DUNEDIN — Sometimes the one thing that everyone says is impossible suddenly becomes possible, and Dunedin gets a golf cart crossing at Skinner and Bass boulevards.
In a phone interview, Commissioner Heather Gracy noted when she was first elected to office, back in 2012, one of the first items many constituents requested was for golf cart users to be able to legally cross Skinner Boulevard to travel downtown.
“I was always told ‘no, you can’t do it. It’s never going to happen; DOT won’t allow it, so don’t even try. So, we tried and got it,” Gracy said.
A few weeks ago, Gracy, City Engineer Jorge Quintas and Jerry Dabkowski, senior vice president with George F. Young, traveled to Tallahassee to visit senior Department of Transportation officials and plead their case, while explaining the plight of golf cart users.
“They did the science and I told the social story to senior DOT officials,” Gracy said. “Jorge and Jerry speak DOT very well.”
Gracy relayed how otherwise law-abiding residents are forced to break the law by illegally crossing with their golf carts at Bass and Skinner boulevards because they feel safer at the signalized intersection.
She told DOT officials, golf cart users fear for their safety crossing at the designed intersection of Monroe Street and Broadway Boulevard, where there is no signal.
“With cars racing by it’s like a wild, wild west, crossing,” she said.
She added once they cross Monroe Avenue those using a golf cart are then forced to travel south on an unpaved and potholed Victoria Drive.
One big selling point to Dunedin being granted a variance for a golf cart crossing along Skinner, also known as State Road 580, was the city’s plan to redesign the section of roadway north of downtown from four to two lanes, and slow traffic to 25 mph. DOT also loved the city’s well planned roundabout design to direct and slow traffic that will be added to along Skinner Boulevard, she said.
Gracy said DOT officials were surprised to learn the small downtown stretch of Skinner currently has two different traffic speeds 35 and 40 mph.
Under the new design, golf carts and pedestrians will cross Skinner at a signalized intersection on Bass Boulevard, where the traffic will be stopped in all directions, so they can safely cross, the city commissioner explained.
Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board Chairman John Freeborn congratulated Gracy at the March 7 CRA meeting.
“She, Jorge and Jerry Debkowski went up to Tallahassee and found us a golf cart crossing. That was quite an accomplishment from what I understand; DOT never does that,” Freeborn said.
CRA Director Bob Ironsmith said, “We’re very excited that it’s going to happen. Staff is working with the consultant to implement it.”
In announcing the long sought after good news to her Facebook followers, Gracy said, “If you’re a Dunedin golf carter I have some great news for you. I’ve been listening to your stories. I’ve been listening to how you feel unsafe. I’ve been watching you at this controversial Bass and Skinner intersection and have seen you cross. I know it’s not legal and I know you don’t feel safe.”
Gracy said she relayed to senior DOT officials “the social story of how you don’t feel safe on Monroe and Broadway and how you feel safer on Skinner at a signalized intersection. They listened to our story and believed the science and we can make some changes and make it much safer for the Dunedin golf carter.” In the phone interview, Gracy noted while she was recording her Facebook message, and standing on Skinner Boulevard, two golf carters illegally traversed the intersection. She said like so many others they were willing “to wear invisible handcuffs” to cross at a safer intersection.
Gracy cautioned golf carters that the Skinner intersection crossing is not legal yet. The city has a notification of variance approving the crossing but has to meet a few DOT roadway criteria to make it happen.
Sometime this summer, the city will have an official golf cart crossing grand opening at the Skinner and Bass Boulevard intersection, she said.
When Gracy announced at the City Commission’s work session March 5 that they got the variance, commissioners applauded.
The good news, city officials said, merits a golf cart parade.
“I think we can get a golf cart parade to go right through there and down on Main Street,” Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, adding that it should occur on the first day golf cart crossing at Bass and Skinner boulevards becomes legal.
They suggested that it be called the “inaugural crossing”
Commission takes another look at its Historic Preservation Ordinance
In another action at their March 7 regular meeting, city commissioners tabled a request by planning staff to adopt guidelines that govern the Historic Preservation Ordinance.
The decision came after board members realized the ordinance, they approved last October, allows future city commissioners to place a property under Historic Preservation auspices by a four-fifths vote, even if homeowners refuse to participate.
While Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she initially believed someone would have to request that their structure become part of the historic preservation process, City Planner Greg Rice advised under the ordinance a building can be declared a landmark by supermajority vote of the City Commission.
In addition, Rice advised the city that its Historic Preservation Advisory Board or the Dunedin Historical Society Museum can unilaterally start the process to put a structure under historic preservation protection.
“If the owner does not want that to happen, the only way it can be passed as a landmark is by a four-fifths majority of the commission,” Rice explained.
The mayor said, “I can’t imagine four-fifths of the commission voting for something that the owners don’t want.”
Rice said the reason the supermajority vote was placed into the ordinance is because between 2003 and 2010 an earlier and purely voluntary ordinance attracted no homeowners willing to participate.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said there are a lot of safeguards built into the ordinance.
City Attorney Tom Trask advised the city can revise its historic preservation ordinance to further define and clarify items the City Commission would have to consider in order to enact the four-fifths supermajority vote. Commissioners agreed with Trask and sent the ordinance back to staff for revision and re-adoption at a later hearing.
Meanwhile, City Manager Jennifer Bramley noted the historic preservation ordinance adopted in October remains in effect until changes are adopted.
Dunedin Beacon editor Tom Germond contributed to this story.