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Neighbors battle over road access

(ran Beach edition)

A light at a busy intersection likely to become busier seems like a good idea to some, but others aren't interested.

The debate over the future of neighborhoods surrounding Blind Pass Road is pitting neighbor against neighbor in the city's northern section.

Residents of the Blind Pass Road side streets appeared again before the City Commission Wednesday evening. One group expressed support for a traffic light at the intersection of 84th Avenue and Blind Pass Road, the only light proposed to slow traffic between Treasure Island and 75th Avenue.

The other group voiced dismay at the consequences of the light: The city would be forced to close off access from Blind Pass Road to more than a dozen residential streets.

Yet the heated discussion over the pros and cons of adding a light and closing the streets has moved beyond City Hall.

It continues in the neighborhood itself, where petitions are being circulated and survey cards are being distributed by the city of St. Pete Beach.

The group that wants the stoplight says the group against the street closures is a vocal, organized minority. Their opponents have voiced distrust of how the city has handled its survey and urged residents to keep check on how the city staff tabulates the surveys.

The commission will vote on the issue Sept. 19, one day before the Department of Transportation's deadline for a final decision.

Construction that will widen Blind Pass Road to five lanes is scheduled to begin in July 2001. The DOT project will cost $3.75-million.

The city continually has demanded a stoplight for the intersection of 84th Avenue and Blind Pass Road, home of two schools, two churches and heavy pedestrian traffic. The state refused, saying its traffic studies did not warrant a light.

After hiring its own traffic consultant, the city learned that closing several residential streets would divert enough traffic to 84th Avenue to reach the DOT standards for a light. Now, commissioners say they want neighborhood feedback on what homeowners north of 75th Avenue want for their community.

Wednesday night, commissioners again invited residents to voice their opinions about the street closures. Several people, particularly those who supported the stoplight, received some heckling from the commission chambers as Mayor Ward Friszolowski tried to control the decorum.

"We are concerned that without a light and some way to get children across five lanes of traffic, we may have buses sideswiped and cars sideswiped with children in them when they try to travel once it is five lanes," said Marcia Stone, principal at Gulf Beaches Elementary, which is located near the intersection that would receive a stoplight.

Stone went on to say she empathizes with the people who live in the neighborhood and don't want to see their streets' access to Blind Pass Road cut off, but when she mentioned she is not a resident of the city and called St. Pete Beach "St. Petersburg Beach," she received boos from the audience in commission chambers.

"We teach children about being respectful ..." Stone said. "I'm going to sit down and listen politely to people whose opinion differs from mine."

To gauge the community's response, the city tried to send a one-question survey to residents who live north of 75th Avenue in St. Pete Beach. Problems with the mailing contractor caused some residents in Treasure Island to receive the survey, so the city sent a second version.

Yet some St. Pete Beach residents have complained that even South Pasadena residents received some of the surveys, and the city acknowledges that the post office's regular mail routes forced them to send the surveys to homes and businesses as far south as 73rd Avenue.

Residents also are wary of neighbors, who might be opponents on this issue, cheating on the survey by making copies of it and filling several. The surveys are not identified with addresses or anything to legitimize them as official city surveys.

Of the surveys received by Thursday, 147 households are in favor of closing the roads to accommodate the stoplight; 370 oppose the road closures. The deadline for turning in the survey is Monday.