The April 20 Gulfport City Council meeting saw a return to normalcy following the staggering four and a half hour previous meeting, finishing in just over 90 minutes Tuesday night.
Marina Development Discussion Continues
The future of the Gulfport Marina redevelopment remains unclear following the council’s decision to revoke the eviction of Boca Ciega Yacht Club at the end of the April 6 city council meeting. However, one thing seems certain: People want more open discussion about any redevelopment plans.
Public comment at the April 20 meeting began with Brian Derr presenting a letter signed by 225 residents asking for more input from those who live in the Marina District on any future plans, and for the protection of the BCYC, Lions Club and Gulfport Yacht Club buildings from demolition, and a discussion with Gulfport residents to “evaluate whether marina improvements are the top priority as the next project to fund.”
A handful of other people also spoke about their desire to see more public meetings, public workshops and general discussion between city officials and the city before any big plans are set into motion.
City Manager Jim O’Reilly and City Attorney Andrew Salzman later explained that they had met with leaders at Boca Ciega Yacht Club last Thursday, April 15, and will meet again this Thursday to negotiate a new lease agreement that lets BCYC continue to rent their current building on a month-to-month basis. O’Reilly later said that the city is also looking into grants to fund a breakwater park and living shoreline at the Marina that will be open to the public, and talking with BCYC about consolidating some of their storage space.
“I just want it on the record that we’re not building any buildings; we’re not tearing any buildings down,” he said at the meeting, later clarifying to the Gabber, “until the city council has an opportunity in the future to take additional community input and create a long-term plan and funding for such facilities.”
Citizens Tell Bands to Quiet Down
More than half a dozen people, most living along 29th Avenue near Beach Boulevard, spoke to the council about excessive noise coming from bands performing at the Village Courtyard, often late into the evening, they said.
“I am just here to request that the hours that music is played in the courtyard there by the North End Taphouse are reduced, or at least the volume level is reduced…. The volume level and the music being played until 11 p.m. or later several nights a week is a huge problem for me and my business as an AirBnB host,” Jeff Thompson, the first of seven people to speak on the topic, said.
Eileen Clancy, who lives directly behind the courtyard, played a recording on her phone that she said was taken in her bedroom on a Saturday night after 11 p.m., in which you can clearly hear music and laughter from outside.
“That’s from inside the house!” shouted several people in the audience while the clip was playing.
Kelly Wright, owner of the North End Taphouse, spoke at the previous meeting asking for an increase in the volume level allowed by the city’s noise ordinance, currently set at 65 decibels.
“A vacuum cleaner or hair dryer registers at 75 decibels. Normal conversation, ambient noise, in fact tonight, in this room, before the meeting began, was around 70 decibels,” she explained.
Later in the meeting, discussion turned to an application by the Sea Dog Cantina, just north of the courtyard, requesting closure of 29th Avenue for a Cinco De Mayo party ending at 10 p.m. Attached to the application was a letter of no objection from local neighbors, prompting Mayor Sam Henderson to ask why “some of the folks who spoke [about noise] tonight were some of the neighbors who signed off on this event, correct?”
“I can live with 10 o’clock,” answered one resident in a later comment. “If you make it quiet at 10 p.m., we’re good.”
The vote on the event passed, with Councilmember April Thanos dissenting due to the lack of a concrete COVID-19 safety plan.
Resolutions and Discussion
Council also approved several resolutions, starting by renewing their contract appointing James Thaler as “Special Master,” a designated attorney who assists with code enforcement on an as-needed basis.
Council also unanimously agreed to shift control of Board of Adjustment appeals. Until now, someone wishing to appeal a BoA decision would pay $109 to go before council, and failing there, could appeal to the local circuit court. Now appeals will go directly to the circuit court, with the applicant paying $400.
Council also unanimously passed a pair of resolutions related to flood preparation in Gulfport. The first authorizes the continuing participation in a county-wide public information campaign to inform locals on how to prepare for emergency flooding; the second adopts an annual plan for flood protection policies recommended by Pinellas County. Participation in the county-wide effort reduces flood insurance costs by 20% for local residents.
Finally, at the prompting of Councilmember Paul Ray, council discussed the possibility of establishing a Human Rights Ordinance board to handle any claims of discrimination instead of directing all claims to the current hearing officer, City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
“I would only think we’d consider people who have a background in HR in companies, in legal backgrounds, social services, health, teaching, mental health – those are the kinds of people that we’d want to be on that board,” Ray said.
Henderson suggested, with Councilmember Thanos later agreeing, that it would be better to appoint a single person, potentially the city attorney, to handle these matters instead of the city manager. Councilmember Christine Brown suggested partnering with Stetson Law School to build the board out of law students, allowing them to gain real-world experience in exchange for some civil service, an idea council received positively.
Council did not hold an official vote on the matter, but a more concrete plan may emerge at a later meeting for a vote.