BELLEAIR BEACH – Replacement and repair of worn out equipment at the Bayside Park playground turned into a debate about its future at the Jan. 8 City Council meeting.

Council members had a lively discussion about the playground equipment’s cost, its value to the city, changing demographics and whether the property would be better suited to another recreational use.

The playground equipment is rusted out, with pieces broken off and is a safety risk, said Interim City Manager Lynn Rives. The city is required to maintain the park as part of a grant agreement dating to the 1990s, Rives said. He said the city “will be spending $46,000 on the playground, with the council’s approval.”

Council members questioned the expense, and the playground’s role in a changing environment. Council Member Pamela Gunn asked why the city could not just remove the playground equipment “so we don’t run into this liability and safety issue down the road.”

Gunn said she questioned “spending almost $50,000 when we have so much neglected infrastructure.”

Gunn also wanted to know how many people use the playground and if they are from Belleair Beach. She also had concerns about the city’s liability connected to the playground.

City Attorney Paul Marino said the city’s insurance would cover the playground’s use. He also said, “There are a lot of young people with kids in this city who take advantage of that playground.”

Marino reminded the council that Bayside Park’s upkeep is mandatory. Options to simply maintain the playground or enhance it were included by Rives for the council to consider. He recommended “leaving the park as is, and just replace and repair the equipment in place as needed.”

The council should consider eliminating the playground altogether, said council member Rob Baldwin. That would open up options for other park improvements that would be of more benefit to more residents, he said.

Rives was uncertain whether the city would be allowed, under the terms of the original grant, to take out the playground equipment.

Council Member John Pietrowski disagreed with the idea of removing the playground.

“We definitely need to have something there for the kids,” he said.

“We do have more young families moving in,” Schwerer added.

Mayor Leslie Notaro said she favored adding exercise equipment.

“We can do a lot of different exercises,” said council member Julie Chandler.

Chandler asked whether the majority of council members wanted a playground or not.

A common concern was the cost.

“I’d like to look at cheaper options,” said Gunn.

“I could go with that,” Chandler said.

Resident Glenn Gunn, who is running for a council seat, said the city’s demographic makeup has become older since the 1990s, and the average age of the citizens is now 56-plus. Based on that, “We should be adding more fitness equipment, stretching bars, and chin-up bars.”

“The greatest playground in the world is 500 yards away. It’s called the beach,” Gunn said.

Mayor Notaro said the city attorney would check the grant contract for the park “and find out what we are required to do. Then we will talk more about this.”

Neighborhood utility undergrounding a go

Residents of the Bellevue Estates Island neighborhood, over the 22nd Street bridge, will be getting the undergrounding of utility wires they have sought for years. Rives announced the city has now received petitions from more than 70 percent of the residents in that neighborhood, exceeding the 50 percent approval threshold needed to move ahead with the project.

Rives said “it looks like the residents have made their (approval) goal, and we can move forward with this.” Formal approval will come after the Jan. 19 deadline for submission of petitions from the 115 homeowners.

The Council unanimously approved a request for the city manager to negotiate a contract for design and engineering services on the project with CPWG. Rives said this approval will “start the ball rolling” on the long-awaited undergrounding activity.

“Over the next 45 or so days there’s a lot of things that are going to be happening,” Rives said.