Belleair Bluffs officials want more details on county's West Bay Drive plans

Shown is a turn lane leading to Sunset Boulevard in Belleair Bluffs. Officials are discussing options to make the lane more attractive.

BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Concepts for a West Bay Drive improvement project hit a speed bump at the City Commission’s Aug. 12 meeting when Mayor Chris Arbutine expressed frustration about not having enough information on all segments of the corridor.

Joan Rice, the county’s manager for the project, mainly provided information on the segment from the Belleair Causeway Bridge to Indian Rocks Road, seeking commissioners’ input on issues such as lane widths, medians, pedestrian crossings, speed limits and medians.

Funds have been set aside for the West Bay resurfacing project, Rice said. Since they have been doing the work they are asking communities what other improvements they would like that reduce crashes, maintain the travel time and improve bicycle mobility and address other issues.

“We listened to everybody’s needs and wants. There’s definite differences between sections of the roadways,” she said.

After the presentation Arbutine said he didn’t think it’s fair only to show concepts for the section from Indian Rocks Road to the bridge, noting that the corridor extends from Clearwater-Largo Road all the way to the bridge.

“I don’t even know what to compare it to,” he said, asking what sizes are being considered for the lanes in the other segments.

“This is our city,” Arbutine said. “You are messing with my business district that we all worked hard to make sure it is successful, has easy access and that people want to make it a destination point,” he said.

Arbutine said he wanted to attend a meeting with Largo representatives to discuss aspects of the entire project.

Widths of the lanes along the corridor continue to be an issue. Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton said recommendations call for no lane widths to be less than 11 feet.

Commissioner Suzy Sofer hoped that lane widths would be no less 11-1/2 feet.

“We know the trailers and everything are comfortable at 11-1/2 going across the bridge,” she said. “I just feel that if we go to 11, we are opening up ourselves for accidents.”

Also discussed was the possibility of having landscaped medians and additional mid-block pedestrian crossings.

County officials are examining the “pork chop” area where a turn lane forces motorists to head north on Sunset Boulevard. Planners are trying to see if they can make it a little more attractive and address other issues, Rice said. The bollards on West Bay Drive are hit often.

Commenting on other topics, Belleair Bluffs Administrator Debra Sullivan said city officials like the option that includes mid-block crosswalks, “but we sort of needed a median cross to get into the plazas.”

Such issues need additional commission discussion, she said.

As far as a time frame, resurfacing was slated to begin next year, but Largo officials have made additional requests.

“They got some pipe they would like to have replaced. They would also like to have the sidewalk on the south side of the road widened from 8 feet to 10 feet the entire length,” Rice said. “That’s adding extra time, more design time, so we are talking about another couple of years before anything is done.”

At the end of meeting, Arbutine said he wants Sullivan to draft a letter from him thanking county officials for the presentation, but he feels they need more in-depth information and intergovernmental work with the city of largo to move forward with the project.

“It would probably be good for us to see it together before we go to Largo. I think we really need to know what’s going on here,” he said.

Sullivan said that anything that is spent on the improvements discussed other than the resurfacing will come out of city coffers.

“Everything we want is going to cost the residents of Belleair Bluffs, which is fine, if that’s what you want,” she said.

In defense of the presentation that evening, Sullivan said she gave county officials only five days to prepare it for the meeting.

Commissioners informally agreed that they want to meet Largo officials and others to discuss the segments further.

City sets dates for hearings on budget

City commissioners will have two public hearings on the proposed budget and tax rate for the next fiscal year: Thursday, Sept. 5, 6 p.m. and Monday, Sept. 16, 6 p.m.

The proposed tax rate remains at 5.3 mills, which is equivalent to $5.30 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The proposed budget is $2.32 million, up 4.62 percent from the current fiscal year.

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Two members of the city’s Finance Committee, Pete Fisher and Trace Meek, praised city officials for their work on the budget.

Fisher said the committee met several times, beginning in April.

“I know I was very satisfied with what I found and saw. The materials presented to use were wonderful,” he said.

When asked what could be improved, Meek said keeping the town assets updated.

“I know I made a comment that our ‘Welcome to Belleair Bluffs’ signs maybe need to be upgraded and those sort of things,” Meek said.