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Oldsmar turns down Bay Arbor site plan

Vice Mayor Jim Ronecker threatened to have a resident removed from the City Council chamber. Representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation were booed. And ultimately the council unanimously voted against approving the site plan for Bay Arbor Place, a multiuse development proposed for Tampa Road.

That pleased the 150 or so Bay Arbor residents who packed the chamber Tuesday night.

The vote on the site plan had been postponed last month after residents voiced opposition to the development, set for the former Cox Lumber site that would have entrances on both Tampa Road and Bay Arbor Boulevard. The council delayed the vote to give residents time to meet with DOT officials.

Bay Arbor residents said they like the development, which calls for a 66,418-square-foot, mixed-use development on 8.17 acres.

However, they want a light at the intersection of Tampa Road and Bay Arbor Boulevard, the only entrance to their community of about 240 homes. The neighborhood's children wait at the busy intersection for the school bus.

Last month, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said the agency would not put up a traffic signal. She said that intersection is too close to the existing signal at Forest Lakes Boulevard and that a traffic study by the engineering group on the project, TBE Group, doesn't warrant one.

During the two-hour discussion Tuesday, council members heard from Tony Dzielski, director of transportation for the Pinellas County School District. He said that school buses will continue to stop on Tampa Road and would only turn on to Bay Arbor if the boulevard is widened to facilitate the buses' turns and if a traffic light is installed.

"When we're on Tampa Road, we control the traffic," he said. "We can turn on the lights."

Bryan Fisher, the architect on the Bay Arbor Place project, told the council, "We want a light there as much as anyone.

"If we only had access off Tampa Road, we'd have to re-look at the type of development," Fisher said.

Council members heard from residents such as Barbara Blewitt, who said, "One child dies and God help you all, because that's where (the responsibility would) sit."

Doug Bevis, president of the homeowner's association, said that the neighborhood would like to see a site plan approved without a connection to Bay Arbor Boulevard.

"I'm wiling to take the chance and roll the dice and have you vote tonight," Bevis said, to applause.

"I know so many mothers out there and we play Russian roulette every morning" negotiating traffic, said Beth Davidson, who has three children.

And council members also heard from the DOT - with interjections from those in the audience.

"You will create more crashes at the intersection with a traffic signal," said Gary Thompson, the district traffic operations engineer.

What, what? some residents shouted.

"Common sense shows that it warrants a red light there," Vice Mayor Ronecker replied to Thompson.

"The numbers we have at Bay Arbor at the present time do not meet" the minimum requirements, termed warrants, Thompson said.

"You can't just arbitrarily say no," countered council member Janice Miller.

"Well, I'm not arbitrarily saying no," Thompson answered.

"I mean we can influence the warrants. If you want to do a study, I can have everyone in this room take left-hand turns all day long," Ronecker added, which brought applause from the residents.

"I also understand that there's not much I can say up there that will get applause," Thompson said.

At one point, Ronecker had to stop audience members from shouting their comments by threatening to evict one woman. Ronecker was presiding in place of Mayor Jerry Beverland, who missed the meeting because of a back injury.

Ronecker finally asked City Clerk Lisa Lene to call the roll:

Council member Suzanne Vale:

No.

Council member Miller:

No.

Council member Don Bohr:

No.

Vice Mayor Ronecker:

Nope.

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