The intersection of Indian Rocks Road and Ponce De Leon Boulevard is where a roundabout is to be constructed in Belleair.
BELLEAIR – It promised to be a very quick Belleair Commission meeting on Dec. 17. There was just a handful of housekeeping items to be dealt with, nothing contentious. That is until the first resident stood up to speak and it became clear the proposed roundabout at Ponce De Leon Boulevard and Indian Rocks Road was the issue.
Resident Bette Crown was the first up.
“I am absolutely appalled,” she said. “How in the world did this happen? No one knew about it. I called all the commissioners and I was told surveys showed there was too much traffic on Indian Rocks Road.”
Crown said she had a petition signed by 20 people and was prepared to fight to stop the roundabout.
“This petition is signed by people who are emotionally involved in this issue,” she said. “We are due a public meeting to show us why this is justified. Indian Rocks Road does need some way for children to get across, but I’m convinced people will find other ways through Belleair to avoid the roundabout.”
She said she trusted the commissioners to do the right thing.
“We elected you,” she said. “But right now I feel like I’m dancing after the music has stopped.”
Mayor Gary Katica pointed out that in recent months there have been four public meetings on the issue and all of them were publicized by notices in the newspapers and on the town’s website.
Police Chief Tom Edwards said the intersection in question is fed by five different roadways and is dangerous. He pointed out two accidents in the last couple of months and said there will likely be more.
“I’m surprised there haven’t been more accidents at that intersection,” he said.
Katica pointed out that 75 percent of the traffic on Indian Rocks Road came from outside Belleair. That brought a response from Crown.
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
Katica replied that the numbers came from various traffic studies done over the years.
That didn’t deter other residents who were lined up to address the issue. Resident Michael Andriola said he wasn’t aware of the project at all.
“There are 20 people in this room who didn’t know either,” he said. “I’m worried about the size of the roundabout, how it will affect property values and what impact it will have on pedestrian and bicycle accidents.”
Andriola said he was concerned once the roundabout was installed would outsiders coming through town know how to use it? And he was concerned that large trucks and fire engines would not be able to negotiate the turns.
Resident Mary Biolos said she had experience with roundabouts when she lived in Scotland, and they worked well. But in Belleair she said things will be different.
“In Scotland the vehicles were smaller and the roundabouts bigger. There wasn’t as much traffic and it moved slower,” she said. “Just because we’re trying to discourage outsiders from driving through our town we’re punishing the residents with this roundabout. We ought to delay the project and have a vote on it.”
Several other residents spoke out against the roundabout, but not all. Resident Randy Ware, who lives on the corner of Ponce De Leon and Indian Rocks, spoke in favor of the project.
“This is not a safe intersection,” he said. “At night it is a bear to get across Indian Rocks Road and into my driveway. I’ve seen some bad accidents on that corner.”
Ware added that he did not believe the roundabout would negatively affect property values.
“I don’t understand how it will change the character of this town,” he said. “I am 100 percent in favor of this project, and I will be disappointed in the commission if you stop this.”
Resident Jeff Hauer said he disagreed that the commission didn’t publicize the meeting where the roundabout was discussed.
“I am impressed with the way you conduct your business,” he told the commissioners. “It is all in the open, the issues are fully aired and there is no excuse for anybody not being informed.”
Commissioners recalled that the idea of the roundabout was born several months ago when some residents complained that their children could not get across Indian Rocks Road to get to the recreation center. From there traffic consultants were engaged and among the solutions were the roundabout and some new crosswalks.
It was suggested the roundabout would slow traffic coming along Indian Rocks Road – traffic that has long been a bone of contention among commissioners.
Town Manager Micah Maxwell, in response to the idea that the project could be stopped, said it was unlikely.
“The issue has been discussed and the contracts have been signed,” he said.
Town Attorney David Ottinger agreed.
“It might be stopped if the contractor hasn’t started work, but remember a lot of money has already gone into the project, surveys taken and so on,” he said.
The commissioners gave no indication that they were open to stopping the project, and the residents opposed to it did not indicate what they might do next.
Construction on the single lane roundabout is expected to begin in January.
Company submits proposal for Belleview Biltmore Golf Club
In other news affecting the town, Belleview Biltmore Partners, LLC has responded to the town of Belleair’s invitation to negotiate the purchase and lease of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, located at 1501 Indian Rocks Road.
In addition, Richard J. Heisenbottle, BBP’s managing partner, expressed optimism that he will reach a successful conclusion to negotiations with the Belleview Biltmore Hotel & Resort owners for the purchase of the hotel property and that given the opportunity, BBP will reach successful negotiations with the town of Belleair for the purchase of the golf course as well.
“We do not subscribe to the theory that the landmark Belleview Biltmore Hotel & Resort is beyond repair and can no longer be restored,” said Heisenbottle, in a news release. “That theory is sheer folly for those who know little about historic preservation. My firm has restored numerous historic structures that were in far worse physical condition than the Belleview Biltmore.”
“We urge supporters to again spread the word to anyone they know that the Belleview Biltmore needs investors to help purchase the hotel,” the release said. Visit www.savethebiltmore.com.