Gulfport's City Council heard one presentation and examined four items at its workshop on Thursday including the operation of golf carts on public roads, an amendment to the Historic Preservation Ordinance, the Waterfront Redevelopment Area entryway sign and the proposed mooring field.
For the third time in the past year the city council discussed the feasibility of allowing golf carts – or low-speed vehicles – on public roads. Early in the discussion City Attorney Associate Caitlin E. Sirico confirmed that the city of Indian Rocks Beach allows golf carts on city streets that do not exceed 25 mph, which seemed to be what many in the discussion wanted to emulate. It was golf carts crossing or driving on busier streets such as Gulfport Blvd. or its intersections with 58th St. or 52nd St. that most agreed was a common danger.
Driving a golf cart in downtown Gulfport was seen as a positive for the town by some, saving both natural resources and parking. It was also seen as a sign of a friendly, eclectic community open to more forms of travel and comfort.
Resident Bonnie Bray spoke in favor of legalizing golf carts on the streets.
“With the city tax base and everything else decreasing and the tax roles going down we have to develop some uniqueness for the city. We have a small little community here in the middle of a big area and the more unique our community can become the better our property values will increase. Golf carts within the city of Gulfport will keep our business within our community, within our restaurants; it will keep the community a little bit more quaint.”
She said the city of Dunedin recently legalized golf carts on the street and that members of its merchant's association helped push the ordinance through. She claimed it would help the lack of parking in town and that insurance can be covered under homeowners policies.
The major points of debate were whether registration of the golf carts was necessary, if insurance was necessary and how much, how rules pertaining to their use would be enforced (police department or code enforcement) and whether allowing their use might open the possibility of younger or unlicensed drivers operating them on city streets.
One possibility brought up was to create a set of safety regulations for each cart such as lights, indicators, windshields, horns and seat belts, and make the owner have it inspected by the police and put an easily identifiable marker on those carts so that the police would be able to quickly identify an approved cart.
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent addressed the council and admitted it would be difficult to expect his officers to write code enforcement citations during their course of duties, as opposed to traffic violations, which are part of their normal duties.
“That does bring up an issue,” Chief Vincent responded to a question from Council Member Barbara Banno as to the enforcement of citations. “It would be enforced via a code violation not a uniform traffic citation, which is a little bit more complicated procedure. We would have to change some policies in the way we do things otherwise we would never get cops to do it. For an officer to write an ordinance violation citation right now requires that they complete an offense report, that they complete an arrest report, that they complete a booking report. It's a very complicated process. It's not anywhere near as simple as writing a traffic ticket.”
He said that officers rarely write code enforcement violations but when they do it's typically for a barking dog or loud music, and that they have to file a long list of reports.
“I think that Gulfport could use a golf cart ordinance,” Vice Mayor David Hastings suggested. “I'm not in favor of this [one]. It does have some of the features in here that I would like to see as required equipment but it does lack, I think, the specifics.”
He mentioned light levels and that he wasn't in favor of allowing carts at night. Living in thehe noted that it does have a golf cart ordinance and that teenagers will sometimes pile on the carts at night and create dangerous situations for themselves and automobile drivers. He also said he would be in favor of allowing golf carts in the downtown Beach Blvd. area.
“I think we definitely need to stay away from 58th and 22nd,. That is not a place to allow a crossing,” he stressed. “I would think that we would want to require, for everybody's concern, that a golf cart would have to be insured with a minimum amount of liability to protect all.”
Council Member Sam Henderson also suggested minimum liability insurance, as well as licensed drivers only, for golf cart operators on the streets of Gulfport.
Ultimately, City Manager O'Reilly agreed to write a new ordinance stating specific requirements for the carts and where they can travel. The council will vote to approve or deny that ordinance at a later date.
Mike Meidel, Director of Pinellas County Economic Development (PCED) spoke to the council to make them aware of the services that it provides including consulting, education and assistance with small business loans.
One of the points he made was that Gulfport may be able to qualify for a Brownfield grant to help develop areas around 49th St. that may have been contaminated by hazardous materials. He suggested that the city may take advantage of working with bordering St. Petersburg to apply for such grants and that designating an entire corridor as a Brownfield may be beneficial in qualifying for a grant.
“Over time if the areas are lopsided in development it drags down the development of the entire neighborhood,” Mr. Meidel said, referring to the 49th St. area.
Community Development Director Fred Metcalf announced to the council that the Waterfront Redevelopment Advisory Board (WRAB) is looking at prices and ideas for a new sign at the entryway to the Waterfront Redevelopment Area at the intersection of Gulfport Blvd. and Beach Blvd.
“It's a nice sign but it might need a little work,” Mr. Metcalf said of the existing blue and white “Gulfport Waterfront District” sign set into a flower garden for Gulfport Blvd. traffic to see. He and others at the meeting admitted that they barely notice the sign when driving because of the concentration needed to drive at that point of the road.
He said WRAB members would like to incorporate sailboats and a regatta theme into the new sign and for it to be artistically tasteful to reflect the art district. He presented an architectural drawing of a concept of a new sign structure about 20 feet in diameter featuring three sails labeled with the attractions of the city within a water fountain.
Mr. Metcalf said WRAB was hoping to keep the cost of the entire structure within the $25,000 to $30,000 range. They came up with an initial estimate of $1,500 for construction drawings before unveiling a final concept. Since WRAB is under the auspices of the council, council members would have to authorize the project.
He said WRAB has $11,000 in its capital budget to help pay for the sign but it was not stated where the rest of the funds would come from to pay for the project. No further discussion followed about the next step to bid for drawings or to settle on a final artistic plan for a sign. WRAB will approach the council at a later date with an update on its plans.