Digital sign draws resident protests

A rendering of the sign proposed for the intersection of the causeway and Gulf Boulevard in Belleair Beach shows a structure that is 9 feet tall, styled to coordinate with other city signs. A plan by the county to put a series of the signs up and down Gulf Boulevard has been canceled.

BELLEAIR BEACH – A proposed large digital sign, which at one point appeared a near certainty to be placed at the city’s major intersection, has been turned down by the City Council.

Mayor Leslie Notaro told council members at their Nov. 6 meeting that residents were “pretty unanimous they did not want such a sign.”

The digital sign “is probably a dead issue,” said Notaro, and council members agreed.

Resident protests of the digital sign, which was planned to be put in Crossman Park at the corner of Gulf Boulevard and the Belleair Beach Causeway, were ignited when resident Mark Goldman questioned the sign’s fit for the city at the September council meeting. The council had already given an approval to “advertise for bids for a digital monument sign.” The electronic sign, which was first proposed over a year ago, was moving toward reality.

But Goldman said a digital sign “goes against everything else we’ve had” and “would commercialize the city.”

He urged the council before the purchase agreement is signed to give all the residents a chance to see the (sample) sign and “give them a chance to speak to whether we even want something of this nature in the city.”

Speak they did.

After Goldman’s remarks were reported in the Beach Bee, along with a rendering of the proposed sign, City Hall began receiving emails from disapproving residents. Comments opposing the sign also spread to social media.

Residents crowded city hall at the Oct. 2 City Council meeting to voice their opposition to an electronic digital sign with animated features, which one resident said looked like “something I would expect to see at the entryway to Treasure Island or Clearwater Beach, not in a residential community like Belleair Beach.”

Another said a digital sign “would change the whole residential feel of Belleair Beach just as much as a forbidden business sign would.”

Notaro said the whole idea of a digital sign came up because residents complained the existing sign outside of City Hall was too small and difficult to read.

The council will now explore other options for a sign to be placed in front of City Hall, not in Crossman Park on Gulf Boulevard.

Tie vote delays filling vacant council seat

Council members were unable to choose between two candidates to fill an open council seat. The seat became vacant after the recent death of Jeril Cohen, following a long illness. Cohen had served on the City Council since 2011.

The choices were former Mayor Rob Baldwin and Planning and Zoning board member Jody Shirley. Council heard from each.

Baldwin spoke of his experience as mayor and code enforcement board member, and cited his role in managing the construction of the city hall building as well as his knowledge of how the city works.

Shirley said she wants to focus on quality of life issues such as utility undergrounding and better maintenance to give the city “more curb appeal.” As a real estate developer, Shirley said she will work to improve property values and give the city “a clear direction.”

Council split in choosing between Baldwin and Shirley. Council members Jewels Chandler and John Pietrowski joined Mayor Notaro in picking Baldwin, a former mayor, while council members Pamela Gunn, Mitch Krach and Wanda Schwerer chose Shirley, new to the city’s political scene.

The 3 to 3 outcome was unchanged on a second vote. A special council meeting will now be held to pick the winner by a chance method. City Attorney Paul Marino recommended they “draw lots” to determine the outcome.

Council Member Mitch Krach announced he will not seek re-election in March. So it’s possible the loser of the current contest could run unopposed in March. Most Belleair Beach elections do not have opposing candidates.

Finance Director honored, city benefits

City Finance Director Melanie Kruszona was presented with a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association.

The award puts the city in a higher category of financial reporting, Kruszona said, meaning “if we go for a bond issue, we will be rated higher” and get a better borrowing rate.

Mayor Notaro presented the plaque. She commended Kruszona for doing “a great job.”

West Bay street changes opposed

Opposition to the county’s “Complete Streets” plan for West Bay Drive continues. Notaro said she had met with people from Belleair Bluffs and planned to have a meeting with county officials over concerns about parts of the program, including planned message boards along Gulf Boulevard and lane size reductions on West Bay.

“We’ve had a lot of pushback against making the lanes narrower and things that I’m hopeful we can get addressed,” Notaro said.