BELLEAIR BLUFFS – The city is confident it will receive a large grant to make improvements and add equipment at the playground in the park at City Hall, which is the city’s main recreation area.

The City Commission took the necessary steps to meet the requirements for the grant at a special meeting held following the July 23 regular commission meeting. A memorandum of understanding was approved for a special planning project, which allows the city to work with Forward Pinellas to apply for the grant.

Amendments were also made to the city’s comprehensive plan, as required.

City Administrator Debra Sullivan said the $50,000 grant will let the city “put some exercise equipment in there, that the parents can use while watching their kids.” Also, a little park and picnic area is planned to be added, along with some updating of the playground equipment, Sullivan said.

This is the second year the city has applied for the grant assistance, which is issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Division of Recreation and Parks, through the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program.

Last year’s application was two points short of being successful, said Sullivan. The city is again being assisted by Linda Fisher of Forward Pinellas, who is known as an expert grant writer with a good record for success.

Sullivan said Fisher is “very optimistic” the grant will be approved this time.

“We are optimistic and assured we are going to get the grant this year,” Sullivan said. “We need this,” she said, “and hopefully we’ll get it.”

Commission members were pleased with the grant’s likelihood of approval.

“This is really good news,” said Commissioner Suzy Sofer. “I’m excited.”

City loses a major contributor

“One of our esteemed residents and longtime historian and board member passed away,” Sullivan said, announcing the death of Wallace Witham.

“This was a great loss for us,” she said.

Mayor Chris Arbutine spoke of Witham’s serving as a city commissioner and member of the Charter Review Committee for many years. The mayor called Witham “the consummate educator,” noting his career as a high school teacher and professor at USF, and said a scholarship sponsored by the city could be set up in his name. That will be discussed at next month’s meeting.

Commissioner Sofer said Witham was “a treasure to the community.”

“He will be missed,” said Arbutine.

Planning begins for Christmas event

With the city’s Fourth of July celebration successfully completed, planning is now beginning for the other major civic celebration, the annual Christmas Tree Lighting, normally the first Friday in December.

Most of the activities will be indoors again this year, as they were this past year, said City Clerk Alexis Silcox, who is organizing the event.

An individual is honored each year for their contributions to the city by being asked to light the tree. Last year, in addition to the chosen resident, business owner Chris Scott of the Belleair Market was recognized for his contributions to the city. Arbutine recommended again having two tree lighters, a resident and a business owner, this year. The Bluffs Business Association will be asked to recommend several businesses for the commission to choose from.

Silcox said a hayride and entertainment would likely again be a part of the event, in addition to the traditional visit by Santa.

Home business law clarified

Resident Darlene Kavanagh asked for the city’s regulations on doing business on private property, saying she had seen possible violations.

City Attorney Thomas Trask said the city’s law on home occupations allows businesses to be operated out of a person’s home if outside activity is not visible.

Kavanagh said she had seen “a whole construction shop” visible to passers-by.