Standing next to his painting of the Naples Zoo lily pond that will soon paved over for a service road, local artist Paul Arsenault collected petition signatures Sunday from passersby hoping to save the landscape.
"It's been a treasure for generations," Arsenault said. "There's a connection to nature here. What I know is that losing the pond and bridge is not negotiable."
As Arsenault compiled about 275 signatures of support over the weekend, the zoo's director, David Tetzlaff, rebuffed some of Arsenault's complaints. Zoo and county officials gave several opportunities for citizen review of the plan, and officials looked at other options for expanding the zoo's parking lot before settling on the design, Tetzlaff said.
"This project is near the conclusion of its permitting, and again, people are coming forward with a problem, not a solution," Tetzlaff said. "All of the experts looked at another solution, and quite frankly, there isn't one."
While Tetzlaff said residents of nearby neighborhoods and several local boards have been made aware of the changes, Arsenault said the "people who should have known didn't know." Arsenault said he plans to meet with local leaders early this week about the ponds, and he's seeking a land-use attorney.
"People are so upset. They can't believe this would be done to them," Arsenault said. "Nobody thought they had to watch out for the ponds at the zoo. The method they did it in was inexcusable."
The lot would double the available parking space at the zoo, Tetzlaff said. Zoo officials plan to preserve a portion of the historic area, including the eastern part of the pond, and the large tree along the southern edge of the water.
"It's not something I arbitrarily dismiss," Tetzlaff said. "It's been part of the aesthetic of the zoo for all these years."
Permitting for the project is expected to be completed by May or June, with construction starting in the fall. Completion is slated for spring 2013.
That didn't stop Joie Wilson, author of "Dream Houses: Historic Beach Homes and Cottages of Naples," from putting her signature on Arensault's petition Sunday morning. Wilson said the service drive to an expanded parking lot "is not a legitimate reason" to pave over the pond.
"I don't think we should lose this. It's a Naples landmark," Wilson said. "It would be like severing a piece of Central Park."