Alternatives to improve the availability of public parking in Gulfport and the safety of both residents and drivers involving moving-vehicle accidents at the 49th Street South terminus seawall were considered on Tuesday, February 19 during the regular city council meeting.
During public comments, resident Karen Behmke Love said lack of public parking on Beach and Shore Boulevards could be solved if remote spaces behind Scout Hall and the History Museum buildings – both located in the 5300 block of 28th Avenue South and a short distance away from the Waterfront district – were more strategically configured. Currently, these spaces are used, as needed, for tennis court and dog park visitors.
She also suggested that “resident only” parking designations at the beach east of the Recreation Center be eliminated.
Council agreed to consider these parking solution possibilities.
Currently, in the brick paver area of the beach parking lot, the resident-only section exists from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and consists of 52 total spaces (located east of where 57th Street S. would be located if it were to extend across Shore Boulevard and into the lot). Sea Breeze Manor is a good landmark on the east side of the street for this demarcation. Known as the “beach-parking permit,” the decal for this area is free to Gulfport residents.
“I would like to pursue the removal of ‘resident only’ parking signs in the beach lot,” said Councilmember Dan Liedtke. “It seems like all we do is put up signs.”
During his end-of-meeting remarks, Mayor Sam Henderson said he wanted to start thinking about a new challenge related to parking.
“I’d like to do an initiative like ‘Gulfport Parks Friendly,’” he said. “Something to encourage people of their own free will to park a little further away on purpose. If you’re an able-bodied person, just make a conscious effort to intentionally park further away and pass the love onto other people. Or, if you live close enough, just walk and don’t bring your car at all. Let’s change our attitudes while we also look for room to park.”
49th Street South Seawall
The 49th Street South terminus adjacent to 31st Avenue South and the parking area of the Golden Sands 16-unit condo building is a location where several vehicles over the years have failed to stop or turn and instead have launched into the waters of Boca Ciega Bay over the seawall at high speed, narrowly missing residents, their parked vehicles and property, said Debbie Reeves, condo board secretary.
Police reports indicate drivers were having medical-related issues at the time of the accidents.
In the most recent accident that occurred on February 11, 2019, the driver was a diabetic who was suffering from a low blood sugar issue. His vehicle plunged into the bay and came to rest about 50 yards from shore. Members of the Gulfport Fire Department brought him to safety using a surfboard that is one of their rescue tools.
The city’s traffic engineers “are diligently working with” the condo residents, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “I am confident that we can work together to find the best solution to this dangerous and ongoing problem.”
The solution will make the area safer for nearby residents and reduce the risk of injury to drivers, said Henderson.
WOW Cable Considering Gulfport Service
Some Gulfport residents may soon have an alternative to Spectrum for cable television, Internet and telephone service.
The city manager and staff have recently had a brief meeting with representatives WideOpenWest or WOW cable operator.
“They have had activities taking place in St. Petersburg adjacent to us” and they are exploring the possibility of initially offering their service in small pockets of Gulfport, said O’Reilly. “They are pleased with the reception they have received from myself and staff.
“We’ll keep working with them to provide them with whatever information they need to make an informed decision.”
Noting that the topic of cable service has been a frequent one for years among residents, Henderson said, “Competition is good for the consumer.
“So, for folks who have heard in the past that we have a contract with Spectrum to be the only provider – that is not accurate. We would welcome a second provider.”
On Wednesday morning, February 20, Councilmember Paul Ray posted on Facebook that he “would love to see an outpouring of people contacting WOW and requesting they pursue service” throughout Gulfport. “While I do not advocate for one versus the other (currently only Spectrum is available) I do advocate for a choice.”
State Funding Updates
O’Reilly said that the city’s requests for state funding relating to the second phase of the multi-year culvert project involving the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club (PYCC), and the living shoreline component of the new development plans at Peninsula Park, located west of the Gulfport Marina, are “progressing.”
As a result of the city’s recent PYCC funding request, Florida Senator Darryl Rouson’s office asked the city for some additional detail, which has been provided, said O’Reilly. The senator will be taking the city’s request for appropriations to a sub-committee meeting on the morning of Wednesday, February 20.
Regarding the grant for the living shoreline natural habitat that would be created as part of the planned park, “we have been advised that the Southwest Florida Water Management District had their ranking meeting and the environmental aspect of the project has been confirmed ranked as high and will likely be funded once they get through their appropriations” workflow with the state legislature, said O’Reilly.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about this park being something that is going to hinder the ability of wildlife to live there, said Henderson.
“We wouldn’t get the living shoreline component of the park if we were putting wildlife at risk or degrading the natural environment,” said Henderson. “One of the biggest issues we face in keeping a healthy shoreline is the removal of invasive species” of plants like Brazilian Pepper that chokes out mangroves that are natural nesting habitats for birds.
Our plan is to “create more habitat because mangroves grow fairly quickly,” said Henderson.
The park is going to improve the habitat for wildlife and give the public access to land that belongs to them, he said.
Henderson asked that residents with concerns contact councilmembers or city staff rather than relying on Facebook for information.
Hurricane Preparation for Pets
At the monthly meeting of the Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) on Monday, February 18, the topic of hurricane preparedness was discussed, said Vice Mayor Christine Brown.
“Hurricane season is coming whether we like it or not on June 1,” she said.
“We want to get the word out that it is time now to start thinking about making plans to evacuate yourself, your family and your animals to high ground and to places other than public shelters,” said Brown.
Brown also said that shelters “are not where you want to be. They are a last resort,” said Brown. “It was a sad situation” during Hurricane Irma in 2017 “to see the conditions that people were forced to live in for those few days.”
Brown advised that residents make friends with people who live in areas of Pinellas County like Disston Ridge, near 38th Avenue North and 49th Street North, who will also take in your animals.
“Our animals are like our children,” said Brown. “Find a place to go where you can bring them that is not a shelter.”
Also, people need to evacuate with more than one sandwich for supplies, she said.
Pride Month Flag Ceremony
As requested by Ray, council approved Thursday, May 30 as the official day for the raising of the Gay Pride flag at the Gulfport Public Library for National Gay Pride Month, which is celebrated in June.
Festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a performance by the Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band followed by the flag raising ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Afterward, the annual Art Out exhibit featuring the works of local artists will officially open inside the library.