BELLEAIR BEACH – Plans for bike racks on Gulf Boulevard were unveiled at the May 5 Belleair Beach City Council meeting. Providing added space for bicycle parking is the city’s latest strategy to gain enough public parking spaces to qualify for periodic sand nourishment of its prized beaches.
Public parking is in short supply in this mostly residential city. No parking is allowed on Gulf Boulevard or any residential streets. That leaves only the city marina and Morgan Park as places for beachgoers to park.
Beach nourishment rules established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection say Belleair Beach needs 100 total parking spaces, distributed along the city’s beachfront area. Belleair Beach is about 30 short.
The options to gain spaces have been few and unacceptable to city officials. They include reconfiguring Gulf Boulevard to add parallel parking on the west side of the road or the purchase of vacant lots available next to houses on the east side.
A proposed FDEP rule change that would have left the city only about four spaces short never happened, and threats by former County Administrator Bob LaSala to go ahead and create the spaces on Gulf Boulevard were never carried out.
So the parking shortage issue has remained unresolved. Until the FDEP decided last summer that bike racks could be included in the parking space count. Four bicycle spaces equal one vehicle parking space.
Proposals for the bike racks were presented to city beautification committee members and afterward at the council meeting.
Eight bike racks with space for 16 bicycles would be placed on Gulf Boulevard near each of the beach access points in the city. The four locations would be Morgan Park, and in front of the condos at 2100, 2450, and 2900 Gulf Boulevard. The Aldea, Los Caracoles, and Sereno del Sol condos would each have eight racks on the county right of way between the sidewalk and the condo property.
Some existing landscaping would have to be removed but the area would be resodded, said Community Services Director Allen Godfrey. Since the green space is between the sidewalk and the condo buildings, the condominium associations have considered the space part of their property and have put in landscaping, some of which would have to come out, Godfrey said.
A ‘bold, standout statement’
Though there had been some talk previously of hiding the bike racks as much as possible with landscaping, the proposal was to go instead with an option that “makes a bold, standout statement.”
Drew Copley of Copley Design Associates recommended a bike rack design, which he considered public art rather than just a bicycle parking space.
Copley said, “You need bicycle racks to get beach nourishment. Let’s do public art. Let’s make a statement that makes Belleair Beach really stand out.”
The recommended design is definitely not a “cookie cutter” bike rack, as Copley pointed out. Each rack consists of a large, 3-feet by 4-feet, metal, boldly colored representation of a turtle, fish or seabirds.
Most beautification committee and council members liked the standout option.
“I like the idea of public art. Since we need beach nourishment anyway, let’s make public art,” said Joe Burke of the beautification committee. Member Ed Soter said, “the artwork alternative will benefit the condo people (where the racks will be placed).”
Council Member Mitch Kratch said, “Since the bicycle racks will be mostly empty, we may as well have something beautiful to look at.”
Mayor Rob Baldwin said the city needs to do the bicycle racks to get beach nourishment, and the choice is “whether we hide them or celebrate them.”
Public Services Director Godfrey said he too likes the bold bike racks.
“I want the city to sort of pop out, and this will do it,” he said. “It will add esthetics to the racks.”
Whether condo residents will want a “bold, standout statement” in their front yard is yet to be seen. One affected resident told council the bike racks should be hidden as much as possible, adding “this is our home. I don’t want a ‘bold statement’ in front of my home.”
The council agreed to set aside $120,000 in the current budget to pay for the bike racks. Most of that would be reimbursed from county beautification funds.
Baldwin promised to involve the condo associations before making a final decision on the rack design.
Putting in the bike racks would still leave the city about 10 spaces short of the number needed to meet beach nourishment requirements. Baldwin said the county may be willing to grant a variance to make up for that shortage.