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Condo residents oppose arty bike racks
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An unpainted sample of the new bike racks proposed for Belleair Beach is pictured with Community Services Director Allen Godfrey. Eight of these, in varying designs, may be placed in county right-of-way on the front lawns at three condominium buildings near beach accesses. The project is being done to help Belleair Beach qualify for beach nourishment.
BELLEAIR BEACH – A plan to use decorative bike racks to gain parking spaces needed for future beach nourishments has run into opposition from residents in the condos where they will be placed.

Residents from the Los Caracoles and Sereno del Sol condominiums showed up at two meetings where the bike rack designs were presented. The racks are being proposed as a means to gain about 20 of the 30 parking spaces the city of Belleair Beach lacks to qualify for beach nourishment funds. Four bike spaces count as one car parking space in this calculation.

A “bold standout work of art” design, first presented at May’s City Council meeting, aroused the opposition of condo residents who were invited to attend a meeting of the city’s Gulf Boulevard Beautification Committee on May 30.

At that meeting, residents from Sereno del Sol at 2900 Gulf Boulevard voiced objections.

Dennis Gallen said, “Let’s do the least obtrusive way to get the sand.”

Marian Liswith wanted to know what happened to an earlier idea of hiding the bike racks with shrubs.

The outcome of that session was that the city would explore another option that would be more subdued.

Modifications to the work of art concept, which features stylized sea animals, were shown at the June 2 City Council meeting, along with other more traditional bike rack designs.

Drew Copley of Copley Design Associates said the bike rack designs and their placement have to meet the requirements of a number of agencies that are involved in the beach nourishment process. Also, there are regulations at various levels of government relating to safety, right-of-way usage, ADA compliance and esthetic issues.

“There are many styles of bike racks,” Copley said.

But when the agencies’ requirements are considered, the options become much fewer, he said.

“We don’t have a lot (of designs) that are safe, usable and secure,” he said.

Copley presented a modified version of the public art design which was less bold, and shown in a green color with landscaping that he said would blend better with the condos’ environment.

Copley said that design, presented as a “work of art,” was more agreeable to county officials, who normally oppose putting bike racks in a county right of way.

Copley stressed that the bike rack solution does not guarantee the city will get future nourishments of its beaches. But he said “if you don’t do anything, you will not get the funding.” Copley said he believes the bike rack option to gain needed parking spaces is “the most plausible way to get your funding.”

Though the bike racks would be on county right of way, that area is landscaped and maintained by the individual condos and looks like part of their property. Installation of the bike racks would cause existing green space to be replaced with metal and pavement. Each of the three condos involved, at 2100, 2450 and 2900 Gulf Blvd., would have bike racks for 16 bikes.

Representatives from Los Caracoles at 2450 Gulf Blvd. expressed their concerns at the June 2 council meeting. Katie Cole, an attorney with Hill Ward Henderson representing the interests of Los Caracoles, said her clients had a number of concerns about the bike rack proposal.

The 16 bike racks would take up 54 feet of the condo’s frontage on Gulf Boulevard. “That seems like a pretty significant impact,” she said.

Cole said the association appreciates the need for public access, but also realizes there is “a burden on this property, as opposed to the greater public” in making it happen.

Cole said the condo association wants to see some modifications to the plan, including a lower profile, less visually obtrusive design, and possibly placing some of the racks on the condo property next door, on the other side of the beach access.

“The condo residents have a long list of unanswered questions. They have obvious concerns of the impact,” said Cole.

Los Caracoles owner Nancy Skemp was explicit in her objections.

“This is cute,” Skemp said, “but I don’t want it in my front yard.”

She said the “public art” design would be appropriate for the city hall parking lot, “but please don’t put it in front of our wall.”

Skemp said the Los Caracoles residents she had spoken with “are opposed to this concept, it is out of character, and, in brief Southern language, it’s tacky.”

One Sereno del Sol resident who had opposed the decorative design at the previous meeting was somewhat more agreeable to the modified version. Marian Liswith said it might be acceptable in “a nice dark green,” which would blend in with the shrubbery.

But Liswith said her main concern is “we have no guarantees that this will get us anything. We go to this expense, and the aggravation of getting everybody upset about the bike racks. And then we don’t get the sand anyway.”

Council members had little comment on the residents’ concerns. Council member David Dumville said the bike rack solution “looks like a very viable opportunity.”

“We as a city have to make every effort to be compliant” with regulations needed to gain beach nourishment, he said.

“Ditto,” said Vice Mayor Leslie Notaro.

Joseph Burke, a member of the beautification committee, dismissed the objections, saying, “We will never do anything that will satisfy the folks that live in the condos.” He accused the condo residents of “attacking” designer Copley at the previous meeting before he had a chance to speak.

“It is vital we get beach nourishment, for safety and pleasure,” Burke said.

Mayor Rob Baldwin said he had made a list of the condo people’s concerns.

“We’ll go back and look at these,” he said.

Baldwin said it is his intention to set up another beautification committee meeting before the next council meeting, with bike racks on both agendas.

FDEP OKs bike rack plan

Some good news on the bike racks’ acceptance as a means of meeting the city’s parking space requirements to gain beach nourishment came after the meeting.

City Manager Nancy Gonzales provided an email from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection which she said indicates the state’s approval of the city’s proposal.

The email, from FDEP environmental specialist Catherine Florko, states in part “we determined that our (bicycle rack) calculations are correct under the conditions of the current rule. We appreciate the efforts the city and the county have made, and continue to make, to enhance beach access.”

While Florko also said “there is no guarantee that the rule will not be changed again before the next nourishment,” she added “I believe it is highly unlikely that the addition of bicycle racks will be removed from the eligibility calculation.”

The big unanswered question looming over all the discussions is whether, after the bike racks are installed, will that be enough? The city will need a variance from the FDEP to make up the 10 or so parking spaces it will still need to qualify for beach renourishment. Previous variance requests have been rejected.

As condo resident Liswith said “we have no guarantees this will get us anything.”
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