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Clam Bayou Neighborhood Association says residents weren't informed of bike trail changes

Since October 2010, homeowners in the Clam Bayou Neighborhood Association have been trying to get answers from St. Petersburg officials.

The questions began when an employee from the city's engineering department showed up to survey land near Schaun Weingart's home on 34th Avenue S as part of a project to restore Clam Bayou and build a bike trail.

The original plan called for the bike trail to run along 35th Avenue S, south of three newly created ponds — which also required the removal of dozens of trees and native vegetation.

But Weingart and other neighbors say they didn't know those plans had changed.

The change moves the bike trail one block north, along 34th Avenue S, within 13 feet of Weingart's home, while at least five other homeowners across the street lose 6 feet from their front yards and driveways.

Those homeowners have made repeated trips to City Hall and appeared before the City Council on May 5 to express their concerns.

Since the trees were removed and the ponds were built, another issue has come up. Youths from the nearby Emerald Bay Apartment complex have been vandalizing their homes, the residents say. On the same day they addressed the council, one of the homes was robbed and a 14-year-old who lives there was beaten.

"Lost in all the confusion is the safety issue," said a frustrated Mary Love White, whose son Ransom was assaulted during the break-in. "We've all been threatened like crazy. What's going to happen when school lets out?"

According to White and Weingart, youths from the apartment complex broke a hole in the chain-link fence behind the complex and started causing problems. After months of complaints, the fence was repaired Thursday afternoon. But there are larger holes elsewhere along the fence.

"We've never had anything there except a beautiful wooded sanctuary, and now that's changed," said White.

The Clam Bayou restoration project is a collaborative effort by the cities of St. Petersburg and Gulfport and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. It's designed to cleanse the water that flows into nearby Clam Bayou.

That sounds noble, but not to the homeowners most directly affected. "Every time we ask when the changes were made, we get a runaround," said White. "We have yet to see any documentation about the change of location since we first asked in October."

White said some city officials say the changes were made in 2007 or 2009, but a Police Department survey, which weighed heavily in the decision to move the trail location, wasn't conducted until April 29, 2010.

The trail plan was developed by St. Petersburg's Transportation Planning and Engineering departments and funded by the state Department of Transportation. The city approved the project on May 30, 2007. But that original plan was scrapped by city officials from four departments.

A Jan. 20 memo from Joe Kubicki, director of transportation and parking, says the decision was made by city staffers in the engineering, parks, police and transportation departments. They concluded that 34th Avenue was a better route because it would have less impact on the preservation area and cost $160,000 less. The new route also would require less maintenance and be safer.

That raises a couple of questions.

Did the city officials really consider the impact on the preservation area before they took out the trees and put in the ponds? The dozen or so palm trees and sod that were installed when the ponds went in are now dead. So much for the maintenance issue.

Also, whose safety is the city concerned about? Surely not the taxpaying residents along 34th Avenue.

Until the robbery and assault, few in the city seemed to hear the residents' complaints.

What is more baffling is that 35th Avenue is a dirt road that is used solely to get to a waterfront home at the end of the street that is owned by the city of St. Petersburg and leased by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg for its marine science department.

It makes you wonder whether the city is more interested in keeping people away from its waterfront home than looking out for the interests of the residents along 34th Avenue.

Those residents want to know why they were not notified of the changes to the master plan. At the May 5 City Council meeting, Kubicki and Tom Gibson, director of engineering and capital improvements, said notices were sent to residents.

Last week residents said those same officials told them that their one opportunity to weigh in on the changes was a public meeting on Feb. 13, 2007.

Get this. That meeting was at PTEC-St. Petersburg at 901 34th St. S and was held to discuss the Greater Childs Park strategic plan. The notice read: "There will be a number of city and county departments, as well as social service agencies, that serve the Greater Childs Park area. This is your chance to ask questions and get information from the people who can help."

It was sent to residents in Childs Park, but not to the residents in Clam Bayou.

Oddly enough, the Clam Bayou trail is buried in that strategic plan.

Mayor Bill Foster, who spent more than an hour in the neighborhood Monday, said Friday he has concerns about the trail location, too. "The city must consider how this affects the residents," he said.

Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at sgadsden@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8874.

Clam Bayou Neighborhood Association says residents weren't informed of bike trail changes 05/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 7:46pm]

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