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IRB seeks public input for intersection
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The intersection of Walsingham Road and Gulf Boulevard. Indian Rocks Beach officials are planning major changes of the area. The pocket park is on the Gulf side of the intersection.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Major changes are in store for the intersection of Walsingham Road and Gulf Boulevard, but before anything is done Indian Rocks Beach officials want to hear from residents about the plans and what changes, if any, they might suggest.

A special evening has been set up for Jan. 29 for the residents to have their say.

The intersection has been called the city’s signature intersection, and City Manager Chuck Coward said it is important to both make it safer for pedestrians and to make it prettier for those coming into the city.

“When the USF urban study was done back in 2009 the intersection was identified as an area that needed to be upgraded, both for access to the Narrows business district and for traffic flow,” he said. “There was a general consensus in the community that there was a pedestrian safety problem as well.”

The safety issue has since been studied by consultants who, last summer, presented the commission with a couple of plans to make it easier for pedestrians. That is something Mayor R.B. Johnson feels is long overdue.

“The plans are mainly to make that intersection more pedestrian friendly because it is pedestrian unfriendly right now,” he said. “I hate walking across that intersection; it is kind of a quagmire right now. We’d like to make it easier to cross from whatever direction.”

Businessman Todd Plumlee, whose real estate company is located adjacent to the intersection, has safety concerns as well.

“There were definitely mistakes that were made with that intersection,” he said. “There is a sign on the pedestrian island that is actually facing the wrong way, and the traffic light is bolted down about a third of the way into the sidewalk which forces people with strollers out into the traffic. I’m hoping they can fix those issues.”

The second part of the plans to be presented to the residents has to do with the old Schmidt property on Gulf Boulevard, or the “pocket park” as it has become known. Back in the summer of 2011 the city bought the property with the intention of turning it into a park. City officials demolished the house that was there and leveled and sodded the ground. It remains that way today.

The property is located right on the west side of the intersection. The first thing people see when they cross the bridge from the mainland is the park. It has been targeted for beautification for some time.

Residents who go to the special open house will have an opportunity to look at some plans that have been proposed and get a chance to have their say.

“We’re not going to be going back to the drawing board with these plans but we are prepared to tweak them,” said Johnson. “I haven’t even seen them yet; I’m waiting for the meeting so I can see them with fresh eyes.”

Plumlee was somewhat excited with the prospect of upgrading the park.

“I’m always for beautification,” he said. “This is not just the gateway to our city, but to Indian Shores and Belleair Beach. As you come over the bridge first impressions are everything, I can’t wait to see the plans and I’ll have a lot more to say about it once I see them.”

Coward was heavily involved in a citywide beautification project when he was the city manager in Treasure Island. He can’t say enough about the importance of having a good-looking city.

“I think a city is no different than a business or a home. You want your place to look nice and friendly, you want it to be a reflection of how you live,” he said. “You want your landscaping and the aesthetics to be interesting and welcoming and set forth a style that would be a place you would want to be.”

Coward noted that making the city more beautiful isn’t just for the tourists and visitors.

“The people who experience it the most are the residents when they come home from work or their day’s activities,” he said. “I’ve heard people say that when they cross that bridge they are home so to have it beautiful to create a good feeling is a plus.”

No matter which designs are favored by the residents and ultimately selected by the commission the money is there to pay for both the intersection upgrade and the beautification of the park.

“We have money in both this year and next year’s budget for final design and construction,” said Coward. “There is a possibility the overall project will divide itself into three, the Walsingham beautification, the intersection change and the park upgrade. It will look best when all three are finished.”

The open house to look over the plans is Tuesday, Jan. 29, from 6 to 8pm. Residents can drop in anytime and look around. City staff and design staff will be on hand to answer any questions and to take whatever suggestions may be made. Coward has called the evening a “comment and review party.” Soft drinks and snacks will be available.

Johnson said he is looking forward to a good turnout.

“It is good to hear people’s points of view,” he said. “The commission doesn’t know everything; we don’t have enough pairs of eyes. We’d like others to come and help.”
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