BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A new law, passed by the City Commission at its Dec. 10 meeting, requires the pruning of trees, bushes and shrubs overhanging any city street rights of way or sidewalks.

The city had been trimming low-hanging vegetation. Now, it will be the residents’ job.

City crews are now in the process of trimming back vegetation interfering with rights of way throughout the city in what should be their last such project. That job is mostly done. After that is completed, the city will then begin enforcing the new ordinance, which says, in Mayor Chris Arbutine’s words, “If you have something in the right of way and you planted it, you’ve got to take care of it.”

That requires the trimming back of trees and any other vegetation that is lower than eight feet above sidewalks or less than 14 feet above the street, to be done by every owner of any tree, bush or shrub overhanging any street right of way or sidewalk.

Resident Darlene Kavanagh called the trimming requirements unreasonable. She said it is dangerous to require residents to get out into busy streets to cut back trees and shrubs.

But Mayor Arbutine said the rights of way need to be cleared. Just a few months ago, he said, a city truck was damaged when the top of it hit low hanging tree limbs.

Way cleared for townhouses

Following months of debate and discussion, the commission unanimously passed an ordinance that allows townhouse development in the city for the first time. Changes to the land development code were made, and now existing duplexes and triplexes can be replaced with what developer Ric Feinberg says will be “very elegant, very modern, super-efficient, state-of-the-art construction.”

The townhouses will be a significant improvement over the structures there today, Feinberg said, and blend seamlessly into the existing neighborhood. He added that they will be a compliment to the neighborhood.

The townhouses will be allowed in the residential urban, residential medium, residential/office/general and residential/office/retail zoning districts. They are not permitted in residential high, which is solely residential, and commercial general districts.

Feinberg said he currently has only two duplex projects that he is looking to convert to townhouses. But he told the Bee following the meeting that he is actively looking at more properties and “could change the complexion of Belleair Bluffs (for the better) with this project element.”

In a report to the city, Feinberg said he is “endeavoring to acquire underperforming or distressed duplexes and triplexes throughout the city and convert them into exquisite, contemporary townhouses.”

FEMA reimbursement money ‘pouring in’

The city has already received about $65,000 in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money spent on projects undertaken during Hurricane Irma, City Clerk Alexis Silcox reported. These paid for emergency protective measures and repairs of buildings and equipment.

Another $40,000 repayment for debris removal costs is pending, and the city is awaiting reimbursement of more than $100,000 for other debris removal tasks and improvements to roads and bridges, according to a report from Silcox.

Silcox was the city’s response coordinator during and after Hurricane Irma in 2017 and was highly praised for her work in that position.

City Administrator Debra Sullivan told Silcox to “keep it going.”

“We’re getting so much money so quickly,” she said.

City Christmas event praised

“Wow, what another great Christmas party,” said Arbutine. The mayor especially praised the work of new staff members and Public Works for putting together and managing the event. He said the party represents the best of the city.

“Community, community, community. That’s what it’s all about,” Arbutine said. “It’s the little things we do that draw everyone together. And that’s what we’re all about.”

Commissioner Suzy Sofer said the event was the best attended ever.

“A great turnout,” said Commissioner Joseph Barkley.

“A lot of new families,” said Commissioner Taylour Shimkus.