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Skateboarders, library backers get Clearwater reprieves

CLEARWATER — Skateboarders have reason to smile and supporters of keeping the North Greenwood Library open have reason to hope.

At a meeting Thursday night, the City Council relaxed a ban on skateboarding that took effect in mid July.

The city had acted in response to complaints from business owners about reckless skaters, some of whom had abused tourists. The city pointed to damage of public property.

The move sparked a backlash from skateboarders.

At the meeting, the council followed the lead of Mayor Frank Hibbard, who suggested tweaking the rules to allow skateboarding in some areas where it had been barred.

Though sympathetic to business concerns and bothered by damage skateboards have done to public property, Hibbard said he was wary of a few bad actors ruining things for all and was uncomfortable with a total ban.

Now, skateboarding will be permitted on the western BeachWalk promenade, but not the east side of South Gulfview Boulevard.

It also will be allowed on the western sidewalk of Mandalay Avenue in the retail district.

The ban will remain in effect on the eastern sidewalk of Mandalay, which is home to sidewalk cafes and heavy pedestrian traffic, and in Sundial Plaza.

"I think that's pretty reasonable," said skateboarder Austin Campbell, 15, after the decision was made, "because the people who don't like skateboarding can walk on the east side" of South Gulfview Boulevard.

Though no formal vote was taken, it became evident after a discussion that a majority of the council — John Doran, George Cretekos and Carlen Petersen —wants North Greenwood Library to be funded in next year's budget.

Preliminary plans to close the facility, which opened six years ago, had spurred an outcry from neighborhood backers and library loyalists.

To save the library, the council will consider a 9 percent property tax rate increase, from $4.72 to $5.15 for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

Due to a 13 percent decline in property values, the city will collect less revenue next year even with the proposed tax increase, $44 million, compared with $46 million this year.

Under the proposed rate, the owner of a homesteaded property with a value of $200,000 would pay $87 more a year.

The owner of a non-homestead property of the same value would pay an average $46 less.

About two-thirds of Clearwater properties are not homesteaded.

In the proposed budget, the amount allocated for road maintenance and improvements would be reduced by $500,000 to $2.1 million.

That $500,000 would be used to keep the library open. It also would fund a second rescue unit at Countryside Fire Station. Pinellas County, which has been paying for the unit, plans to cut the funding.

Further details and a more formal endorsement of keeping the library open is expected at the first of two public hearings on the budget scheduled for Sept. 3.

The budget year begins Oct. 1.

"I'm very pleased," said Eleanor Breland, 62, a lifelong North Greenwood resident, "if the council votes to keep the library open, because it's needed in the community."

Also Thursday, the council amended an ordinance that banned casual games of catch at parks and beaches. Now such play is allowed unless it represents a threat to public safety.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

Skateboarders, library backers get Clearwater reprieves 08/21/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 9:56pm]
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