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Largo roadway plans move forward
Commissioners outline priorities in transportation improvements
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LARGO – The Largo Commission gave tentative approval Dec. 11 to a multimodal plan designed to improve safety and accessibility of Largo’s roadways to vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

City leaders asked that additional emphasis go to the improvement of Indian Rocks Road, which is county-owned.

“Kids walk down that road to go to school. It’s a sin that there’s an arterial road like that in this county that doesn’t have sidewalks,” said Largo Mayor Pat Gerard. “I think that unless we get more assertive and make that a higher priority, it’s not going to happen. They don’t seem to care.”

City staff explained that by approving the plan, commissioners were strengthening Largo’s position not only with the county government, but also the federal Department of Transportation and the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group charged with uniting local governments on transportation priorities.

“I think formally adopting this plan … really gives greater weight to us going and meeting with the county and sitting down with them early in their capital improvement process and saying, ‘This is what the Largo community is looking for,’” said city engineer Leland Dicus.

The plan examines conditions within the city’s multimodal network, defining current sidewalk coverage, existing and planned bicycle facilities and high hazard areas for vehicles and pedestrians alike. It establishes goals for level of service on city roads and pinpoints Largo’s priorities for improving its roads.

According to the plan, the city will prioritize Highland Avenue from East Bay to Belleair Road, Rosary Road from the Pinellas Trail to Highlands Avenue, Trotter Road from 134th Avenue to Eighth Avenue Southwest, Eighth Avenue Southeast from Missouri Avenue to Donegan Road and McMullen Road from Lake Avenue to Keene Road as its top five projects between 2014 and 2018. Additional prioritized are Alternate Keene Road, West Bay Drive between Clearwater-Largo Road and Missouri Avenue, 16th Avenue Northwest, Fourth Avenue Northwest and Whitney Road.

The plan identifies for 10 county- and state-owned roads to receive special attention, including Indian Rocks Road.

Commissioners were able to see designs of what more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly roads might look like. Those designs, adapted for city blocks with high and low development density, included improved lighting, landscaping and sidewalk-oriented shop fronts.

The plan also calls for a safety educational campaign that would raise awareness of bicycle and pedestrian laws, coordinated through local law enforcement, as well as a citywide lighting study to assess street lighting conditions.

Representatives from the company hired to evaluate the city’s street network said that the plan was designed to be flexible not only in funding, but from a planning perspective, allowing for changes as countywide plans, especially alternative transportation projects, develop.

The plan was presented in a commission workshop. Commissioners will officially vote on the multimodal plan and roadeway level of service standards in an upcoming meeting. From there, the identified priorities will be implemented into the city’s long-term capital improvement program, and city staff will have direction in collaboration with regional transportation efforts.

Implementing amendments

Later in the meeting, Amy Davis presented upcoming changes the city will be making following the passage of three Florida constitutional amendments related to property tax exemptions.

Amendment 11 granted local governments power to allow an additional senior tax exemption. Commissioners directed staff to develop an ordinance that would grant an additional $25,000 homestead exemption up to permanent residents at least 65 years old with a household income of less than $27,303 for the current tax year. There was no support for an additional homestead exemption for assessed property value.

Illegal signs

During the Dec. 11 meeting, the Largo Commission also decided not to implement a system that would repeatedly robo-call violators of the city’s snipe sign ordinance as a way of combating signs placed illegally in rights-of-way.

The system would have cost $3,000 and required the city to maintain a dedicated phone line. Staff said there were only a few repeat offenders that the city might be able to discourage with the persistent calls. Recent code enforcement efforts in the last few years has already resulted in a decrease of illegal signs, from as many as 8,000 violations to only 3,178 in the past year, said Pete Jensen, code enforcement supervisor.

Commissioners shied away from creating a potential nuisance to residents who might only occasionally violate the sign rules by placing an illegal sign.

Commissioners also were updated on the progress of the Comprehensive Development Code rewrite, which included updated and simplified standards for business signs as well as a decrease in parking requirements for city development. Commissioners gave their tentative approval to the measures.
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