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Streetscape moves ahead but changes direction a bit

(ran PC edition)

The downtown project squeaks through the Zephyrhills council but loses its roundabout.

A sharply divided City Council voted Monday night to move forward with the downtown streetscaping project, eliminating in the process the controversial traffic roundabout that would have been the centerpiece of the Fifth Avenue business district.

By a 3-2 vote, the council accepted a bid of $860,000 from local contractor Carr Construction Services for the project. By scrapping the roundabout, the council cut $11,000 from the low bid of $871,000, submitted by Garland Carr Sr. and his son, David L. Carr.

The council, by the same narrow margin, voted to make its acceptance of the bid contingent upon the blessing of the state Department of Community Affairs.

The DCA awarded the city a $600,000 grant for the project when it still included plans for the roundabout. Now that the traffic circle is gone, some council members are worried that the DCA could withdraw the grant and leave the city holding a bill it can't afford.

The city has set aside $225,000 for the project.

Zephyrhills Planning Director Todd Vande Berg called DCA headquarters in Tallahassee on Tuesday to inform officials of the change. He left a message and hadn't heard back by the end of the day, he said.

City Manager Steve Spina, who recommended that the council accept the Carr bid with the roundabout intact, said he didn't expect any objections from DCA.

"If it's the community's desire to have stop signs there instead of a roundabout, I don't think that would jeopardize (the grant)," Spina told council members Monday night.

Council member Clyde Bracknell, who has led the fight to eliminate the roundabout, made the motion Monday night that killed it. Council members Cathi DeLuco and Alan Brenia voted with Bracknell to scrap the roundabout.

"I think (the roundabout) can be redesigned to move traffic faster and safer," Bracknell said. He also argued that eliminating it would save the city money.

But Vande Berg and Spina said it probably won't be a total savings: The city, they said, will now have to go back to the project engineers and pay them to draw a new set of plans that replace the roundabout with a four-way intersection.

Council President Elizabeth Geiger and council member Tim Ippolito voted against accepting the bid without the roundabout. Ippolito made a motion to accept the bid without changes, but it died when Bracknell's amendment passed.

Ippolito, clearly frustrated, voiced his displeasure at Bracknell's efforts to alter the plans that were approved by the City Council two years ago.

"This council voted to have this roundabout," he said. "That's what we wanted."

Bracknell expressed another concern about the project: He said downtown merchants were worried that construction would discourage patrons from the downtown business district during the city's busiest time of year.

Spina said the project should be finished by February. And the bulk of the heavy construction _ road and stormwater drainage improvements _ could be done by mid-November, he said.

But he warned council members to expect some delays if DCA doesn't respond immediately and if the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street _ the proposed location of the roundabout _ must be re-engineered.

David Carr said Monday night that he is ready to begin work as soon as DCA approves the change. He also said the city shouldn't need to hire an engineering firm to change a brick roundabout to an asphalt intersection.

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