second phase to start.”
Marco, looking at the fenced off dirt lot pending Swenson’s second construction phase of the Aptos Village project is a dirt lot, asked participants in the Gateway to Nisene Marks Facebook group, for their preference on what should go there.
A total of 33 people voted, with 11 in favor of paid validated parking for patron use during business hours, Nisene overflow on weekends/holidays and resident guests overnight and 10 in favor of unrestricted public parking. Only six thought it should be a county park.