By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES - The area where a baseball field once stood at McElroy Park is now bare, except for sod that was laid on the ground where the infields used to be.
City workers recently laid down the sod and took out the backstop fence that stood at the ball field. Staff said there were plans to eliminate the ball field due to its age and replace it with a grassy, multipurpose athletic field.
But the move drew the ire of a few citizens who believed a ball field is needed for the city to retain its ownership of the park, which the city acquired from Volusia County in 1988. There was also disapproval expressed at how the ball field removal was not brought to the City Council for discussion or approval.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, city staff said their agreement with Volusia County that transferred McElroy Park over to city ownership stipulates the park must be used for recreational purposes, but does not explicitly state a baseball field is required.
City manager Mike Booker said the baseball field was the only amenity at McElroy Park when the city acquired it. Under the city's ownership, a fitness trail, a tennis court, a basketball court, pickleball courts and a children's playground were added to the park, he said.
"We're not losing recreation," he said.
The agreement with the county states if the park were used for anything other than recreational purposes, ownership would revert to the county.
When reached by phone before Tuesday's meeting, Volusia County manager Jim Dinneen declined comment because he was not aware of the situation.
Mr. Booker said he received "a few complaints" from residents about the baseball field's removal, but added it was rarely used.
No citizens spoke about the ball field at Tuesday's meeting, but one resident, Kay Schwarz, expressed opposition to the ball field's removal at the council's May 22 and June 12 meetings. She was not available to speak with Hometown News before press time.
Minutes from the two meetings indicate Ms. Schwarz believed the deed to the property states a baseball field should always be a part of the park, and she pressed councilors to consider putting one back there.
Henry Fehrmann, a citizen who is running for council in the Nov. 6 city elections, agrees with Ms. Schwarz.
"All we're asking for is to put the infield back (and) to put up a portable or removable backstop. But do not destroy the park that was given to us (citizens)," he said in a phone interview.
Ms. Schwarz said she spoke to many citizens who were also upset about the elimination of the ball field, adding she felt there should have been a council vote before the field was removed.
"I couldn't ... get public knowledge of the destruction of the ball field since nothing is said about the removal in public form," she said at the June 12 meeting.
Mr. Booker said although there was no formal council vote, the idea to take out the baseball field was discussed in a public workshop and there was interest expressed in converting it into a multipurpose field.
"I don't want to give the impression this was created in the back room," he said.
The ball field's age, as well as the liability involved if a baseball hit someone, were the factors considered in the ball field's removal, Mr. Booker said.
Speaking about the absence of a council vote on the ball field removal, Mayor Harry Jennings only commented that it was "an oversight" and that it would not happen again.
Vice Mayor Ron Brown said after the meeting he believed the City Council should have had a say on the issue.
"It was a staff decision that turned into a big can of worms," he said. "It caused a lot of ill feeling and concern in the community."