Belleair residents weigh in on priorities for town’s future

Dozens of residents showed up at the Belleview Inn on Jan. 9 to discuss the formulation of Belleair’s future strategic plan.

BELLEAIR – Town residents have made it clear they want to keep their police department, and they want the upgrading of the town’s infrastructure to continue.

They participated in a strategic planning session Jan. 9 and identified dozens of items they want to see implemented in their town to make it a better place to live.

The session was the second conducted by the Florida Institute of Government, a collaboration of USF and UCF. The first session was held in late November and served as an introduction to the process.

The first session was held in the Dimmit Community Center. Due to poor acoustics there, the most recent session was held at the Belleview Inn.

The 100 or so residents who showed up for the meeting were broken up into groups according to their interests. There were nine groups and they dealt with everything from street lights to the character of their community.

The subject that came up over and over from several of the groups was infrastructure and how the residents wanted it brought up to date. In fact, an earlier questionnaire distributed by the organizers of the session showed that 90 percent of the respondents felt that road maintenance was the most important item for the town to deal with.

Also involved with infrastructure were street lights; residents complained that there weren’t enough of them. They also want more bike lane markers.

Complaints included the lack of education about using the roundabout, the need for crosswalks around Veterans Memorial Park and broken sidewalks.

The group, which discussed the town’s utilities, wanted to move forward with undergrounding and they wanted to make sure of the quality of the utilities. In other words,how they stand up during storms. Continuity of service was important in their presentation.

Water was a concern for many residents. Belleair operates its own water system and the residents want to make sure that water quality was up to standards and the town makes a good investment in the water plant. They also wanted to make sure the town used recycled water for the town parks.

In that earlier survey, 77 percent of the responders wanted to make sure the town kept its own police force. That was also on top of the list produced by the group looking at public safety.

They also wanted to establish a neighborhood watch program, larger security fences along the nearby Pinellas Trail and security cameras at the access streets into town.

The largest group of the evening consisted of those who wanted to weigh in on the bluff, also known as Hallett Park.

They wanted to make sure the character of the park was maintained and they wanted a system to differentiate between residents and non-residents who use the park.

They also expressed concern over the stabilization of the bluff and wanted the town to be vigilant in its maintenance program in the area.

The final group to report dealt with the character of Belleair. They wanted to make sure Belleair maintained the small-town feel. They also wanted the town to maintain the mature landscape that is prevalent and to maintain the green space in the community, including the golf courses and the parks.

They also wanted to make sure the town keeps limited commercial activity.

All those points and others will now be prioritized by the Florida Institute of Government and their report will be presented to the Town Commission on Jan. 31.

The second part of the process, which will include more public meetings, also will result in a report to be presented on April 6.

The study, designed to formulate a short and long term strategic plan for the community, will cost the town $60,000.

In a preamble to the evening Town Manager J.P. Murphy presented some facts and figures about the community.

Belleair, he said, covers 1.7 square miles and has 5 miles of coastline. It also has 44 miles of roads and 24 acres of parks.

The population of Belleair is 4,088 and that is split evenly between males and females. The town has an annual per capita income of $51,000. Despite that Murphy said 3.6 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.

The town collects $4.6 million in property tax annually. The average price of a condo in Belleair is $250,000 and the average price of a single-family home is $750,000. The total value of the homes in Belleair is just over $1 billion.

A public meeting will be held at the town hall Jan. 24 to discuss the future of Hallett Park and the bluff. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.