BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Mayor Chris Arbutine said he strongly disagreed with a recent request by Belleair Beach Mayor Joseph Manzo, with the backing of that city’s council, to have Pinellas County “investigate the possibility of a toll for the Belleair Beach Causeway.” The bridge is a county bridge.
Manzo had said he saw the bridge toll as a way of reducing traffic congestion and also as a revenue producer, as Belleair Beach could get a portion of the toll revenue.
The west half of the bridge is in Belleair Beach and the east half is in Belleair Bluffs.
“We don’t want a toll on our side of the bridge. I don’t see any benefit in it, and we’re not for it,” Arbutine said at a March 9 City Commission workshop. “I don’t want to be lumped in with a small beach community that wants a toll.” The bridge is a county road “and a city cannot make a decision on that road,” he said.
“I’m one hundred percent behind you,” said Commissioner Taylour Shimkus.
Added Commissioner Joseph Barkley, “There’s only one mayor that wants this.”
Commissioner Suzy Sofer, who also owns Cody’s Restaurant, said, “It seems (Belleair Beach) wanted to start the process to see how far this would go. Hopefully, they’ll see people don’t want this and that it really won’t solve the problem.”
Arbutine said he remembers as a child riding his bike to the bridge in 1975 when the Causeway Bridge was a toll bridge.
“Those were not the good old days,” Arbutine said. “They had to make the lanes narrower. Everyone had to come to a stop.”
Arbutine wrapped up the discussion saying, “We don’t want a toll,” joined by a chorus of “I agree” from commission members.
Another mayor, Robert Schmidt of Belleair Shore, told the Bee that his town will bring up the toll at its next commission meeting, but wants people to understand that it is Belleair Beach, not Belleair Shore, that wants to pursue a toll on the bridge.
Trimming to commence on west side
A multiyear project to rid the city of dangerously low tree branches resumes with the trimming of trees on the city’s west side.
Public Works supervisor Russ Schmader said he had scheduled the city arborist to begin Phase 2 of project. It includes Palmer Road, Renatta Drive, Cortez Avenue, Pinehurst Avenue, Grove Lane, Sunset Drive, and Oakridge Lane.
Tree trimming on the east side of Indian Rocks Road was completed last September. The project began in September 2018.
Low-hanging trees in the city have been a major concern. Work to fix the problem began when the commission approved a contract with a tree service to “elevate the canopies under the trees for 15-feet ground clearance whose spreading branches have become an obstacle to traffic.”
The problem had become so severe that when Schmader joined the city two years ago, he saw garbage trucks being damaged by the trees, and low limbs were hindering emergency vehicle access, especially fire trucks.
Shimkus said at the time the branches had become so low there was not enough room for large vehicles to pass through, including fire trucks and ambulances, moving vans, school buses, tractor trailers or large delivery trucks.
Now, the east side of the city is free from the dangerously low branches, and work is beginning to complete the project on the west side.
According to a notice being distributed to affected residents, “The trimming over the street is necessary to allow for proper road clearance for sanitation trucks, emergency vehicles, and other vehicles of significant height, in accordance with the Florida Fire Protection Code.”
Infrastructure projects move forward
Other projects Schmader said are being completed include installation of new sidewalks on Lentz Road and correction of tripping hazards there, and roadway improvements to help turning restrictions on the Oakridge Lane cul-de-sac. Road reconstruction projects on Dolphin and Marlin drives are beginning.
The city has also entered an interlocal agreement with other communities bordering McKay Creek to test for nutrient pollutants in the water and find out where they are coming from, Schmader said.
Sunday alcohol sales hours to be extended
The commission voted to allow sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week. Sunday hours currently start at 11 a.m. A second reading of the ordinance needs to be approved before it takes effect.
The change is to bring the city’s alcoholic beverage rules in line with county regulations, City Attorney Thomas Trask said.
Belleair Bluffs now has a first lady. Arbutine recently wed Ashley Kildow in a ceremony at the historic Belleview Inn. Belleair Bluffs City Administrator Debra Sullivan officiated. Kildow is from Elkhart, Indiana and graduated from Indiana University. Arbutine has been mayor since 2001 and is currently the longest-serving mayor in Pinellas County.