A full house tonight on the first meeting of 2016,” said Mayor Sam Henderson in his opening comment at the January 5 Gulfport City Council meeting.
Much of that large crowd in attendance was there to voice their opinion on the new proposed Osgood Point bike trail.
Director of Community Development Fred Metcaf presented council and the audience with the new alternatives to the former plans that wound through the marina district.
The crowd was evenly split with comments in support of the trail and NIMBY-ers (Not In My Back Yard – or those who don’t want to see the trail near their house), and comments ranged from fears of crime rising and being run over by bicycles to improving the way bicyclers navigate the city.
“People speed down 26th Avenue,” Marina District resident Peter Hubers said. “I would like to make a motion for the city to present the rules of the road so know what they are responsible for.”
Several more concerns addressed fears of privacy and dropping property values.
“This is something that is not going to take your right-of way. I hope everyone is clear on that,” the mayor said. “I also hope that everybody is not falling prey to someone telling them that this is going to become a highway of crime or ruin your property values. I did a project a couple years ago on the Pinellas Trail. There is no data, especially in Pinellas County, to support that. Trails tend to take on whatever crime rate is of the area.”
The new trail – which isn’t actually a trail at all according to Metcalf – takes shape as a bike route.
Metcalf presented three options to council; the first option is the original plan, includin a a cement sidewalk that used the right-of-way and passed through the district. The trail would branch from the already-existing Osgood Trail and head southeast and terminate at the marina. Due to significat resident concerns, however, council was given several more options.
The second option included creating bike lanes in already-existing roadways, but this option would hinder the ability to park on the street as it would block bicycle traffic, according to the memo released by council.
Option three was presented as a “less invasive” option, according to City Manager Jim O’Reilly in a previous council meeting. Option three requires no lanes or sidewalks, but only directional signage leading from the Osgood Trail to the downtown waterfront via 26th Avenue S., 49th Street, 28th Avenue S. and finally Beach Boulevard.
The total cost for option three is $250,000. Grants and funds would cover roughly half of the cost, leaving the city on the hook for $125,000 of the project.
“I’m real excited about having that connection ,” Councilmember Christine Brown said. “It goes right by my house. It’s a really nice place for a trail.”
Henderson was quickly sold on the plan and said he was eager to begin Gulfport’s transition into a bike-friendly city.
“I want to satisfy the needs of people who come to this town without cars,” Henderson said after the presentation, but council was more subdued.
Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman has previously been for the plan of a bike trail, but after hearing the presentation believed the cost was too high for what the city would be getting.
“Quarter of a million dollars for signage? I like the bike trail. I like option three …. but I can’t vote for it,” Roman said.
But Metcalf and O’Reilly noted that the money is not just for signage. O’Reilly explained that two-thirds of the money would be used to pave the trail connecting to the Osgood Trail.
“That’s the lion’s share of the cost,” Metcalf said.
“I like the idea, but I haven’t heard enough feedback from the citizens,” Councilmember Dan Liedtke said. “But I am going to reserve judgment until I hear more from the people.”
Council agreed and decided to table the discussion for two weeks while more feedback is heard from citizens.
More Artistic Signage
Signage was a hot topic during the meeting as council approved to commission artist Tom Pitzen to create signs to direct traffic to parking.
The seven signs (six directional signs and one larger-scale trail sign) made of solid concrete and covered with tile, will be styled to match the Historic Waterfront sign located at Clymer Park, also created by Pitzen. The signs will cost the city a total of $30,000.
Examples of the signs and their proposed placement can be seen here.
Beach Re-nourishment Moves Forward
Council also unanimously voted to go with Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc.* to provide consultant and advisory services to the city in support of the city’s application to the Federal Government’s Army Corp of Engineers for funding and production of the beach re-nourishment project. The project is part of the city’s five-year capital improvement plan from fiscal year 2013/2014. Cost for the consultations is $4,500 per month plus expenses.
*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc. was recommended by Representative David Jolly and/or his office. This information was incorrectly stated in the city’s resolution documentation. According to Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly, “Neither Congressman David Jolly nor his staff or any representative of his office definitively referred or recommended a specific firm to represent the City of Gulfport on the issue of beach re-nourishment.” Look for further clarification in the January 14, 2016 issue of the Gabber.