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Voters in 4 towns ponder choices
Residents of Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, Indian Shores and Redington Shores will go to the polls.
By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published March 5, 2006
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - How voters here decide two contentious issues and pick from a full slate of candidates for both mayor and the city commission will have a major effect on both the city's character and its politics for some time to come.
Perhaps one of the most volatile issues facing voters is whether a Publix supermarket should be built on Gulf Boulevard.
The city is sharply divided with supporters touting the benefits of shopping locally for groceries and opponents warning that the project will congest traffic and create a massive structure not in character with the city's small beach-town atmosphere.
Even if voters approve the mixed-use project, there is still some question whether it will become a reality. The City Commission has filed a lawsuit seeking to pull the referendum from the ballot or, if that is not feasible, asks the court to throw the results out.
In a separate, unbinding referendum, voters will weigh in on whether utilities should be put underground on the city's neighborhood streets.
Voters also have the opportunity to dramatically change the makeup of the City Commission. Potentially, four of the five seats could have new occupants. Four people are running for the mayoral post and seven are vying for three open commission seats.
Issues raised by the candidates appear to center on controlling development and preserving the city's small-town character - and political controversies during the year, highlighted by a lengthy investigation of the city administration and the subsequent resignation of its former city manager, John Coffey.
The present commission's decision to file a lawsuit against the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District has drawn fire from residents objecting to what they say are hefty legal fees. The city's legal bills to date are about $30,000, while the fire district says the legal action has cost it nearly $100,000 in legal fees.
Several residents are also angry that the city named them personally in the lawsuit challenging the Publix referendum because they are members of a political group that organized the petition drive to put the question on the ballot.
How voters view the handling of these and other issues will determine whether incumbents are returned to office or which of the political newcomers will take their seats.
Six candidates, including three incumbents and three challengers, are vying for three open City Council seats this year.
With the move to a city manager form of government, the way the city operates has changed dramatically. Yet, whoever voters select will have a full plate of issues and projects facing them as voting members of the city's government.
Heading the agenda is building a new city hall to replace an aging, leaking building. Among other issues are stricter code enforcement, including enforcing an ordinance calling for the cleanup of vacant and abandoned buildings.
As in other beach communities, putting utilities underground will continue to be an issue, particularly as it becomes clearer just how much such a program would cost local taxpayers.
A new mayor will guide the actions of the Indian Shores Town Council, but he does not appear on the March 14 ballot.
Jim Lawrence was unopposed to fill the mayoral post vacated by the retirement of long-time Mayor Don Taber. Voters will have a chance to fill Lawrence's vacated commission seat, however.
The two candidates are newcomers to elective office, but not to town politics. Among the issues raised during their campaigns are the continuing project to put utilities under Gulf Boulevard, rapid redevelopment of the town and its changing character, beautification and pedestrian safety.
One outcome of the March 14 election is certain - the town will have a new mayor.
For the first time in years, Mayor J.J. Beyrouti's name is not on the ballot. Voters will choose between a commissioner closely associated with the commission's decisions regarding the changing character of the town and a political newcomer who says he can do a better job of managing growth and change.
The campaign for the District 2 commission seat pits a candidate with lengthy experience in municipal and county government - including a stint as the town's administrator - against a sitting commissioner and long-time resident just recently appointed to his post.
The District 1 seat will be automatically filled by Bert Adams who ran unopposed. There will be no election for the District 3 commission seat because no one applied to run for the post. That seat will be filled by the newly elected commission.
Among the issues facing the new commission is an expected influx of new residents when the condominium redevelopment of the Parsley property is completed. The present commission has discussed redrawing its commission district boundaries to distribute more fairly the town's voting districts among its population.
The new commission will also face the rapid redevelopment of the town, including concerns over density and building setbacks, non-conforming structures seeking to rebuild, and building code enforcement. Other ongoing projects include putting utilities under its interior streets, as well as completing a massive project to refurbish the town's stormwater system.
[Last modified March 5, 2006, 00:53:19]
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