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Largo bans smoking in park shelters
Largo commissioners support three efforts to make city more tobacco-free
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LARGO – Largo commissioners unanimously passed three measures promoting less tobacco use within the city March 4.

Two of the measures were resolutions, but commissioners also supported a new ordinance banning smoking in park structures such as playgrounds, shelters, gazebos, fitness areas and tennis courts.

The proposed ordinance had two goals, explained Parks Superintendent Greg Brown. First, the city already had signs on its playgrounds designating them as “no smoking” zones.

“We do kindly ask people to step outside but we have nothing to back that up,” Brown said.

Second, the new rule would give law enforcement another tool to deal with teenagers hanging out in Largo Central Park and “causing issues for regular park patrons,” Brown added.

“It sort of takes the ability for people to congregate and smoke in a park structure away,” he said.

Commissioner Jamie Robinson said he supported the measure to fine violaters but didn’t think it went far enough.

“If the kids can stand all around the gazebo, it doesn’t matter if they’re in it or outside of it. It’s the same group of kids in the same spot. I really do understand where you’re coming from in trying to break that cycle up, but if we’re going to do it, just do the whole park,” he said.

Brown explained that specifying no smoking in park structures made the ordinance logistically easier to enforce. The ordinance allows the city to temporarily declare certain areas smoke-free, allowing them to put up signs around lines of children for Largo Central Park’s train weekend or Halloween Spooktacular.

Largo police are in favor of the ordinance, which has to be approved in a final public hearing March 18.

As one of the first actions in the meeting March 4, the city proclaimed its Playing Unplugged event, held April 26 at Largo Central Park, a tobacco-free event. In support of the measure, the Pinellas County Health Department provided $1,500 toward printing costs for the event.

Commissioners took another cue from the health department’s student group, Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, to pass a resolution urging Largo businesses not to sell candy-flavored tobacco, reportedly marketed to youth despite the fact that those younger than 18 can’t buy it.

“We really want kids to stop being targeted by these companies,” said Daniel Pate, a member of SWAT and student at Seminole High School. “If we get enough information out there, the hope is that the people selling these products will realize that it’s probably not good to market these things to children … to replace the smokers that have died from it beforehand.”

The city worked with SWAT coordinator Steven Sergent, from the health department, to write the resolution.

The new high school

At the request of the commission, Largo High Principal Brad Finkbiner presented the latest rough designs for the renovations of the high school. Construction crews will begin tearing down the old buildings in June. Classes will be held in the old Largo Central Elementary School facility as well as portables for hopefully no more than two school years. The school is partnering with the city to relocate practices for the school’s many sports and activities.

“For the next two years, we will be inconvenienced, but we think in the long run this will be a chance to showcase Largo,” Finkbiner said.

The administration wants to keep the design of the five pillars, which currently grace the front of the school. The pillars in the new school will be built with bricks from the old building as a way of honoring the school’s 50-year history, Finkbiner said. Preliminary designs also included a “Packer walk,” a passageway featuring bricks purchased by alumni, which student athletes would have to walk past on the way to the fields.

But along with remaining connected to its past, the new school will be as modern and efficient – prototypical, even – as possible, Finkbiner said. The principal said he has been overwhelmed by the intensity of Packer pride since becoming its principal two years ago.

“We’re very proud of Largo High and very proud of this community. We want students to be proud of this school,” he said.

Largo to foreclose on property

Commissioners also authorized the city manager to pursue foreclosure on a property at 3221 Hillsdale Ave., which has been racking up code enforcement fines as a blight to the surrounding community for seven years. The owner of the property has died since code enforcement personnel first visited the property in July 2007. The property was remanded to his estate but no surviving relative has stepped up to improve it or pay the city’s liens against it.

Charlene Lichatowich spoke on behalf of herself and several neighbors, describing deplorable conditions of the property, several species of pests that make it their home and the neighborhood’s continuing efforts to mow and clean up the property, mitigating its negative effect on their property values.

City Attorney Alan Zimmet warned commissioners and the residents that the foreclosure process, including a due diligence search for heirs, could take up to a year and cost an estimated $12,000.

If the city is the highest bidder at the end of the process, staff plans to tear down the dilapidated structure and convert the property to affordable housing.
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