DUNEDIN — After devoting three hours to the topic, the City Commission voted to pick up discussion on the controversial Patricia Avenue road closure next month.
Officials estimate 125 to 150 residents attended Thursday's meeting, filling the gallery to capacity and spilling into the lobby and outside overflow seating.
Many vowed to return Nov. 17, when city traffic engineer Joan Rice is scheduled to present an updated plan for resolving years-old complaints about excess traffic and speeding in the neighborhood once and for all.
Rice had urged commissioners to vote Thursday to remove barricades at McLean Street and San Salvador Drive, and instead relocate three nearby speed bumps to Patricia to deter cut-through traffic. She based her recommendation on traffic counts, which showed the blockade caused volume on several nearby roadways to spike to volumes that are near capacity or over capacity.
Forty-eight residents publicly shared their views on the plan— 30 of whom called for the reopening of Patricia, 17 for the closure to remain and one who was neutral, according to the city clerk's figures.
Some spoke of the renewed sense of safety they felt with the reduced traffic, while others lamented the new surge of vehicles on their streets or expressed fears about access to the neighborhood during medical and weather emergencies. Yet others saw the Rice's recommendation as a compromise that would allow the neighborhood to share the traffic burden.
Vice Mayor Ron Barnette and Mayor Dave Eggers — the only commissioner to vote against the closure in February — urged their colleagues to defer to Rice's expert recommendation, with the understanding that city staffers would continue to seek solutions for residents on San Salvador and other roadways.
"It's the beginning of a wider plan," Barnette said.
The motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Julie Ward Bujalski, Julie Scales and David Carson saying they didn't think speed bumps would work. They feared that reopening Patricia would recreate previously resolved traffic issues and only lead to more complaints.
However, a motion by Bujalski to have staffers return next month with a comprehensive plan to finally resolve the entire neighborhood's traffic issues through signage, speed bumps, police presence or other measures passed unanimously.
"I think staff made their recommendation based on the number of speed humps they had available to them because they've been trained not to order any," Bujalski said. "You just give us the recommendation on what to do based on your traffic expertise. Let us worry about how we find the money, and maybe if you can do that we can make both sides of the card happy."
Added Scales: "The commission is open to opening Patricia, but some of us want a higher level of assurance that the issue will have been dealt with."
In other action
• The city will issue full refunds to gun dealers and gunsmiths who may have been taxed for several decades in violation of state law. Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday to return a total of $3,600 to three local businesses. Officials also voted to change city codes to tax the firearms businesses at the same rate as other merchants in the future, and to retroactively subtract the corrected tax amounts from the refunds.
For years, Dunedin has charged gun dealers $150 and gunsmiths $45 in annual business taxes. City attorney Tom Trask says the fees may have been illegal because a 1987 state law barred cities and counties from enacting any gun regulations other than those spelled out by state statute. A 2011 revision added heavy fines and other penalties for local officials who are in violation.
Trask said he disagrees with a Florida Attorney General advisory opinion that cities can indeed levy business taxes on gun dealers so long as the fees are on par with those for other merchants
Under the proposed city code change, gun dealers will be taxed the same $25 base fee and $3 for every $1,000 of inventory as other merchants.
• In a 5-0 vote, commissioners approved $1,000 one-time bonuses and 1 percent raises for firefighters, retroactive to Oct. 1. The increases match those adopted for other city employees this budget season.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.