BELLEAIR BLUFFS – The cleanup of hazardous ponds in the city’s Dolphin Drive neighborhood has been pushed back once again, and likely will not begin until sometime next year.
The City Commission missed an opportunity to start the dredging of the ponds by rejecting a bid offer for the job at its Oct. 15 meeting.
Cost was not the reason the bid was turned down. Granting of permanent property easements from the adjacent residents had not been finalized in time for the meeting, but had been promised by the end of the current week. The city has demanded permanent rights to the easements as a precondition for the pond cleanup. The easement issue has delayed the project for more than three years.
City Attorney Thomas Trask recommended the commission accept the one bid for the job on condition the property easements were obtained. A motion to do that failed in a 2-to-2 tie vote. Mayor Chris Arbutine and Commissioner Joseph Barkley were in favor of the motion. Commissioners Jack Nazario and Taylour Shimkus were opposed. Commissioner Suzy Sofer was absent. The bid offer expired on Oct. 15, the night of the commission meeting, according to Trask.
As a result of the vote, the bidding process will have to be restarted, and could take at least 45 to 60 days to complete. So regardless of what now happens with the easements, cleaning of the ponds will be delayed.
The cleanup has been considered critical, as the area is subject to flooding. The ponds are used as storm water retention ponds by the city. Lack of maintenance because of the easement issue has caused sediment and debris to accumulate in them, putting residents’ property at risk. Fish and wildlife have also been adversely affected.
Public Works Director Robert David had urged the commission to accept the lone bid to clean up the ponds, which was submitted by Gator Dredging of Pinellas Park. He said, “It has cost us quite a bit of money to get to this point, and we don’t want to go through this all over again.”
Attorney Trask had told the commission, “It is to your advantage to accept this bid. It is your drainage and your storm water that is going into these ponds. You don’t want to build storm water ponds somewhere else.”
Mayor Arbutine said that when the city obtains the needed easement agreements from the residents, “we will go out for bids.” As only one offer was received to do the project, there is the chance no one will bid this time.
Boat and RV parking rules change put off
A move to allow boats and recreational vehicles in residents’ driveways on weekends only has been put off for further discussion.
The commission will take more time to study a proposal to allow boats and recreational vehicles to remain in residents’ driveways overnight on weekends and designated holidays only. The present law says they can be parked there for seven days out of every 30-day period. Police have said that rule is difficult to enforce, and residents have complained they have been improperly cited.
But the weekend-only solution has also drawn criticism. Residents with non-traditional work schedules said they are being unfairly penalized.
Darlene Kavanagh said she is against a weekend-only rule.
“It makes no sense,” she said. “If I have my RV out for the weekend, I want to load it on Thursday.” Kavanagh said she is a nurse, and she believes “if I want to go out on weekdays, I should have that option.”
Former Commissioner Robert Russo said the current law should be left as is, with possibly more lenient enforcement on the weekends.
“I fought against any changes for 10 years while I was on the commission,” he said.
Former Mayor John Diller also urged the commission not to make changes in the boat and RV parking rules. The current law has been around a long time and has not caused any problems, Diller said.
“You are opening a can of worms if you change it,” he warned the commission.
After hearing the residents’ comments, the commission decided to put off any action to change the boat and RV parking ordinance. The issue will be taken up again at next month’s workshop.
Outsized shed is legal
No changes will be made to the city’s structure code, despite criticisms of a large shed on one resident’s property that is legal under the current law.
Some neighbors have complained about the structure’s size and appearance. Public Works Director David said it is on a double lot, so it can be larger and still be within setback requirements.
Resident Wanda Rusinowski said the law needs to be changed.
“If we allow everybody to build (this type of structure), they will build it, and the city will look awful,” she said. She added, “We don’t need storage units bigger than the house.”
Jennifer Turner is a neighbor to the offending shed.
“I don’t care if it is on a quadruple lot. Shame on you for allowing it,” she told the commission. Turner said she is not asking to have the structure torn down, as it is legal. “But moving forward, there should be some changes,” she said.
Arthur Carey, the owner, said he used the most expensive materials to build what he called “a nice carport.” Carey said he knew the law and respected it and got all approvals prior to construction. If people don’t like it, they should live in a gated community, he said.
“I don’t think we should be changing any laws,” said Carey.
David said Carey’s situation is unusual. The shed is permitted to be so large because of the size of the double lot.
“I don’t know of a similar case in the city,” David said.
Belleair Bluffs is almost built out, and there are few places where another structure like this could be constructed, said Attorney Trask.
The commission decided the issue will likely not be a problem in the future, and the existing structure law does not need to be changed.
Garage sale set for Nov. 10
Belleair Bluffs will hold the popular citywide garage sale on Saturday, Nov. 10, said Commissioner Shimkus, who is coordinating the event. The weekend also will feature Antique Alley’s antique show on Sunday.