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    Dunedin ditches plan to bury wires

    By LEON M. TUCKER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 17, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- One by one, Dunedin city commissioners explained to a small group of residents and business owners why they oppose a proposal that would have made it mandatory for some property owners to move overhead utility wires underground.

    "This is the wrong way to approach the problem," Commissioner Janet Henderson said before the commission rejected the measure unanimously on April 5. "I would prefer us to revisit the issue, continue burying utility lines along busy thoroughfares and eventually fill in neighborhoods as the funding becomes available."

    The ordinance would have required residents and business owners planning to spend at least $20,000 to renovate their properties to bury wires and cables at their own expense. The idea, proposed by the city attorney, was widely opposed.

    "It's a relief," Dunedin resident John Espey said after the vote. "I thought they were going to pass an ordinance that would put a burden on individuals that doesn't make sense."

    A commission vote on the idea was scheduled in February, but it was postponed. "We were never against the idea," said Jeff Zoellner, board chairman of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. "It just has to be done in a coordinated effort."

    "This is a big plan," he added. "And reasonably, you can't just approach this in a property-owner-by-property-owner basis."

    Dunedin has spent more than $150,000 burying utility wires throughout the city since 1995 in an attempt to eliminate poles and prevent falling power lines during storms. Officials said they would continue to bury the lines on public property as funding permits.

    "I believe (the ordinance) will have a chilling effect on our (city's) redevelopment," Vice Mayor Deborah Kynes said before she cast her vote. "I would also like to see it done on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood manner where we could work out an appropriate way to fund it."

    Michael Mayo, spokesman for the Greater Clearwater Association of Realtors, challenged the commission's consideration of the ordinance.

    "The city is trying to prove itself to be elder-friendly," he said. "I don't see this ordinance as being elder-friendly or community-friendly but as a detriment to the city's redevelopment efforts."

    City officials said they still would examine the possibility of introducing a similar proposal in the future.

    "This can still be done," said Commissioner Cecil Englebert. "We should look into giving residents some sort of incentive to do it -- like, for instance, waiving permit fees to do the work because those costs do add up."

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