REDINGTON SHORES – Town Hall could be relocated to the building housing the Wells Fargo Bank on Gulf Boulevard.
The possibility of the town purchasing the bank building, and moving Town Hall there came up at the Nov. 28 Town Commission workshop.
During a discussion of flood mitigation strategy projects, Commissioner Michael Robinson said the elevation of Town Hall to provide greater protection from hurricanes was high on the project list, ranking second on a list of 10 priorities.
Grants are available to help with that, he said.
“The county considers it important to elevate Town Hall,” said Mayor Mary Beth Henderson.
But raising the building would be costly, she added.
“There’s another option,” Henderson said. “The Wells Fargo Bank building is for sale. It’s already elevated. Is it possible to just move our Town Hall over there. We could use any grant money to put in hurricane windows, and other protection measures,” she said.
Among other advantages, the building is 5,000 square feet, twice as large as the current Town Hall. It also has a vault that could be a safe and secure file room to store town business documents in case of an evacuation, Henderson said.
The location is ideal, she said. Moving Town Hall there would take it from what will become a busy commercial area and moving it next to Del Bello Park.
That, said Henderson, is “super great.”
And the price could be right. Henderson said she had been contacted by the Realtor for the bank building. They are asking $2.1 million for the property, but would be willing to sell it to the town for at least $500,000 off, she said.
The current Town Hall could also be an attractive site for a buyer, next door to the Redington Village shopping center that is slated for the property.
“It would be perfect” for the developer of that property to acquire, Henderson said.
After discussing the difficulties with elevating Town Hall, Commissioner Tom Kapper, who has contractor experience, said, “It would cost more to raise it, than tear it down and build a new Town Hall, or buy the bank and move to it.”
On Kapper’s recommendation, the commission decided to put an option to buy on the bank building, which he said would “tie it up, preventing its sale” for about six months. In the meantime, the town will get a structural engineer to look at and evaluate both buildings.
“We’ll do our due diligence before making any decision,” Henderson said.
If the Wells Fargo Bank building does become the Town Hall, it would be the third structure used for that purpose since the town’s founding in 1955. The first Town Hall was at 178th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard. The parking lot that is there now has become a significant source of revenue for the town.
Longtime Town Clerk Mary Palmer, who has worked in both town halls, said in a later comment she believes the Wells Fargo Bank building would be a great Town Hall. It has a good floor plan, is already elevated for storm protection, has an elevator and other advantages, she said.
“I think moving Town Hall there is a great idea,” Palmer said in an interview. “It’s a great idea well worth looking into.”
Sewer improvement costs, method questioned
Commissioner Jeff Neal was closely questioned by other commission members about the costs and effectiveness of the ongoing project to reline and repair the town’s aging sewer system. The effort is by far the town’s most expensive Capital Improvement Project. Close to $1 million will be spent over the next several years to upgrade the sewers.
The sewer lines are being sealed to keep out rainwater, which has been seeping into the system. Reducing seepage reduces the sewer flow and should lower processing costs, resulting in lower sewer bills for residents. Neal said the relining of the sewers on the main sewer line is 75 percent done.
But so far, sewer bills are not showing much of a reduction, Henderson said.
She cited reports that show the sewer processing costs have declined little over the past few years. While praising Neal’s efforts to improve the sewer system as a needed and necessary task, she, along with other commission members, questioned what they saw as a lack of focus on problem areas.
Neal sees the sewer project as an ongoing effort, which involves moving through the town, street by street, relining the sewers and repairing and replacing cracked and broken parts of the main sewer lines that run through the town.
“Where are the problems? Are we even sure where the problems are?” Henderson repeatedly asked Neal as he defended the progress being made.
“We need to look for and find the problem areas, isolate those, and fix them,” Henderson said. “We’re spending half a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money.”
“The whole sewer system, everything, is the problem,” Neal said. “Every 60-year-old pipe. The system is over 60 years old. You don’t fix that in a year.”
Neal said he is using advanced methods, like TV and video, to detect problems along the sewer lines as the project progresses.
False readings from the meter provided by the county have also resulted in sewer overcharges. Neal has been working with county officials to verify faulty sewer meter readings, and the town was given a nearly $100,000 credit on a recent sewer bill.
At one point, Neal suggested selling the sewer system to the county, as some other communities have done.
“That would relieve us of a lot of issues,” Neal said.
“I agree,” the mayor said.
Commissioner Robinson said defects in the short lateral lines that run off the main sewer line to the houses are “a huge contributor to the problem.”
Commissioner Kapper agreed, saying “the short laterals are the majority of the problem.”
Neal said a look at the condition of the lateral sewer lines is coming.
All agreed the problem is worse when the rainfall increases. Chris Henderson, a member of the Finance Committee who has analyzed sewer flow data, said “when it rained, the volumes increased dramatically. We clearly have a problem with rainwater infiltration.”
The commission decided to get some meters that would independently monitor the sewer flow. One would be placed next to the county meter to verify those readings. Other portable meters would be moved from place to place, to target specific areas and help determine where the problems are.
More attention also will be given to the lateral sewer lines that go to the houses, which some commissioners said were the biggest part of the problem.
Chickee huts to be legal, with conditions
Chickee huts, open-sided structures with thatched palm fronds overhead, have become popular as backyard shelters from the sun. Though currently banned in the town, eight or nine residents have them, Neal said.
Chickee huts will soon be legal, with conditions, under an ordinance being prepared by Assistant Town Attorney Lauren Rubenstein. To be approved, would-be chickee hut owners will need to get a special zoning permit from the town. Only huts built by authorized native Indian companies will be allowed.
There also will be setback requirements, and restrictions on where they can be placed. They will not be allowed on docks, for example.
Neal said chickee huts are built by two Indian tribes, the Seminoles and Miccosukees. Chickee means “open air structure,” he said.
District 2 and 4 commission seats are up for election in March. Neal, District 2, and Pat Drumm, District 4, have said they will run for re-election.
The qualifying period to run for either seat begins Friday, Dec. 7, at 9 a.m., and ends Friday, Dec. 21, at noon.