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Reality-based tour

With Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler as guide, about 50 people get up close with their city before key decisions are made.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- If attendance and citizen dialogue were any indication, Saturday's trolley tour of the city was a success.

"I thought it was a very needed thing," said Harvey Wismer, head of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. "I don't think the political arm was quite aware of what was going on as far as the parking of cars, trucks and (heavy) equipment in yards."

The issue of commercial vehicles parked in residential neighborhoods was but one intended highlight of the tour as about 50 people -- council and board members and neighbors who normally don't attend government meetings -- turned out to take a look at their city through the eyes of Rick Butler.

The council member conceived the trolley ride because he wanted his colleagues to consider firsthand the effects of their rulemaking on the neighborhoods.

The council may change three ordinances: whether commercial vehicles can park in residential areas, the placement of carports in side-yard setbacks, and the masking of commercial garbage containers. The council also is planning to consider changes in the city's Code Enforcement Department.

Board members and residents thanked Butler after the tour, saying they had gained a new perspective, yet the council member was unsure he'd gotten his point across.

"I can't tell till we have a meeting," Butler said.

With any luck, Butler said, council members will understand that decisions can have unintended long-range consequences. Consider the requirement that commercial garbage containers be shielded, he said. Solid masonry walls around Dumpsters can prevent police from seeing homeless people who crawl inside to sleep.

It's the government equivalent of "for every action, there's a reaction," Butler said.

The tour fell short of expectations in some residents' estimation because dialogue with city officials was prohibited during the roughly one-hour tour.

That was a shortcoming, acknowledged Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler, who was in the front trolley with the other council members who attended. (Patricia Bailey-Snook did not go.)

"I would like to have a meeting with all those people who came. Let's sit down and listen to their ideas," Mischler said. "I would relish their input."

Peggy Duncan was a "bit enlightened" but disappointed because there was so little chance for interaction with the council. She concluded that she needs to attend more meetings and become more involved with the activities of city government.

"I've been too much of a silent participant," she said.

Duncan said she was impressed with the differences in neighborhoods. Deed-restricted neighborhoods are generally better kept, an indication that the city's code enforcement needs to be stricter.

"I just feel like Code Enforcement is understaffed or undertrained or something," Duncan said.

The difference in appearance also reinforced Duncan's opposition to any loosening of the commercial truck ordinance.

"I wouldn't want the mayor or anybody else to mess around with our current ordinances or loosen (the truck ordinance)," she said. "I want the place to look better."

Wismer, the head of the zoning board, agreed that the sight of heavy trucks and equipment parked throughout many neighborhoods should show council members how awful the city would look if they relax the rules. He said they need to enforce the rules more. "I think if they change that it's going to be a step backward," Wismer said.

If you go

The Pinellas Park City Council is scheduled to discuss proposed changes to the truck, carport and garbage container ordinances during its 7:30 p.m. workshop Tuesday. Council members are scheduled to discuss code enforcement during a 6:30 p.m. workshop June 5. Both workshops will be held on the second floor of City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N, and are open to the public, but comment is allowed only with council permission.

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