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This beach access just south of the Don Cesar Hotel in St. Pete Beach was at the center of a recent court ruling that prompted the City Commission to end a lawsuit brought by a nearby property owner. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
This beach access just south of the Don Cesar Hotel in St. Pete Beach was at the center of a recent court ruling that prompted the City Commission to end a lawsuit brought by a nearby property owner. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Jul. 11, 2018


Group to focus on needs of marginalized residents

An Ad Hoc Housing Team has been formed to assess the housing needs of elderly LGBTQ and disabled residents and how they might be met.

The group will hold its first meeting 7 p.m. July 25 at the King of Peace MCC Church, 3150 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg.

Robert "Bob" Poe, a grand marshal of the city's recent 2018 Pride Parade, is organizing the effort and inviting experts such as bankers, lawyers, grant writers and real estate professionals to attend. He said the group also hopes others, such as zoning experts, politicians, doctors, nurses and social workers will join the inaugural discussion.

Poe added that a great deal more needs to be done to make life better for those who were marginalized in their jobs, "chosen to do the menial tasks, paid less because they were considered less." As a result, he said, planning for retirement has been difficult, and many who have faced discrimination cannot afford current market prices for housing.

The meeting will take place in the third floor music suite of King of Peace church. There is plenty of parking.


Commission ends legal battle over beach access

City officials gave up their court fight Tuesday and agreed to pay a beach property owner nearly $1.5 million for illegally "taking" private property.

In a unanimous vote the City Commission agreed with their lawyers' recommendation not to appeal a recent court decision to the Florida Supreme Court. The decision followed a private meeting with the city attorney.

The case began in 2008 when Chet Chmielewski, now deceased, first sued the city, claiming it had illegally taken his beachfront property by encouraging the public to walk by the side of his home to reach a privately owned beach.

The city later agreed but when it refurbished a nearby community center and installed "Beach Access" signs near Chmielewski's property, people again started to access the private beach, often crossing the Chmielewski property.

In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld an earlier federal district court jury verdict that found St. Pete Beach "encouraged and invited" the public to use a private beach, "causing the seizure" of residential property.

The city was forced to put the fine in a restricted account while it appealed the decision. Now the city attorney and city manager will use that account to settle the decade-long legal battle.

As for the Chmielewski property, the city now has an easement that will allow people to access the beach. They will still be barred, however, from using the deed-restricted dry sand area.


Traffic a concern during building boom

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More than a dozen large-scale development projects are planned or underway in the city, bringing concerns of increased traffic congestion.

The developments and their status were on a list supplied by city Planning Director Linda Portal at the June 26 City Commission workshop. An assessment by Florida Department of Transportation brought questions and concerns from commission members.

Fourteen projects were on Portal's list of "major redevelopment/economic development activities" that she said were either planned or projected to be undertaken during the upcoming fiscal year, or are underway now.

The project of greatest impact, she said, is the Town Centre on 150th Avenue and Madeira Way, with multiple hotel and condo buildings, which Portal said is in the site plan review process. Also, the Holiday Isles planned development, on the Intracoastal south of the Causeway Bridge, has begun design and preliminary site plan review. Both developments are massive. The Town Centre project is expected to cost $16 million, according to Portal's report.

The other major projects on Portal's list include the Barefoot Beach Resort expansion, which is 80 percent complete, and the Madeira Bay condos, which will cost over $7 million.

Portal said her community development staff reviews over 100 development plans, "some large, some small," each month. "I don't see any slowdown in that," she said.

The developments caused the commissioners to critically question David Skrelunas, FDOT traffic engineer, when he explained the methodology used to assess the traffic impact after the Town Centre and Holiday Isles developments are finished.

When a new development is proposed, the FDOT conducts a traffic count to determine if the roadways can handle the additional traffic. Changes, such as adding a traffic signal or left turn lane, may be needed. Or, FDOT approval can be withheld if it is determined the road system will be overburdened in any case.

"If FDOT says the roadway meets all the standards, they by statute have to allow for development to occur," said City Manager Jonathan Evans.

Commissioner Nancy Oakley said she had not seen any traffic counts for the Town Centre or Holiday Isles developments. She also said the traffic study was done in the early morning rather than the afternoon, which she said was "a joke."

Skrelunas said the counts measure traffic all day.

Commissioner John Douthirt said there are other developments that would affect the traffic counts on 150th Avenue and should be included in the analysis.

Skrelunas said a count is done for each proposed development as it comes up, and that is added to the existing count before measuring the impact of another development.

Evans said the traffic issue would be discussed further at a future meeting.


Sewer project a success so far, officials say

A five-year project to reline the town's sewer pipes is progressing well, town commissioner Jeff Neal reported at a recent meeting.

Sewers on the west side of town, in the area of 178th and 181st avenues, already have been relined. Now, Neal said, the town should accelerate the project and complete the lines in the area served by the 176th Avenue lift station, the largest in town, while an attractive deal with the project contractor is still in force. He estimated the project reduced the town's sewer bill by 20 to 25 percent.

Relining the sewers seals them from infiltration by water, especially during rains.

"We would be smart to move forward, because it is clearly helping," Neal said, estimating that the move would save the town $15,000 to $20,000 a month.

The commission agreed, voting 3-0 vote to move ahead with the project. Mayor Mary Beth Henderson and Commissioner Michael Robinson were not present.

This report contains information from Staff Writer Waveney Ann Moore, correspondent Sheila Mullane Estrada and Tampa Bay Newspapers correspondent Wayne Ayers.


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