BELLEAIR BLUFFS – The seemingly-endless road construction project on Mehlenbacher Road did not finish by year’s end, as once expected.
That truth, well known to residents on both the Belleair and Belleair Bluffs side of the thoroughfare, has become evident to others as the signs announcing detours and road closings continue to flash their warnings up and down Indian Rocks Road.
The agenda for the Jan. 13 Bluffs commission meeting had a familiar lead topic: Mehlenbacher Road Construction Project Update.
A year-end completion date had been abandoned in mid-December amid delays caused mostly by a change in curbing on the Bluffs side of the roadway. Officials said then the project would continue “until we get it right,” and that is apparently what is happening.
Bluffs Public Works Director Robert David said problems with the new curbing and weather-related work stoppages had pushed the expected completion date out once again.
A discovery was made just after Christmas that the Miami curbs being installed on the Belleair Bluffs side of the road were poured too low, David said. Also, the recent cooler than normal weather has had an impact.
“The contractor did not want to work in the cold,” he said.
New curbs were poured in early January and found to be satisfactory in an inspection by David.
A new completion date of Jan. 31 has been set. But David said he was leery of giving the residents any more due dates because “we’ve already missed two and if there are more mistakes, they won’t make it.”
“Nobody gives a (completion) date anymore because they can’t adhere to it,” David added.
He said the end of January is “not a deadline date – but hopefully it will be done by then.”
Affected residents’ patience with the Mehlenbacher Road project appears to be wearing thin, said Mayor Chris Arbutine.
“Just the other day, a resident told me, ‘The curbs have been laid three times,’ and he wanted to know, ‘Who is paying for this?’”
David said the latest curbing problem occurred because the contractor did not use the road grades he was given. He admitted the mistake and will pay for it. David also said Belleair has a contingency fund and will pick up other added costs. “They will cover what went wrong,” David said.
Mehlenbacher Road resident Darlene Kavanagh, who has had numerous issues with the project since it began, pleaded with David to “please push for a definite due date.”
“Hold them to some kind of date,” Kavanagh said. She said the workers completely quit for two weeks during the past month although, in her view, the weather was not that cold.
Arbutine said he understood the residents’ frustrations, but stressed, “We are making a conscious effort not to proceed too fast” due to the past mistakes.
“Getting the project done correctly is more of a priority than getting it done quickly,” Arbutine stressed. “It may be taking longer because we are trying to ensure it is a quality project.”
Commission members weren’t totally buying the explanations. Commissioner Jack Nazario said he hopes the city learns from this project before undertaking joint ventures with other communities.
“We don’t want to go through this again,” Nazario said.
Joint projects with other cities “didn’t have near this many problems,” David said. He cited a road job with Largo that “went much smoother.”
Difficulties with the Mehlenbacher Road project are having a spill-over effect on the surrounding area, Commissioner Joseph Barkley pointed out. He asked for stepped up police patrolling of nearby roadways where increased traffic and speeding are being reported.
Commissioner Taylour Shimkus said, “That whole area needs attention.”
Despite the problems, Arbutine stressed the project will be “a quality effort” when it is finally done. “We’re only sacrificing the F-type curbing,” he said.
“And the inconvenience of the residents,” David added.
Non-conforming sign deadline extended
The deadline for businesses to comply with the city’s sign code passed in 2008 has been extended once again. The ordinance originally gave three years for compliance.
In 2011, the city decided economic conditions at that time warranted another delay. The next deadline is up next year, and the commission decided to grant yet another extension.
Commissioner Suzy Sofer said businesses are concerned now about the impact of the Biggert-Waters Act on their insurance costs. “They don’t need another worry about getting a new sign,” she said.
“The city’s esthetics are not all that harmful with the signs we have now,” said Commissioner Joseph Barkley. Barkley said he is willing to “let this (sign code change) ride a little longer.”
The sign code was originally adopted when there were fears businesses would be “buying up big lots and putting up big signs,” said Arbutine.
That has not happened, he pointed out.
The commission decided unanimously to extend the existing sign code for an additional two years.