Golf carts outside Indian Rocks Beach’s City Hall during a 2013 summer rally in support of expanding where the carts are allowed to go.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – For the past year Indian Rocks Beach Commissioners have been trying to figure out a way to allow golf carts to legally get from the northern section of the city to the Triangle Business District, south of the Walsingham intersection.
Despite the fact that golf carts are legal on city streets in Indian Rocks Beach they cannot get to the business district, where most of the restaurants are located, because the narrow yacht basin prevents sidewalks wide enough to accommodate them, and traveling on Gulf Boulevard is illegal for most golf carts.
City Manager Gregg Mims put the debate to rest at the commission meeting on Feb. 25. He said there were four options to get the golf carts to the south end, but commissioners embraced none of them.
“We could create wider sidewalks, allow them to go down the beach, create a center lane on Gulf Boulevard or build a bridge over the yacht basin,” he said.
Mims said the bridge would cost in excess of $1 million, making that not viable. He said the federal and state authorities would not allow golf carts on the beach and the County would not likely allow a center lane be created, which left only the sidewalk widening.
Public Services Director Dean Scharmen said the widening would be a large project as well.
“In order to create 8-foot sidewalks from the Nature Preserve to Walsingham we would have to modify the drainage in the area,” he said. “Then in order to do it properly we would have to tear out the sidewalks that are there now and replace them with new ones.”
Scharmen estimated the total cost of the project would be in excess of $500,000, and that stopped the debate right there.
“That is only going to happen if we get the BP money,” said Commissioner Cookie Kennedy, referring to a claim against the oil company for the 2010 spill in the Gulf.
“We don’t have $500,000,” said Commissioner Terry Hamilton Wollin. “I don’t see how we can do it. Perhaps the golf cart owners can consider spending the money to make them street legal and then they can go anywhere.”
“We have tackled this issue many times,” said Commissioner Phil Hanna. “We don’t have that kind of money; we should just leave it alone. I would suggest that the owners band together and approach the county commissioners about spending the money to widen the sidewalks.”
Commissioner Jim Labadie agreed.
“The numbers show it is not practical. I know the golf cart people are not happy but we have more pressing things we have to get involved in.”
Mayor R.B. Johnson said the end of the road has come for the debate.
“I have spent a lot of time trying to make this work,” he said. “I just can’t come up with a way to do this.”
Resident Diane Graham wondered why the commission didn’t consider something simpler.
“You are looking at the more expensive solution,” she said. “Why not go to the county and see if they would allow the carts on the sidewalks as they exist now, going south on one side and north on the other.”
Mims replied that it was unlikely the county would go for it.
“We can ask the county for anything we want,” he said. “But in my experience, and my gut, it isn’t something they will do.”
Resident Donna Valery, who with her husband Bert has been leading the debate for golf cart access, said perhaps it was time to change tactics.
“It wouldn’t hurt for the golf cart owners to get together and go to the county and state our case,” she said. “I would only ask that when construction on the Walsingham intersection gets underway that you don’t forget to include provision for the carts, for whatever may happen in the future.”
Mims said unless the commission directed him otherwise he didn’t feel it was appropriate to spend any more time on the issue and he was prepared to drop it. The Commissioners agreed.
Johnson said he would be open to re-addressing the issue in the future.
Fines for parking in handicapped spaces
Little did anyone know, but up until now there was no penalty for parking in spaces reserved for the handicapped or disabled. Commissioners passed first reading of an ordinance that would impose a $250 fine for vehicles illegally parked in those spaces. But until now City Manager Mims said there was no law on the books that imposed any penalty.
“If someone without a handicapped sticker was parked in a handicapped spot the deputies could not write them a ticket; they had no law backing them up. And the county ordinance only applied to unincorporated areas of the county,” he said.
Second reading of the ordinance will be at the next Commission meeting on March 25th.
It took 90 minutes of discussion and debate but commissioners finally voted, 3-2 to grant two variances to the property at 1610 Beach Trail to allow construction of a handicap ramp and a gazebo-type shelter on the property. In both cases the setbacks would be encroached by the construction.
During construction of his new house, the owner of the property, Dr. Mahesh Amin, discovered an illness that will eventually confine him to a wheelchair. His contractor, Eric Meyer, told them that there was no other way they would configure the ramp or the shelter.
As commissioners debated back and forth about the appropriateness of the request, resident Kathy Bliesner made a plea on the homeowner’s behalf.
“This man is a good citizen of this city,” she said. “He is here asking your permission. He didn’t just go ahead and build the ramp. He has just found out he has a need for the ramp and that is not good news. Let him do it. He’s done everything; please consider this.”
Commissioner Cookie Kennedy made the motion to approve the variances.
“This is a quality of life issue,” she said. “This is a good thing and I am happy in my heart to do this.”
Commissioner Labadie agreed.
“This is a rare situation, this is a community with a big heart and it is the right thing to do,” he said.
Johnson reminded the commissioners that they had to consider the variances on the merits of the property and not the physical condition of the owner.
“I hate to say it but that is the way it is,” he said.
Johnson and Commissioner Hamilton-Wollin voted against approval, which passed 3-2.
In other commission news:
The commission voted to support the PSTA’s “Greenlight Pinellas” plan. Under the plan the PSTA proposes to get its funding with a 1 percent increase in the sales tax and the elimination of the property tax on PSTA services. The long-term plan is to increase bus frequency, explore a light rail system, as well as expanding the current system. Only Labadie voted against the support.
• City resident Marybeth Dunn was appointed to the city’s Charter Review Committee. She replaces Cory McBride who resigned.
• Commissioners granted a beer and wine license to Chicago JAQX Pizzeria and Tap House. The new establishment is located at 1511 Gulf Blvd.