BELLEAIR BEACH – The city of Belleair Beach’s ongoing battle with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over rules on public parking spaces needed to qualify for beach renourishment has taken a positive turn.
After agreeing and then refusing to change the parking rules affecting renourishment eligibility, FDEP is now saying bike racks can be included and counted as parking spaces.
That is good news, City Manager Nancy Gonzalez said at the Aug. 5 council meeting, as the city has room to put bike racks at its four beach accesses as well as Morgan Park. Also, more vehicle parking spaces can be added by reconfiguring Morgan Park, she said. The city is about 30 spaces short in the vicinity of Morgan Park.
Space can be acquired to create diagonal parking places by pushing back the pavilion and restrooms, relocating palm trees and extending the front part of the park out to the road right of way, she said.
Community Services Director Allen Godfrey assured residents the city “will not just plunk down bike racks wherever we can” but would work to make the installations esthetically pleasing.
“We’re going to do a little landscaping” to help hide the bike racks and help blend them with the surroundings, he said.
The additional parking spaces and bike racks would still leave the city about 10 to 11 spaces short of the required number, Gonzalez estimated. However, Godfrey said in a comment following the meeting that he believed enough space can be created to “get us there” and meet the requirements.
Following Gonzalez’s and Godfrey’s comments, Mayor Rob Baldwin said the bike rack eligibility and creation of additional parking at Morgan Park offers the city another option to consider along with seeking a variance from the rules. To get a variance, the city must prove meeting the parking space requirements would create a hardship unique to the city. That argument has been unsuccessful so far.
Another option the county has proposed and actually threatened to do would involve reconfiguring Gulf Boulevard to create parallel parking spaces. That plan has been strongly opposed by the council and city residents.
Adding bus stops in the city would also provide credit toward gaining the needed parking spaces. That is currently impossible as Belleair Beach is not a member of the PSTA county bus system. A referendum next January will give residents the option of becoming a part of PSTA. Joining the bus system would involve “a significant charge per family” and would be an expensive route to take, Baldwin said.
The FDEP must formally approve the bike rack eligibility before any work can be done on the project, Godfrey stressed.
Hurricane preparedness steps taken
The council took several steps to assure the city is ready to deal with the aftermath of a major storm. A contractor and backup were selected to clean up debris left by a hurricane. That contract was awarded to AshBritt Inc. of Deerfield Beach and the backup to DRC Emergency Service.
The city had previously been able to piggyback on county contracts or contract with other municipalities, but a FEMA rule change now requires each municipality to have a separate agreement, Godfrey said.
Contract prices are based upon the size of the city, and Godfrey said Belleair Beach is a very small municipality, “so we got the best price.”
Godfrey also said FEMA picks up 100 percent of the costs of debris removal during the first 72 hours following a hurricane.
In other hurricane preparedness moves, the city entered into a memo of understanding with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to provide a “first push” that can get equipment in a lot faster, Godfrey said.
“This gives us the ability to be very responsive to the residents,” he said.
An emergency management manual of over 200 pages was presented for the council to review. The very detailed plan includes topics such as evacuation orders, duties of city officials during an emergency event, relocation of city hall operations, and estimating storm damage, Godfrey said.
“We went through over 300 pages of FEMA requirements to create this,” he said.
Evacuation of people who need assistance such as senior citizens living alone or others with special needs is handled by the fire department, Godfrey said.