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A new look coming for Belleair Beach
Pedestrian island landscaping expected to improve Gulf Boulevard’s appearance
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BELLEAIR BEACH – The city of Belleair Beach’s major thoroughfare will have a dramatically changed appearance when crosswalk and pedestrian island improvements are in place later this year.

The landscaping plan for new pedestrian islands in the median of three of the five crosswalks on the boulevard was presented at the Feb. 3 City Council meeting. Drew Copley, landscape architect with Copley Design Associates, said the look would coordinate with the county’s Gulf Boulevard beautification program yet “create a very different experience” in Belleair Beach.

“Your city stands out,” Copley said. “It’s different and I want to capture that feeling with a bold statement.”

That will be accomplished in the selection of plant materials and trees, he said.

A key element in the “bold” look Copley is seeking will come from the use of Bismarck palms, which Copley described as “a large palm with a slightly blue color” that has a lot of mass and “makes a statement.”

Two separate plant zones will be created for each island. Variegated confederate jasmine will be used as a ground cover. Copley said the jasmine is a low growing vine that would cover the whole bed and there would be no bare areas. Annuals that create “a seasonal color palette” and woody growth materials complete the look.

LED lighting will cover the crosswalks and island area so pedestrians can be easily seen, Copley said. The lighting will set off the trees and plantings, together creating a “rhythmic flow” that will enhance the effect, he said.

Copley recommended removing overhead wires, which could mar the appearance of the islands. Issues such as the undergrounding of conduits and getting the right soil are being worked out with the county, he said. Copley said the soil makeup is critical for the plantings to thrive.

“We want this to look good going in, and look good 10 to 15 years from now as well,” he said.

The cost of the landscape design for the pedestrian islands is about $57,000, which will be paid for with the city’s share of Gulf Boulevard Beautification funds provided by the county. The city would spend that money initially, but be reimbursed later by the county. Installation of the crosswalks and the islands will be done by the county as part of its beautification of Gulf Boulevard, which extends from Sand Key to Treasure Island.

Resurfacing of the boulevard and creation of the crosswalks is expected to get underway later this month. The median islands are scheduled to be completed by summer, followed by installation of bike racks with plantings and other beautification of the curbside on the boulevard, Public Services Director Allen Godfrey said in a later comment.

Council members appeared pleased with the pedestrian islands’ design, but had questions.

Council Member John Pietrowski was concerned the plantings might conceal pedestrians using the crosswalks from motorists’ view. Godfrey said the palms would have a 14 and a half-foot clear trunk.

“Lower shrubs can hide kids,” council member Wanda Schwerer said. The palms are better, in her view.

Pietrowski wanted to know who would pay for maintenance of the islands. The first six months are the contractor’s responsibility, Godfrey said. After that, the upkeep is the city’s job. The ongoing maintenance will be minimal, Godfrey added.

Vice Mayor Leslie Notaro said she was very much in favor of the design concept.

“I’m pleasantly surprised, and convinced this is the right direction,” she said.

The council gave a unanimous approval to the pedestrian island design recommendations. The city is looking at sources of funding for the undergrounding of utilities on Gulf Boulevard, said Mayor Rob Baldwin. “We are looking at what (money) we have, and what it would take to do it,” he said.

“That is an expensive process, and could involve a special assessment,” Baldwin said.

Code enforcement tightened

After hearing last month from residents complaining about the city’s appearance, the council took several actions to improve code enforcement.

Jack Ouimette, the code enforcement officer, showed pictures of several “derelict properties” mentioned by the residents.

“I don’t see anything wrong with any of them,” he said, saying their appearance would not affect neighbors’ property values and citing instances of repairs and renovations that the owners have made.

Ouimette said his code enforcement abilities would be improved by restoring his power to issue a notice to appear in court for offenders who do not comply with violation notices. That usually assures a cleanup of the property to avoid a court date, he said. The procedure is very effective in dealing with minor offenses, such as grass that needs cutting, Ouimette said.

Ouimette said a previous council had told him not to issue such notices. The council voted at this meeting to let him use that process once again.

Council Member Mitch Krach said that is one of the tools that can be used to assure properties are being maintained.

The city’s special magistrate handles more serious cases.

The council also looked at changes to the city’s ordinance dealing with building regulations that would make it easier to demolish structures where warranted.

City Attorney Paul Marino warned those revisions would allow actions that could lead to lawsuits.

“The present code has a lot of teeth,” Marino said. “You are now taking a step further to add condemnation and demolition. You are talking about taking a property and destroying it, and that involves an individual’s property rights.”

The city had better be “100 percent correct” before demolishing a property, Marino warned.

Krach said the tougher ordinance is “a good concept.” While no properties in the city currently qualify to be condemned, Krach said the law “is good to have in your tool box as a deterrent.”

Council Member David Dumville said he agreed with “putting some more teeth in it.”

Council agreed to move the toughened ordinance forward to public hearings.

No parking on Boulevard median lane

Parking of vehicles, mostly doing property maintenance, in the middle lane on Gulf Boulevard has become a common practice. That is illegal, though the law is rarely enforced, said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Joseph Gerretz.

That will change, and the police will begin watching for violators parked in the middle lane, Gerretz said.

Godfrey said following the meeting that service and maintenance vehicles are permitted to park on the city’s side streets off of Gulf Boulevard for limited time periods while work is being done.
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