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Some -- not all -- issues aired at beach forum

District 4 candidates discuss reclaimed water and the city's ambience, but make no mention of city hall.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


ST. PETE BEACH -- Two candidates vying to represent District 4 talked issues at a candidates forum Wednesday night, with one emphasizing her business experience and one her community involvement.

Sherry Travis, 42, of Vina del Mar, and Laura "Lolly" Kreider, 48, of Pass-a-Grille, discussed sidewalks and speeding in Vina del Mar and protecting the ambience of Pass-a-Grille. But the issue facing all of St. Pete Beach -- what to do about remodeling city hall or building a new one -- didn't come up.

The election is Tuesday.

Last week's forum was moderated by the St. Petersburg Area chapter of the League of Women Voters, and league president Gretchen Flaherty asked questions submitted by the audience. While candidates were asked about reclaimed water and whether they supported a high or low bridge to replace the Pinellas Bayway, neither was asked to explain her position on a new city hall.

Both Kreider, who is active in the Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club and is a former president of the Pass-a-Grille Community Association, and Travis, who owns and manages several rental properties in St. Pete Beach, have said they think city employees need a better place to work.

Kreider has said she supports keeping city hall at its current site but thinks the city has space to make part of the property available for a waterfront park. Travis has said she would research whether rebuilding or remodeling would be a better option for the city and believes her business experience would help her make the right decision.

"Look at this campaign and look at the next commissioner and look at the ability to make decisions," Travis said. "I can guarantee that when it comes time to look at the numbers and make the decisions, I am the most qualified candidate."

Kreider, on the other hand, positions herself as the candidate who will put "District 4 first." She wants to ensure that Pass-a-Grille and Vina del Mar get "their fair share" of capital improvement projects -- the big-ticket, visible items such as park amenities and beach boardwalks that are planned five years in advance in the city budget.

Without talk of building or remodeling city hall, the most controversial facet of the forum was its location.

Mayor Ward Friszolowski and Commissioner Pete Blank both suggested a forum be held at City Hall so it could be broadcast to the entire city, but some neighborhood loyalists who are accustomed to attending their district's forum at the Warren Webster Community Center in Pass-a-Grille were dismayed by the change this year.

"It's traditionally done down there," said Vina del Mar resident Cleo Robertson, who was among about 50 people who attended the forum at City Hall. District 4 forums have been known to pack in as many as 200 people at the Warren Webster Community Center. "It's part of our community. It's where we get together."

On other issues, both Kreider and Travis said they believe reclaimed water is an important asset that St. Pete Beach is lucky to have. Travis said the best way to make the system less burdensome on the city's budget is to encourage more residents to pay for a reclaimed water hookup.

"Reclaimed water is probably one of the best programs our city has going for it," Travis said. "I know the operating expenses are exceeding revenues, and we're dipping into the general fund for it."

Kreider said she believes the city made mistakes when it first installed the system by promising to keep rates at a certain level for several years and underestimating the cost of the system, but now that the city has raised the rates it charges customers, Kreider hopes the reclaimed water fund will be more stable.

"In hindsight, there were some bad financial and marketing decisions made," Kreider said.

For Vina del Mar, Travis said she believes residents are concerned about speeding traffic, and many would like to see more sidewalks, although both candidates got a mixed reaction to that idea as they knocked on doors in the neighborhood.

Kreider suggested the use of the city's Smart Cart on Vina del Mar Boulevard, which registers a vehicle's speed and alerts motorists to how fast they are going. Kreider also said she would like to see the city finish its road resurfacing plans in that neighborhood.

In Pass-a-Grille, Kreider said she would like to expand the historic district north to include the Don Vista Building. Currently, only the island's southern half is part of the historic district.

She also is concerned about getting older structures grandfathered to rebuild in case a serious hurricane hits Pass-a-Grille. She said she thinks grandfathering would protect the neighborhood's character, but she fears flood insurance rates would suffer.

Regardless, the city needs to make a decision, Kreider said. "The City Commission seems to have been procrastinating on this for a long time," she said.

A main point of Kreider's platform is the need for a citywide master plan, an idea touted continuously last year by opponents of a plan to build a new city hall on Corey Avenue.

"This city is in desperate need of a master plan so we can plan our improvements," Kreider said. "Because we don't have a master plan, we've already made some bad decisions. The police department is not in a good location, nor are the reclaimed water pumps."

Travis said she and her husband were drawn to St. Pete Beach by the character of the town, but fears the city needs to "protect the ambience and the lifestyle we bought into."

As part of that, Travis believes the city needs to better enforce its "90-day rule," which prohibits homeowners from renting out properties for a period of less than 90 days. The rule is habitually ignored, particularly in Pass-a-Grille, where people lease out a garage apartment or other portion of their property as a vacation rental.

She believes the city also should promote itself to people who take pride in preserving older homes. The city might even reduce or waive permitting fees for homeowners planning to restore their homes rather than raze them and rebuild.

"We have begun to see a proliferation of monolithic structures go up that have changed the very reason and very feeling that brought us here," Travis said.

* * *

The District 4 polling place is the Warren Webster building, in Pass-a-Grille. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. A canvassing board meeting will be at 8:30 p.m. at City Hall to announce the results.

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