The effort to improve the look of the Ninth Avenue corridor in Safety Harbor goes on, almost two years after the city's installation of some limited landscaping there raised an issue of race.
Ninth Avenue runs alongside the CSX railroad line, past industrial businesses and modest, predominantly black neighborhoods. On its north end, Ninth Avenue leads to some of the city's most exclusive, predominantly white neighborhoods.
In 2006, the city spent about $13,000 to put in some plants to dress up the dingy Ninth Avenue corridor. The north end, near the pricey enclaves, got nicer plantings, such as dwarf magnolia and crape myrtle trees. The south end got shrubs.
Some black residents felt their neighborhoods had been slighted. City commissioners were concerned about the appearance of a racial divide in the landscaping project. So the city staff was dispatched to plant some crape myrtle trees along the south end.
It was a temporary fix that soon will be improved upon. At a meeting earlier this month, Safety Harbor city commissioners decided to proceed with a professionally designed landscaping project along the length of the Ninth Avenue corridor.
Paradise By Design, a Safety Harbor business, has been hired to draw up a landscaping plan. Company president James Montgomery, a landscape architect, presented his design to commissioners at their April 7 meeting. The plan builds on the city's earlier efforts, proposing dwarf magnolias, crape myrtles, sabal and Washingtonia palms, native shrubs, wild petunia and even a few live oak trees along Ninth Avenue from Marshall Street to Third Street S.
Montgomery noted there are some significant challenges to overcome. The public right of way along Ninth is narrow in some areas. There are underground utilities and overhead electric lines to avoid. CSX Railroad has right of way along its rail line, so some of what looks like public street right of way isn't. The city will approach CSX for permission to use some of its right of way.
A significant obstacle is that some of the Ninth Avenue right of way is used for overflow parking for downtown events and for employee and customer parking by area businesses. The city will ask businesses to come up with alternatives for their employee and customer parking, but Clearwater officials could tell Safety Harbor officials a thing or two about the difficulty of reclaiming public right of way traditionally used by private property owners. Clearwater took back right of way that had been used by motel owners on Clearwater Beach for decades and is still criticized for it.
"Changing this social behavior may not be easy," Montgomery told the City Commission.
Commissioners talked about installing rail fencing in some areas to protect the new landscaping from motorists searching for parking spots. They also decided to consider creating some designated public parking areas along Ninth Avenue to get ahead of the problem.
The nearly milelong landscaping project will cost $57,000 for materials alone, and installation could cost double that amount. The city has only $30,000 available and that is through its Community Redevelopment Agency, so the money could be used to install the landscaping only along the part of Ninth Avenue that is inside the redevelopment area. City Manager Matt Spoor noted that no money is budgeted for the part of the project from M.L. King (Fourth) Street to Marshall Street.
With municipal budgets tightened by the economic downturn and state tax reform, commissioners conceded that the project will have to be done in phases to stretch out the costs. However, they showed no interest in backing off. They directed the city staff to proceed with creating a budget and meeting with CSX and area property owners.
Safety Harbor has invested considerable effort and money in beautifying other parts of the city. Ninth Avenue should get its due.