BELLEAIR — For the Belleair Town Commission, adding sidewalks along one or both sides of Carl and Shirley avenues has been a hot topic since the Carl Avenue Roadway Project was announced.

Town leaders have pledged a commitment to safety and accessibility, including putting in sidewalks in some areas without them. But a new sidewalk can represent an unwelcomed encroachment for some homeowners, according to a survey showing 70% of residents in the affected area were opposed to adding sidewalks.

Then a funny thing happened when it came time to publicly discuss the issue: Most of the residents in attendance at the meeting said they were in favor of adding sidewalks and streetlights to the area, citing safety and accessibility as well as potential for increased property values.

That left the commission with a decision about whether to add sidewalks to both sides of Carl and Shirley avenues, or alternately to add sidewalks only to the east side of Shirley and the north side of Carl, or perhaps just eliminate the sidewalks idea completely. 

“Generally, I think sidewalks on both sides of the street makes sense,” Deputy Mayor Tom Kurey said after a lengthy back and forth between residents who packed Town Hall. “But if people don’t want them, what do we do?”

Town Manager Gay Lancaster noted a delay would push the start of the project — expected to break ground in early 2023 — at least couple of months. So ultimately, the commission voted 5-0 in favor of adding sidewalks to both sides of both streets. 

Later, Mayor Mike Wilkinson thanked the residents for coming out, noting the commission “listens to our residents” but sometimes they “have to make tough decisions” for the town’s benefit.

 

Water plant update

Lancaster gave an update on the town’s water plant and supply, with favorable news on both fronts. 

She said staff has been meeting biweekly with county officials discussing the future of Belleair’s aging water treatment plant, noting “things are happening” regarding the town’s water quality, which has been under intense scrutiny since the DEP issued a warning about elevated trihalomethane levels in the water in the spring. 

Lancaster said they are “coming up on the approval” of a pilot testing program that could help alleviate the issue. 

“It’s going to move quickly from this point on,” she said, adding she would have more to report on both issues at the November meeting.

Lancaster also noted staff is working on a traffic-calming report and will present the results of a speed limit study during November’s meeting.

 

Citizen satisfaction survey

Management Analyst Katherine Bleakly updated the commission on a survey that was conducted by the ETC Institute and sent to every house in Belleair, noting they received 316 responses and the results “were very complimentary to our town.” 

Bleakly said the survey consisted of 37 questions in several categories including safety, recreation, and roadways, and 97% of respondents were full-time residents.

 “The five top greatest assets of our town were the police, our property values, our parks and greenspaces and physical appearance and our sense of community,” Bleakly said.

Some respondents requested adding more playgrounds and interactive parks, such as dog parks or giant Jenga games, and Bleakly said 87% of responses supported recycling, a hot button issue in town as costs rise and existing contracts conclude.

She said results showed people “specifically move to this town” because of its police department.

“Everyone was very much thrilled with the amount of contact our police have and the amount of patrolling our police department does,” she added.

Bleakly said, “Overall, we ranked very high in national and state averages in all departments” and the only area needing more work is the water supply, “which should come as no surprise.”

She also noted “most of our residents are reading the newspaper,” with 68% of the residents surveyed indicated their primary source of information about the town was the local newspaper.

The next regular Belleair Town Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m.