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  1. Transportation

Roser Park activist stops city work on historic district

Kai Warren of Roser Park
Published Jan. 14, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Who says you can't fight city hall?

Kai Warren did. And he won.

He didn't even have to fight that hard. A responsive city staff admitted its mistake, apologized and then set about making things right.

But the goof came with a price tag: $450,000. That's what it'll cost to put a historic street and sidewalks back to their previous conditions after the city mistakenly started to rip up the historic street.

On Christmas Eve, Warren noticed city crews tearing up Roser Park Boulevard near his home.

A longtime neighborhood activist who recently served on the Pier Selection Committee, Warren has been paying close attention to city business for a long time.

When he saw that crews appeared to have widened the street, his memory bank flashed. He recalled a 2003 planning commission vote on Roser Park improvements in which the board hadn't signed off on plans to widen the historic, narrow street.

A stunned Warren saw that was exactly what appeared to be happening.

After obtaining a tape of the 2003 planning board meeting and confirming his suspicions, Warren started lighting up the phones at City Hall.

Problem was, many officials had already scattered for the holidays. Meanwhile, the work continued.

Warren eventually reached Mike Dove, the neighborhood affairs director, who put the wheels in motion to, well, stop the wheels in motion.

Dove apologized to Warren, saying he was correct that the city lacked the authority to widen the street.

Interim Public Works Administrator Tom Gibson said the city's plan was to widen the road where it narrowed, but the city staff didn't realize that the Community Planning and Preservation Commission hadn't given its approval.

The road, originally built in 1914, didn't conform to modern design standards, Gibson said.

"The curves were put in ad hoc," he said.

That's precisely the beauty of the Roser Park neighborhood, Warren said. It was the first of three historic neighborhoods to gain local landmark status, and altering any aspect would diminish its appeal for heritage tourists and residents, he said.

And changing the appearance, even in its infrastructure, of a historic district is intentionally much harder to accomplish.

The road work should be done by May and any street-widening work will be redone to put the street back to its original condition, Gibson said.

"This is how government should work," said Ben Kirby, Mayor Rick Kriseman's spokesman. "When mistakes are made, engaged citizens make us aware of them, and we fix it."

The absence of accidents on the streets and its extremely low traffic volume made reversing course easy, Gibson said.

Warren takes solace in the fact that the city was responsive.

But he's withholding a declaration of victory, for now.

"I'll call it a win when I see the finished product," Warren said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago

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