Druid Place looking toward Morton Plant hospital. The hospital is planning to expand its parking lot onto the property.
BELLEAIR – There is a saying: “The situation can turn on a dime.” In Belleair the situation involving constructing a roundabout on Indian Rocks Road nearly turned on a dime at the commission meeting Dec. 18.
Back on Dec. 6, commissioners heard of the plan creating the roundabout at Indian Rocks Road and Ponce De Leon Boulevard. The plan also included eliminating a proposal to turn Country Club Road into a cul-de-sac. That proposal had been unveiled some weeks before and upset residents.
Mayor Gary Katica commented at the time: “If the majority of residents on Country Club Road are against the cul-de-sac, then we have to find another way.”
Coming into Tuesday’s meeting the commission approval of design money to move ahead with the plan for the roundabout and the elimination of the cul-de-sac seemed a foregone conclusion. That is until Mayor Katica said, “I’ve heard from lots of people who want a cul-de-sac on Country Club. And Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler added: “People have talked to me about reinstating the cul-de-sac.”
The matter was about to turn on a dime. Then the residents got up to speak. Judy Ginger has been against the cul-de-sac from the beginning.
“I don’t know what happened, last time you made us all so happy and now this?”
She wondered who the residents were who wanted a cul-de-sac, then listed off everyone who lives on Country Club and came up with a majority against the change.
One resident who wanted the cul-de-sac was Dennis Eckle.
“A cul-de-sac would be safer,” he said. “There are children on the street. By making it a dead end would ensure that only the residents of the street are going to be using it.”
Karen Mench took exception to Eckle’s remarks about the children on the street.
“There are children all over town,” she said. “What, are we going to turn every street into a cul-de-sac because of the children?”
The plan is to have Country Club open onto Ponce De Leon. Residents coming from Country Club to Ponce De Leon would be forced to make a right turn. Then if they wish to go north would have to make a U-turn on Palm Avenue.
Once everyone had their say about the cul-de-sac, attention then turned to the roundabout. Several residents spoke out for and against it. Some saying it was dangerous, others saying the opposite. Katica assured the residents that the roundabout would be a single-lane affair and “not like what they installed on Clearwater Beach, a two-lane roundabout with a fountain in the middle,” he said.
Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto spoke in favor of the new plan, especially the roundabout portion of it.
“If our intention is to reduce speed, reduce traffic and increase safety on Indian Rocks Road, then this meets it.”
In the end the situation did not turn on that proverbial dime. Commissioners voted 4-1 to accept the plan and move ahead with the design phase. Fowler voted against it, saying he was concerned with the configuration of Country Club Road.
“I’m concerned that people will ignore the right-turn only requirement and simply jump the median to go left,” he said.
More infrastructure improvements approved
Commissioners approved spending just over $3.6 million for roadway and stormwater improvements in the Druid Road and Corbett Street neighborhood. The project is part of a $10 million upgrade to the town’s infrastructure.
Work should begin by the end of January and will take anywhere from nine months to a year to finish. Residents of Supplee Place are concerned that improvements to their road in this project will lead to a greater amount of traffic going into Morton Plant Hospital. Town Manager Micah Maxwell said hospital officials have agreed to close off access to the campus from Supplee and will do so if the fire Marshal says it is safe to do it.
Morton Plant’s parking lot revisited
Belleair Commissioners have agreed to revisit the issue of Morton Plant Hospital’s effort to expand its parking lot into Belleair’s jurisdiction. Several weeks ago the hospital, which owns every house on Druid Place, came to the commission seeking permission to demolish the homes and expand its parking lot onto that property. Their plans called for increased setbacks and the saving of trees, but Commissioners weren’t impressed and unanimously rejected the hospital’s plans.
That led to legal action by the hospital. An appeal was launched asking the court to overturn the commission’s decision and to allow the hospital to proceed with the expansion plans.
On Tuesday commissioners, upon hearing of a new site plan by the hospital, agreed to consider it at their meeting on Jan. 15, but only if the hospital agreed to drop the court action. Town Attorney David Ottinger will deliver that news to the hospital’s attorneys. Ottinger said he understands that the hospital has had meetings with nearby residents who seem to accept the new plans. No doubt they will be heard at the Jan. 15 meeting.
Park Maintenance contract approved
Commissioners gave the green light to the Parks Department to spend $25,200 in the year ahead to have the grass cut at the five larger parks in town as well as the median on Ponce De Leon Boulevard. Parks Director Ricky Allison said the loss of a maintenance employee made it difficult for the remaining staff to do the work. An outside contractor will do the mowing from now on and the money will come from the budgeted, but unfilled, position in the Parks Maintenance Department.
Commissioners back in
Commissioners Tom Shelly and Kevin Piccarreto have been given new three-year terms. The deadline to qualify for this spring’s election was on Dec.18 and Shelly and Piccarreto were the only two to file papers for the two open seats. So they retain their seats by acclamation. They received a round of applause at the commission meeting when it was announced.