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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Clearwater revamping Blast Friday events downtown

CLEARWATER -- Blast Friday, the family-friendly street party held once a month in downtown Clearwater, is intended to give a boost to downtown’s entire Cleveland Street business district.


But despite the large crowds that it can draw, some people question whether the city-sponsored monthly event has had much of a lasting effect.


Keeping that in mind, the city is revamping the event, which is generally held every fourth Friday from December through May.


Meanwhile, on another front, elected officials would like to steer more public events toward the long-neglected Crest Lake Park, which used to host more gatherings.


Blast Friday got its start in 2009 as Fourth Friday, a monthly street festival organized by volunteers with the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. When the time-consuming job became too much for a band of volunteers, the city got Ruth Eckerd Hall involved.


With city funding, Ruth Eckerd began staging monthly “Blast Friday” concerts on Cleveland Street at Osceola Avenue. That’s next to the Capitol Theatre, which Ruth Eckerd manages for the city. The free shows have been headlined by acts like Molly Hatchet, Candlebox and Dave Mason.


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Safety Harbor to consider tree rules, outside agency funding

SAFETY HARBOR| With a new moratorium on tree removal in place, the city is now focused on fine-tuning an ordinance that strengthens existing tree protection rules.

All city commissioners but Richard Blake this month voted to ban tree cuts through April 1 unless the updated ordinance is passed sooner. The proposed law would expand Safety Harbor’s authority beyond grand trees of a certain size to all trees within city limits.

Commissioners will discuss ordinance language during a City Hall workshop 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, with their regular meeting following.

Items on the regular meeting agenda include a proposed budget amendment that would restore $27,000 gleaned through a deferred hire, reduced health insurance costs and other savings to the Chamber of Commerce, Neighborly Care Network and Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center.

Controversy over reducing the funding during summer budget talks generated outcry from multiple residents and prompted two commissioners to vote against the 2015 budget. …

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Second lawsuit seeking to save Belleview Biltmore from demolition is dismissed

BELLEAIR -- A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a preservation advocacy group seeking to save the former Belleview Biltmore hotel from demolition.

Friends of the Belleview Biltmore and its president, Rae Claire Johnson, had accused Belleair commissioners of nepotism and colluding in the hotel’s sale by failing to enforce both town and federal historic preservation laws. The suit said the town’s inaction gave the Biltmore’s owners carte blanche to illegally withhold routine maintenance in hopes of making a case for demolition.

Johnson and Belleair residents Doris E. Hanson and Mary Lou White asked the court to stop hotel owners from selling the property to a private developer, force the owners to make repairs, make the town levy code enforcement fines and grant the plaintiffs restitution for lowered property values.

However, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. McCoun III on Friday granted Belleair and owner BB Hotel LLC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. …

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City Council delays water tank next to Eckerd College


St. Petersburg--The City Council delayed a proposed 15 million gallon water storage tank near Eckerd College Thursday, pleasing college officials. 

The tank would store reclaimed water that didn't meet quality standards and is needed to comply with state regulations, city officials say. 

But college officials say they want the state's Department of Environmental Protection to confirm that's the case. And they are concerned about the unsightly addition of a 51-foot tank at the edge of campus. 

About midway through the 45-minute debate, City Public Works Administrator Michael Connors told the council that the city just wanted to present its report. 

That was a reversal from the city's position from the day before when Connors told Eckerd that the city planned to ask council to approve the $3,058,000 contract to build the 225-foot diameter tank. 

The project was already delayed once last month after Eckerd officials objected. 

Eckerd President Donald Eastman thanked the council, saying the private college wanted to be a good neighbor. He said the college's consultants would have a better idea of the project in about 30 days.  …

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Bliss condo tower delayed for ordinance tweak


St. Petersburg---After several hours of debate and dozens of speakers, the City Council decided to delay a decision on the Bliss condo tower project until the city can tweak its parking garage ordinance. 

Two attorneys on the council ---Charlie Gerdes and Jim Kennedy--voiced concerns that the language of the city ordinance could pose problems in court because it appears to limit the types of garages to categories that don't include a car elevator---which developer Brian Taub plans to use in his 18-story tower wedged on a narrow sliver of land at Fourth Avenue NE, just off Beach Drive. 

If the ordinance is rewritten, they argued, it could nullify opponents arguments that the development violates existing municipal law.  

But  a law suit still seems likely as opponents at Thursday's public hearing said they would continue the fight in court  if the council upheld the Development Review Commission's unanimous approval of the project. 

Kennedy's motion passed by a 5-3 vote. An earlier motion by council member Steve Kornell to uphold the DRC decision failed in a 4-4 deadlock.  …

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New Fenway Hotel owners hosting open house

DUNEDIN| Residents will get their first glimpse of renovation plans for the Fenway during a series of meetings rolled out by the historic hotel’s new owners.

The Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America plans to spend $14 million remodeling the dilapidated building into the health and wellness group’s new headquarters and adding townhomes.

The Edgewater Drive Advisory Committee, a panel of residents who make recommendations to the City Commission, will consider the project next Thursday.

The Taoist society will host an open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at Church of the Good Shepherd, 639 Edgewater Drive. Residents are invited to enjoy snacks and a tai chi demonstration while gathering more information about the proposal.

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Noticing error delays final Belleview Biltmore hearings

BELLEAIR| The fate of the Belleview Biltmore has been delayed as town staff scrambles to reschedule two final votes amid a public notice error.

An advisory board of residents called the Historic Preservation Board was supposed to hear JMC Communities’ revamped plan to save a single wing of the historic hotel and give its recommendation this Thursday.

The Town Commission had been scheduled to take a final vote Nov. 13.

However, both meetings have been pushed back to allow the town to provide the required 30-day notice to state historic preservation officials.

The Historic Preservation Board will now meet at 4 p.m. Dec. 9. The commission will hold a final public hearing and vote that same day at 5:30 p.m.



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Postmortem: Gerard vs. Hooper

One of the closest and hardest-fought local races Tuesday night was the contest for the countywide District 2 seat on the Pinellas County Commission. Largo Mayor Pat Gerard edged out state Rep. Ed Hooper by 51 to 49 percent, ensuring that the commission will have a Democratic majority for the first time in 50 years.

"There was a time when you wouldn't have run as a Democrat in this county. Times have changed," said gerard, who has served on the Largo City Commission for 14 years, the past eight as the city's first female mayor.

The race between the two experienced Pinellas pols was tough and expensive. The two hurled accusations at each other and spent tens of thousands of dollars on attack ads and direct-mail pieces.

"Pat tried to label me -- she did very well -- as Tallahassee Ed," Hooper said. He added that negative campaigning works.

Gerard was seriously happy Tuesday night, although she and her supporters at an election watch party were pretty bummed about the resounding defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum.

"I don't understand it," Gerard said of Greenlight's fate. "It's going to be a long time before we're able to do something about that." …

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On the morning after, Bob Buckhorn riffs on the idea of running for governor in 2018

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn speaks at a news conference on a park project in Tampa this summer.


Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn speaks at a news conference on a park project in Tampa this summer.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wasted no time Wednesday before mentioning and flirting with the idea of running for governor in 2018.

“Where’s the fan?”

The joke — a reference to Charlie Crist’s ever-present and controversial fan — was the first thing out of Buckhorn’s mouth at his first public event of the day, a ground-breaking for a 21-story apartment tower on Harbour Island.

It didn’t stop there.

“I don’t know about you all, but I’m so glad that campaign’s over,” Buckhorn told a small group of developers and others. “It’s time to get back to the business of actually getting  things done and stop complaining about who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican and who’s shady and who flip-flopped.

“That’s why being a mayor is the best job in America, is because I don’t have to deal with any of that nonsense,” he said.

“At least, yet,” he added. “There will be an open seat in four years. I’m just saying.”

After the ground-breaking, Buckhorn said he was only joking about something that is already in the air. …

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Map makes it clear where Greenlight Pinellas went wrong

Times art / Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections

Greenlight Pinellas, which needed a simple majority to pass, garnered support from just 38 percent of county voters. But those numbers only tell part of the story.

This precinct map shows how geographically concentrated the support was for the transit referendum that would have raised the sales tax by a penny, to 8 cents on the dollar, to expand bus service and built a light rail line connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Except for a couple of outliers in the central part of the county, all of the measure's support was concentrated in central and southern St. Petersburg, south of 54th Avenue N.

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Join us as tonight's results come in

Months of mudslinging and millions of dollars in negative campaign ads come to fruition today: Florida’s Election Day. And the place to be for the latest results and analysis is tampabay.com.

The Times will have more than two dozen reporters and photographers embedded with campaigns and elections officials around Tampa Bay and the state. We’re hosting a live blog that will report results as soon as they are available.

You can participate in the blog, too. Add your comments or upload your photos. Share your smartphone videos and Instagram snaps. Follow our tweets and those of your fellow voters.

From the voting booth to the victory parties, you won’t miss a thing if you spend the evening with us. No matter who you favorite candidates are, let’s join together for one evening to celebrate democracy.

To be a part of this exciting night, go to tbtim.es/electionday.

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Salvador tower won't be built with pile drivers


ST. PETERSBURG ----Downtown residents wearied by months of pile-driving for an apartment tower on 3rd Street South near Publix are fearful another tower slated to be built nearby will also use the noisy construction method. 

Relax, say city officials. The Salvador, a planned 13-story, 74-unit residential tower at the corner of  Dali Boulevard S and 2nd Street South won't use pile drivers. 

The developers have indicated that they'll use drilled shafts instead of high-pressure hammers to sink the foundation for the upscale building, said Rick Dunn, the city's top building inspector. 

No official word on when construction will begin, Dunn said. 

St. Petersburg has responded to resident complaints about the pile driving that's been rattling shelves and nerves around the 330 3rd St. S. apartment tower by convening a meeting this month between developers and neighborhood groups.  

At this Thursday's City Council meeting, council member Karl Nurse plans to ask the city to require developers to at least hold off until 9 a.m. before the clanging starts. 


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St. Pete fire chief cleared of wrongdoing in hire


St. Petersburg---A city investigation into the hiring of a Fire Department rescue chief earlier this year has cleared Chief Jim Large of any wrongdoing. 

The Oct. 15 report states that an initial probe in September had wrongly concluded that Large had made missteps when he hired then-Capt. Ian Womack in April.  

The job was exempt, meaning that Large didn't have to post the vacancy or follow the normal vetting processes required by city rules.   

The investigation by the city's Human Resources Department also concluded that Womack was the most qualified candidate due to his experience and "success" in his role as acting division chief in the five months before his promotion. 

An anonymous complaint in July triggered the original investigation. That report  found that Large hadn't notified all department personnel when he downgraded the position to division chief level, which doesn't require a college degree. 

Womack doesn't have a college degree.  Lt. Richard Henderson, who does have a college degree, also expressed interest in the job before Large changed its requirements. Henderson said he was unaware that the chief later changed the requirements.  …

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City says homeless report blasting St. Pete is yesterday's news

ST. PETERSBURG-- On the heels of a glowing write-up in the Boston Globe--- the latest in a string of national and international kudos touting St. Petersburg--- comes a spotlight that backdrops the city in a markedly different hue. 

A report presented to the United Nations characterizes the city's treatment of the homeless as a criminal travesty. 

The national report, written by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, was submitted to the UN Committee on Torture in September. A section is devoted to St. Petersburg's policies, including its Safe Harbor project. 

The takeaway? " Under this plan, homeless people in St. Petersburg have no option to conduct any of their basic life necessities - indeed even to exist - in the city without the threat of extended  solitary confinement or exile. " 

Here is the link to the report: http://nlchp.org/documents/CAT_Criminalization_Shadow_Report_2014 

Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration said the report contained outdated information and was compiled in January, when Kriseman was just entering office.  …

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Class-action lawsuit filed in South Florida against red-light camera operator American Traffic Solutions

Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, one of Hillsborough County's red-light camera intersections.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times (2011)

Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, one of Hillsborough County's red-light camera intersections.

Two weeks after a South Florida appeals court dealt a setback to red-light cameras in Hollywood, Fla., the Associated Press reports that two motorists have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company that operates red-light camera programs throughout Florida, including for Tampa and a half-dozen other bay area communities.

Here is the AP's story:

MIAMI (AP) — Two Florida drivers have filed a class action lawsuit against a private company that ran red light cameras for more than 70 Florida municipalities.

Christopher Parker and Marwa Moussa said in a lawsuit filed Monday that their rights to due process were violated by the Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions.

They say the company was given improper authority for decisions that should have been made by law enforcement officers.

The lawsuit is seeking more than $5 million and seeks to include anyone who was issued a ticket and paid fines from cases handled by the company.

The cameras capture motorists running through red lights or committing other traffic violations.

Company spokesman Charles Territo says the company complies with the law and doesn't decide what is a violation. …

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