MADEIRA BEACH – An online survey of Madeira Beach residents shows significant support for an ambitious plan to remake the city government complex on Municipal Drive.
Overwhelming majorities of those completing the survey back every phase of the $9 million project, including construction of a new city hall, fire station, multipurpose building with civic center, and extension of the development to encompass a new recreation center and athletic fields.
Approval of the various elements of the project was in the 80 percent range for all except providing underground parking at the center. That was favored by 56 percent of the respondents.
Residents were invited to participate in the survey at a town hall meeting on the subject held Oct. 10, which also was broadcast on the city’s cable TV channel. The survey was available online at the city website and at city hall. More than 250 responses were received.
The positive citizen reaction toward every phase of the municipal center project, expressed in the survey response and at the town hall session, was a major factor in the commission’s decision at a workshop on Oct. 23 to move ahead with the costly venture.
At that meeting, more residents gave their support to proceeding right away with the entire project, rather than doing it in phases as originally planned. But a few had concerns.
Peter Trott said he liked the idea of financing most of the cost “and spreading it over the generations that will be using it.” Randy Keyes called the fitness center “a white elephant” and recommended an outdoor exercise area instead.
Armando Castellon wanted to build the fitness center, but said underground parking is “a bad idea.” He said the overall project is “a great thing. I am all for it.”
Developer and Madeira Beach resident Housh Ghovaee especially liked the multipurpose public building and fitness center.
“The center will be a place for people to socialize, and get to know one another,” he said.
But Peter Pisciotta, a construction consultant, said going ahead with a job costing $9 million in a town with a declining tax base would by the end of 10 years result in a $2 million deficit, or $200 per family. Tax revenues are down 40 percent in the city, while expenses have risen, Pisciotta said.
City Manager Shane Crawford challenged that assessment, saying, “That won’t occur.”
Pisciotta had left the meeting before Crawford could offer a rebuttal.
The commission gave Crawford a go-ahead to proceed with the entire municipal center project. A series of design options on the complex will be presented next, Crawford said.
Crawford told of recent plumbing problems in the fire department, and said continuing maintenance and health issues with the existing buildings are the best argument for their replacement soon.
“We continue to throw good money at a bad product,” he said. “The buildings have outlived their usefulness. We need to get going (on the project) and get going quickly.”
New parking meters
All coin-operated parking meters in the city will be replaced with an automated system.
After hearing a presentation on the advantages of automated parking meters, the commission directed Crawford to get bids on a “pay and display” system.
With that operation, motorists pay for a specified amount of time, and get a receipt, which is displayed, on their dashboard. Time can be added by cell phone, without returning to the vehicle.
Pay and display is the system most commonly used in Florida and throughout the nation, said Ryan Bonardi, director of sales for Cale America, which sells the automated meters.
Replacement of the existing meters will be done in stages, with high use areas such as John’s Pass and South Beach coming first. Archibald Park will be coordinated with the improvements being planned there, Crawford said.
Crawford had urged the commission to go for citywide installation of an automated parking system.
“This will make a splash in the community,” he said. The city also has the opportunity to make additional revenue from the automated meters, because those parking their cars tend to buy more time than they actually use, Crawford added.
Installation of the new system will not affect Madeira Beach residents, who have free parking privileges at all city owned lots. Resident parking decals are available for no charge at city hall.
Decorative bike racks
Designer racks in fanciful shapes may be in the future for those parking bicycles.
The commission looked at dozens of designs ranging from fish to flowers, boats and sporting equipment. Settling on one design could be difficult, as each commissioner had a different preference.
Crawford said the decorative bike racks are a way to encourage the use of bikes and bicycle riding. The city is considering installing the racks at city-owned locations and offering them for purchase to businesses.
Electronic sign law
The city’s sign code allows electronic signs up to 1 square foot.
That’s hardly enough to show the time, and too restrictive for an overwhelming number of business owners, Crawford told the commission.
The 1-square-foot rule “is not likely to change,” Commissioner Nancy Oakley said, even though she admitted some business owners are “very angry” about the sign restrictions.
Commissioner Robin Vander Velde said, “We are a small beach community. This is a community where people do not want to be assaulted by electronic signs.”
The 1-foot by 1-foot requirement was viewed as a virtual ban on electronic signs when the commission adopted the rule two years ago. The Planning and Zoning Board at that time had decided the signs, which can flash and scroll messages, show graphics and even brief videos, did not fit the character of Madeira Beach.
“The electronic signs do all kinds of obnoxious things,” Vander Velde said.
Crawford said he would make some recommendations for changing the rules governing electronic signs.
“Let’s take a look at what makes sense,” he urged the commission.
The issue will be taken up again at a future workshop.