DUNEDIN — City leaders are bracing themselves for possible fallout over a proposal to improve safety and decades-old drainage problems by widening a road on Dunedin's south side and adding sidewalks to it.
In a 5-0 vote Thursday night, the City Commission approved spending $4,000 on a topographical study to begin exploring improvements to the 400 and 500 blocks of Norfolk Street, between Douglas and Milwaukee avenues. The city would:
• Bring the stretch of road up to current standards by adding curbs, gutters and six more feet of width. Norfolk is currently only 18 feet wide.
• Install a stormwater drainage system that would be connected to one currently being laid along Orangewood Avenue.
• Add sidewalks to prevent homeowners and neighborhood children from walking or playing in the street.
The preliminary proposal is aimed at addressing complaints that were most recently raised at a March south side meeting, where residents complained about poor drainage and difficulty parking on the narrow streets. Four residents who attended Thursday's city meeting urged leaders to consider approving the fixes, which city leaders agree are overdue.
But officials anticipate that at least one aspect of the plan might upset some homeowners who have come to regard much of the 50-foot-wide, city-owned right-of-way as their own property.
"I think part of the sidewalk issue is they've been so used to city property being their front yards that they're like, 'Well, they're going to take my yard,' " said Cindy Lavezzo, a Norfolk resident who has revived a petition drive for sidewalks, which died years ago for lack of support. "That street's been like that for so long that they just consider it their property."
In that vein, staffers Thursday presented estimates for drainage pipes and road widening only. The city hopes to roll the construction into ongoing work along nearby Orangewood. Officials could pay for the $350,000 worth of work using any unspent Orangewood dollars or Penny for Pinellas funds, where $624,000 is currently budgeted for streetscaping along S Douglas Avenue.
But first, city engineer Tom Burke said, staffers will draw up a conceptual design, then meet with Norfolk residents to gauge their support, then come back before commissioners in six weeks.
At that point, commissioners would decide if and how to fund the project. Burke said sidewalks would cost an additional $45,000 for one side of Norfolk, or $90,000 on both sides.
"For our purpose of drainage improvements, we don't need to get the sidewalks done," Burke said. "But if we're out there, I would assume ... we get that done."
City policy has been to install sidewalks in a neighborhood only if 51 percent of residents support it via petition.
But officials noted Thursday that a recent change allows the city to add sidewalks when there is a potential public safety hazard. Commissioner David Carson also pointed out that city code requires sidewalks in all new neighborhoods or subdivisions built in Dunedin.
"When you talk to people who don't want sidewalks, they're very strong and very emotional against sidewalks. But this is, in my opinion, a very strong public safety issue. Sidewalks are just part of the urban environment and should be everywhere we walk," Carson said. Without sidewalks, "you're telling kids and neighbors to walk in the streets. And if somebody gets run over, I think we're somewhat responsible for that."
In other news
•Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski proposed a one-time fee reduction of $1,000 for the Dunedin Highland Games Committee as it plans its first event since the death of its longtime chairman. Bujalski said the committee has had to make cuts in lieu of donations typically secured by Sandy Keith, Dunedin's longtime pipe band director, who died in February. She said the group pays the city over $5,000 in fees annually. Officials will consider Bujalski's request at a future meeting.
•The commission plans to mail a letter to Gov. Rick Scott encouraging him to approve funding for beach renourishment at Honeymoon Island State Park. The Florida Legislature recently approved the $5.63 million needed to pump 100,000 cubic yards of sand from Hurricane Pass, install three erosion-fighting devices on the beach, and reconfigure the crumbling north parking lot. The measure is now awaiting Scott's signature.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.