TARPON SPRINGS – The plan to add a connecting sidewalk on South Spring Boulevard between Lemon and Lim streets hit a snag recently, as Tarpon Springs residents and officials voiced strong opposition to the proposal during the Board of Commissioners meeting on January 22.
When the item was addressed, Project Administration Department Director Bob Robertson explained how the new sidewalk would bridge a 700-foot gap that exists on the east side of South Spring between the two side streets, which “forces pedestrians to use the road, the grass or detours on Lemon and Lime.”
He said the work would be done entirely using the city right-of-way and as close to the street as possible, but he acknowledged some residents expressed concerns about the potential changes to the scenic area.
“I’ve spoken with a couple of residents who expressed some concerns about surface features, such as trees, curbs, mailboxes, et cetera,” Robertson said, adding, “we’re fortunate to have a good amount of right-of-way through this area, and I believe we can avoid most of those features working closely with homeowners on these items.”
Irrigation systems would be relocated with no expense to homeowners, if needed, he said.
Commissioner Rea Sieber, who has lived on South Spring Boulevard for several years, said she was against the connector sidewalk proposal, which was estimated at $92,000 in design and construction costs. She urged officials to reconsider making the narrow street a one-way.
“Since I live there I notice everything, and I think by using the city right-of-way, it could potentially make the street narrower. And that’s what I’m concerned about,” she said. “We have boat traffic and trailers and trucks and pedestrians and bicyclists all in that area and I think we need more space.”
Other commissioners expressed varying levels of support for the project, with Commissioner Susan Kikta stating, “I just don’t think this is the best option,” and Commissioner David Banther adding he believed it was “a decent” plan.
“I know we’re not using any private property, but people perceive their yard as their property,” Banther added.
When the item was opened for public comment, half a dozen residents came to the podium and all of them said they opposed the proposal.
Theresa Esposito said she would “love to see you come up with a different plan,” and Paul Siderakis added, “It’s going to destroy the whole feeling there.”
But the impact of what the work would do to the character of the neighborhood was hammered home by Kathy Chew, a longtime South Spring Boulevard resident who became extremely emotional when talking about the potential changes to her home.
“It is a beautiful, beautiful setting, and it’s going to change if you put a sidewalk in our front yard, it’s just going to change the way it’s been,” Chew said, her voice beginning to break and tears beginning to flow. “We’ve been there since 1959. My father planted the tree in our front yard 60 years ago, and it would break our hearts if the sidewalk caused us to lose the tree. It’s a very emotional thing for me.”
Chew then apologized for being emotional and quickly composed herself before suggesting they construct the sidewalk across the street on the west, or waterfront side, which currently features a long, horizontal bed of large granite boulders.
“I love the suggestion about revisiting doing it across the street,” she said. “I think the granite rocks are ugly, I’m sorry. I think they take away from the beauty of our bayou.”
Following the public comments, Mayor Chris Alahouzos said he believed the boulders, which were installed five years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent erosion, were a “terrible design,” but he said they need to move forward and “provide some pedestrian safety and sidewalk.” He suggested they reexamine alternate options, including a boardwalk over the boulders.
Sieber then made a motion to deny the proposal, and it passed by a vote of 4-1, with Jacob Karr voting no.
After the meeting, Alahouzos and Sieber spoke about the situation on South Spring.
“This, to me, was a terrible design to put the rocks there, but now we have to deal with it,” Alahouzos said. “What I really want to see is a walkway along the water so people can enjoy the beauty of the water, and that’s why we gave the city manager direction to look into that.”
Sieber recalled when the west side of the street was lined with trees and a nice walkway, and then the rocks were installed to help prevent erosion.
“Now, there is no place to walk, no sidewalk, just a curb, grass and a seawall,” Sieber said. “So, we need to have someone come out and re-evaluate it and see what we can do to fix it. Because it’s flooding all the time and it’s eventually going to bring down the property values on the street if nothing is done.”
As for the proposed connecting sidewalk between Lemon and Lime, Sieber reiterated her belief that the city should focus on the west side and reconsider making South Spring Boulevard a one-way street.