Belleair plans for its future

Roughly 100 residents of Belleair attended the first public meeting seeking their input into a long-term strategic plan.

BELLEAIR – The quest for a long-term strategic plan for the town has begun.

Roughly 100 residents gathered at the Dimmitt Community Center on Nov. 28 for the first of several public gatherings aimed at developing a direction for the community for years to come.

The idea of having both a short- and long-term plan was raised by Commissioner Tom Kurey several months ago. He wanted a clearer outline of individual projects on the short-term and goals for the future so what is being done today will fit the needs of tomorrow.

Commissioners agreed and Town Manager J.P. Murphy engaged the Florida Institute of Government to conduct the workshops and public meetings to come up with the plan. The Florida Institute of Government is collaboration between USF and UCF.

In his opening remarks Murphy told the residents that this was all about the future.

“We would like to paint a picture of what we might look like in the years ahead,” he said. “This is about you and your thoughts; it is about your children and your grandchildren and what you would like for them in the future.

“We want a roadmap for the future.”

One of the facilitators guiding the event, Mari Rains of UCF, explained why they were heading up the study instead of local staff or residents.

“Why use consultants, because this is what we do,” she said. “You are trusting us as an unbiased third party, ensuring that we have the collective vision and collective priorities.”

“You will be given several opportunities to have your say. We want this to be inclusive so that not just the loudest voices are heard,” she said.

Rains cautioned the audience to look upon the process as one might plan a vacation so when they talk about the destination for the town they have to take into consideration things such as timing, budget and key points of interest.

Then another UCF facilitator took over. Rafael Montalvo began by asking those in attendance to introduce themselves and briefly say why they like living in Belleair.

Once that was over he offered his observations.

“I notice there is a wide range of residents here, from those who are brand new to those who have been here for 44 years,” he said. “A number of people have lived here, moved away then came back.”

Montalvo told the audience to expect to hear different things during the process and one of his cautions that when people speak they do so to be understood not to persuade.

Then the residents were asked to develop a timeline for the town, to note historical events that shaped the community.

As the residents responded their timeline began in the 1800’s with the development of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and the introduction of the railway.

One resident mentioned the time town went bankrupt in 1930.

“Now the skeletons are coming out,” Montalvo said.

From there they moved to the establishment of the sewer system in 1961, the development of the RPD and the bird sanctuary in the 1970’s.

Then in the 1980s the beginning of Santa delivering gifts in the fire truck and the creation of the Belleair Art Center was discussed

Recent projects include the development of the Pelican Golf Course, the building of the Dimmitt Rec Center, the inaugural 5k race, the Veterans Day ceremonies at Hunter Memorial Park and the various hurricanes.

Once all that was done the residents were asked to list the treasures of Belleair, things they would love to keep. Like the history; the list was long.

Mentioned most often on the treasures list were the police department, the Recreation Center, the town staff, the parks and green space and the small-town feel.

Also mentioned were the limited retail opportunities, few vagrants, the Sunday concerts, the high flood plain and the Garden Club.

Still ahead in the process of developing a Strategic Plan for the community is another public meeting at the Dimmitt Center on Jan. 9.

There also will be two Leadership workshops held next year with everything to be wrapped up and a final report presented to the Town Commission April 16.

Total cost of the project is $60,000.