ST. PETE BEACH — To say that many Corey Avenue area business owners and residents are nervous about the possible transformation of the downtown section off Gulf Boulevard into a network of one-way streets would be a major understatement.
The City Commission chambers were crowded Tuesday with people who applauded speakers opposed to the plan.
The city is considering creating a circular, counterclockwise, one-way traffic pattern encompassing two blocks bounded by 75th Avenue on the north, Gulf Boulevard on the west, 73rd Avenue on the south and Blind Pass Road on the east.
"This is a more inviting street design, creating a place to stop, shop, eat, enjoy yourself," said city planner Catherine Hartley.
She described how the new traffic pattern would encourage pedestrian traffic, provide space for up to 100 parking spaces in the middle of the downtown core and allow room for beautification that would give the area a "sense of place" comparable to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
But the few who favored it or at least had an open mind about its possible benefits were in the minority.
One resident who lives at the St. Pete Beach Yacht and Tennis Club on Blind Pass Road, just south of the affected area, turned in a petition with signatures from 24 other residents opposed to the plan.
"I could get another 300 signatures from people opposed to this," Nanci Gaenslen told the commission.
Business owners had mixed reactions, with some adamantly against the plan and others who called it a "wonderful idea."
"I will be negatively impacted by this. People are never going to find us. Without the tourist season none of the businesses will stay open. If you do this, that will be the end of us," said Brandon Sadone, owner of PJ's Oyster Bar on W Corey Avenue.
Kathy Hanson, who owns a business on the corner of Corey Avenue and Blind Pass Road, was adamantly opposed to the plan.
"A lot of traffic doesn't mean a lot of business. I don't want more traffic. I want to keep Corey cozy," she said.
One business owner said he liked the idea.
"I respectfully disagree with some of the other business owners. Crossing Gulf Boulevard is pretty daunting. My hope is the area will become pedestrian-friendly," said Steve Valor, owner of Willy's restaurant and bar.
The mixed reactions are not stopping city officials, however, from continuing planning efforts for what they say would completely transform the city's core business district into a vibrant economic center that would be pedestrian-friendly and more efficient in directing traffic into and out of the city.
"I am not asking for any final decision, just if you feel we are moving in the right direction, then we would move to the next phase to give another level of detail," City Manager Mike Bonfield told the commission.
"We all need a better vision (of the traffic plan) before we can come to conclusions," Mayor Steve McFarlan said at the end of the meeting.
Bonfield said the next step in what he called an "incremental process" will involve preparing more detailed visuals for the proposed traffic change, probably within the next month.