After a month-long hiatus, Gulfport City Council had a lot of ground to cover on Tuesday, July 20, and took about three and a half hours to do it. Council presented a pair of awards to outgoing Boca Ciega High Principal Michael Vigue and to Gulfport Police Officer Brandon Dillard before discussing the noise ordinance, ongoing developments at the Gulfport Marina and the budget as the city transitions out of the COVID-19 crisis.
Awards, Presentations and a Warning on COVID
The meeting began with a trio of awards, two for local citizens and one for the city itself. Michael Vigue, longtime principal of Boca Ciega High School who was recently promoted to superintendent of Area 4 schools, received his second Spirit of Gulfport Award. During his first few years as principal at Bogie, he oversaw the school’s rating climb from D to A.
“I know I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart [for Gulfport]. It’s kinda hard to transition, I don’t mind saying that. I get the joy and opportunity of getting to help other schools, which is a big deal for me, but I appreciate the 11 years of time together,” Vigue said accepting the award.
Shortly after, Gulfport Police Commander Joshua Stone – who is taking temporary charge of the GPD after Police Chief Robert Vincent tested positive for COVID-19 last week – awarded Brandon Dillard the Officer of the Year award.
“During the year of 2020 we lost a key member who helped provide us intelligence, and Officer Dillard did not hesitate to step up and fill that role…he has [also] created a positive working environment with other members of the St. Pete Police Department who are in Childs Park, and that two-way communication has developed and really helped us a great deal,” Stone said.
Stone also presented to council a plaque recognizing the Gulfport Police Department’s accreditation for the seventh time, and its third time earning “excelsior” status, joining just 27 other agencies in Florida who have received that honor three times.
Susan McGrath of the Florida Consumer Action Network gave a presentation asking for council’s assistance in building a network of local doctors and business owners to encourage residents who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine to do so, emphasizing the recent surge in cases, with 20% of recent national COVID cases in Florida.
Council seemed generally supportive of the idea, especially Councilmember Michael Fridovich, who said, “If you don’t get your shots, you’re just irresponsible, both as a human being and as a citizen. It’s as simple as that. If you want to get sick and die, that’s your prerogative, but why ruin your family to go with it?”
Andrew Burnham, Vice President of Stantec Consulting, presented on the city’s water and sewage rates and how the city’s water use may be impacted by a rapidly growing St. Petersburg. Council discussed restructuring some of the payment rates, namely by removing the 2,000 gallon per month minimum charge, so people who use less than that amount can pay only for what they use.
Marina Redevelopment and Events
Council approved two steps in a broader plan for redeveloping the Gulfport Marina: a renovation of the dry storage area and a grant application to secure funding for the planned Living Shoreline redevelopment.
The dry storage redevelopment will repave and re-fence the lot next to the Boca Ciega Yacht Club building, while opening up the area, currently reserved for BCYC members, to any who wish to store their boats there. The number of spots for boats will stay at about 62, while adding approximately 35 parking spots for visitors to the marina or future park developments.
The Living Shoreline project hopes to redevelop the southern tip of the marina to make it more walkable, while preserving the local mangroves and wildlife already living there. After Governor Ron Desantis vetoed funding for the project last month, the city hopes to get funding from the Environmental Protection Agency through this grant proposal, which council unanimously approved.
City Manager Jim O’Reilly also addressed BCYC’s status in the marina, saying he’s been in regular contact with club leaders, and that the planned changes “may require relocating some of their equipment and their vessels.”
“I think we’ve got two or three issues that need to be resolved, and yes the crane they utilize is one of them, but our goal is to open up as much to public access and at the same time allow the club to maintain their presence in that area to the east side,” O’Reilly said.
Council approved a new Saturday Fresh Market, to start on the 4th Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through the end of October, for vendors and buyers who are unable to participate in the Tuesday market. Fridovich cast the lone “no” vote, finding the event redundant given similar weekend markets in St. Petersburg and on Corey Avenue in St. Pete Beach.
Council also approved a fireworks show on Williams Pier Saturday, September 4 for Gecko Fest; the city did not have their annual July 4 show this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
Noise Ordinance Saga Continues
At the June 15 council meeting, council voted to enact a trial change of the city’s noise ordinance, which normally rests at a max of 65 decibels and drops to 55 at 11 p.m., The proposed temporary change would be 75 decibels but drop to 55 at 10 p.m., an hour earlier. The change was an attempted compromise between local restaurant owners, led by the North End Taphouse, who host live music, and local residents, who complained that the noise from bands was continuing to be too loud, too late into the evening.
At the most recent meeting, council looked over the data from the trial period, discussed its merits, and is set to vote on making the change permanent at the August 17 meeting. Until then, the old rules remain in place.
Kelly Wright, co-owner of the Taphouse, claimed that the measure had been a great success, with no calls to police about noise from the Taphouse during the whole trial month, and emphasized that while they would comply with whatever the rule ends up being, the Taphouse “can’t have most of our people play if we have to stick to 65 decibels.”
Councilmember April Thanos claimed that she personally had received a large volume of complaints about the noise, and as a result would likely vote against keeping the change permanent.
In contrast, Fridovich supports the change, saying, “I’ve been arguing for years that we do not live in a retirement community; people come to Gulfport for different reasons… noise is around us; roll up your windows.”
Since the change would be a city-wide one, Councilmember Paul Ray and others brought up concerns that it could enable private residents to create large amounts of noise without recourse from neighbors, so the proposed change would be limited only to the waterfront district.
Further Discussion of Federal $5 Million
Council continued its discussion of how to spend the $5 million the city will receive from the federal government as part of the American Recovery Act. Council first agreed to bring on a consultant from Carr, Riggs, & Ingram, LLC to ensure that they do not spend any of the money in a way that violates the rules laid out by the bill.
Discussion on the money has continued for nearly two months, and at this meeting council mostly reaffirmed spending priorities they had each raised at previous meetings. Ray suggested increasing the number of trees in local parks, to improve hurricane safety. Fridovich continued to emphasize the importance of repairing the city’s lateral sewage lines. Councilmember Christine Brown hopes to invest in a new truck for the city’s fire department, and Mayor Sam Henderson requested using the money for beach nourishment programs.
Overheard at Council
“I had an experience house sitting out in Santa Cruz, California a few years ago, and I remember the homeowner very much stressing for me their pride in this award they had won for using so little water… Maybe that’s something we can consider here in Gulfport?” – Resident Laura Oldanie on ways to encourage water conservation.
“I live right next to the two schools, Boca Ciega and Disston… and I notice there’s people on [11th Avenue] that are just flying down that street…a lot of these kids, they’re on their phones, they’ve got the earbuds in, they don’t hear the cars coming… I think a simple speed bump or even just two stop signs, put one on 56th and maybe 52nd… it’s just something I’d really like to address. Not asking for a big change, just a piece of metal with a red sign that says ‘STOP’ could really do a lot there.” – Resident Chris Ramirez
“I’d like to put on the agenda or discuss… changing the zoning of 49th Street to light industrial, something I’ve been talking about for quite some time and I think we need to look at it more closely for a number of reasons.” – Councilmember Michael Fridovich. Due to scheduling concerns, the item will likely not make it onto the agenda for some time, but may come up for discussion in the fall.