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Residents shout down marina, put brakes on new city hall
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BELLEAIR BEACH – About 50 residents attended the July 26 special meetings of the City Council and joined their voices to protest proposed construction of a new city marina.

Afterwards, the 25 or so who remained banded together to protest the growing price tag of a new city hall.

The atmosphere was hostile at times during Monday night’s two special meetings. The first was quick and easy and was adjourned after passing 6-1 a resolution on sewer rebates for some residents of Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore. Council member Bert Cutler was the lone dissenter.

Immediately thereafter, a joint meeting of the council with the marina, building steering and the personnel committees began.

Dan Baitcher, chairman of the marina committee, explained to angry residents that he had been told to investigate the possibility of a new marina to raise additional revenue for the city and to give more residents a chance to have a boat slip at a city marina.

Residents, many from Belle Isle, one of the two areas portrayed in conceptual drawings Baitcher presented to the council July 7, made it clear that a marina would not be acceptable in their neighborhood. Residents from other areas supported the no marina sentiment saying it would devalue properties and not be in keeping with the city charter that does not allow commercial ventures.

“It’s a drawing only, it’s conceptual,” Baitcher said. “I don’t even know if this is something we can legally do. The city and the community have to decide if we want a marina.”

Baitcher said after meeting with the city of Clearwater and the county it was apparent that the existing marina could not be expanded. He said the drawings had come after discussing the proposed project with a neighbor who had made the drawings at no expense to the city.

After listening to residents, council member Donna Durante made the motion to “kill the issue.” Council members Jeffrey Coulson, Marvin Behm and presiding officer Lynn Rives sided with Durante; council members Stan Sofer, Bert Cutler and Mary Jo Henderson defended the need for the marina not only to provide more boat slips and bring in more revenue, but also to plan for the future growth of the area.

The issue is scheduled to be on the next council agenda.

With about half the chairs emptied, attention moved to the proposed new city hall and community center. Fewer numbers didn’t seem to matter as residents showed their displeasure over the latest estimates putting construction costs for a new building at between $2.5 million and $2.8 million.

While somewhat divided as to the need for a new building over making repairs to existing facilities, residents agreed that the near $3 million price tag was too much. The initial estimate for a new building was $1.5 million.

The question on the table was proceeding to the next step that will require expending another $24,000. The money will pay Harvard Jolly Clees Toppe Architects to prepare site plans, floor plans and building elevation drawings – a step members of the building steering committee and some council members say is mandatory to have enough information, such as more accurate cost estimations, to make an educated decision on the right thing to do.

Council member Coulson insisted that documented public input be taken before spending more money on the project. Resident Frank Tricarico proposed the matter go to referendum.

The issue will be on the agenda for the next council meeting, scheduled for Aug. 16.
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