BELLEAIR — The permanent closing of Poinsettia Road to vehicle traffic at the Pinellas Trail — if it eventually happens — could lead to lawsuits from neighboring Largo, which just completed its own road work that connects to Belleair, Town Manager JP Murphy said.
“It is likely Largo would sue or otherwise demand that we pay for those costs associated with their side, and it would be interesting to see if they would seek damages for the new project they just installed,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who does not have a vote on the commission, said the cost of the road closure project, which Belleair Deputy Mayor Karla Rettstatt estimated at half a million dollars, does not include the lawsuits or other unseen costs such a project might create, Murphy said.
“If the commission were to eventually decide to close the road, we would have to design cul-de-sacs or other terminals for both sides of the trail, possibly buy right-of-way to accommodate said design,” he said. “Then of course there's construction,” he continued.
Though RS&H Inc. of Tampa already performed a preliminary traffic impact study, the city will have to pay for a formal study to measure the closure’s impact on traffic flow throughout the bedroom community. Only then can the commission make a decision, he said.
“I will provide the commission quotes to move forward with a more formalized traffic study and origin study,” he said. “So that they can choose which way they want to proceed from there.”
Nevertheless, the Town Commission meeting Oct. 20 set aside plenty of time for residents to give their opinion on whether the entrance to the main thoroughfare from Clearwater-Largo Road into the town ought to be left alone or blocked to create a quieter, pedestrian-friendly street.
The idea of closing Poinsettia Road, which becomes Rosery Road on the other side of Pinellas Trail, arose after Largo closed the road last year to divert traffic from its own road project. Belleair town limits begin on the west side of the Pinellas Trail on Poinsettia. Residents along the quieted Poinsettia say the closure led to a safer, quieter atmosphere that transformed their part of town into a pedestrian plaza of sorts, where parents can walk babies in strollers, watch their children play in the street and enjoy their yards without cars driving by.
Since then, hundreds of residents then signed a petition asking the commission to consider closing it permanently.
Ryan Campbell, whose home is on the corner of Poinsettia Road and Cypress Avenue just two blocks from the closed road, told Tampa Bay Newspapers he does not miss the beach traffic that once used Poinsettia on busy weekends.
“We bought our house at the end of May, it is our first house,” Campbell said. “The major concern with me is the heavier traffic on the road. When East Bay/West Bay Drive is backed up, people cut through here to go to the beach.”
Campbell and his wife, who had their first child July 7, worry about the safety of children. “I’ve got a decent-sized front yard and side yard,” Campbell said. “If I put up a basketball hoop in the driveway, I have to worry about my children and cars coming by.”
Ron Kratzke, who uses Poinsettia Road from his home in Belleair, disagrees that the road closing led to more pedestrian activity and neighborly mingling along the closed street.
“I think if they really sat down and thought about it, when the road was closed in November, there was no change in their behavior,” Kratzke said. “When COVID-19 came along, that’s what changed their behavior.”
He believes not enough is known to close the road permanently.
“I don’t think anyone has done a worthy job of what is needed or why it is being done,” said Kratzke, an engineer attached to Dassault Systemes. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to address the needs of a few people who live along that road.”
According to the preliminary RS&H study, based on Florida Department of Transportation figures, the diverted traffic would fill other streets into town. Poinsettia, which sees 2,400 vehicles a day, would see 1,900 fewer vehicles a day. The traffic would be diverted to Ponce De Leon Boulevard, which would see 400 more vehicles a day, while Mehlenbacher Road would take on an additional 1,500 vehicles a day, according to RS&H survey.
“I don’t think the survey is the first step,” Kratzke said. “The first step is the commission to figure out the problem the people want a solution to. Whatever they do is going to cause impact on other parts of the town. I don’t think they fully understand that.”
Will the closure inhibit emergency agencies?
Another question the commission must answer, according to Murphy: Will closing Poinsettia Road at the Pinellas Trail hamper the ability of police, fire and other emergency units to respond to emergencies?
Belleair Police Chief Richard J. Doyle told the Tampa Bay Newspapers that he has no opinion on the road closure, but it would not impede his officers’ ability to respond anywhere in town.
“There would be no impact on police department’s ability to do its job,” he said. “There are all kinds of ways of getting around town. In fact, our jurisdiction ends on the town side of the Pinellas Trail.”
Largo Fire Chief Chad Pittman, whose fire stations serve Belleair, said his units have used Poinsettia to respond to fires in Belleair. He analyzed the Largo Fire Department’s data from the multi-alarm fire on Stonegate Drive in December 2018 and discovered that two units approached the blaze down Poinsettia Road.
He said units from Fire Station 43 in Largo, driving down Clearwater-Largo Road, would turn onto Rosery Road, which becomes Poinsettia at the Pinellas Trail. Belleair could now block that access at the Pinellas Trail.
“If a call were to come in from Belleair to Station 43, that road would be utilized,” Pittman told commissioners and residents at the Oct. 20 meeting. “From my point of view, the more access we have, the better.”