TARPON SPRINGS – Following a post-election period that featured four meetings in five weeks, the City Commission is in the midst of a three-week gap in its schedule. The commission will not meet again until May 14.

At back-to-back meetings totaling more than eight hours in length, the newly commission addressed several key agenda items prior to the long Easter break. Here are some of the highlights:

April 9

• The City Commission approved the conditional use application for the Cycadia Cemetery expansion project, which will feature a committal shelter and a mausoleum, plus nearly 800 in-ground burial plots on three and a half acres. While the request passed 5-0, Commissioner Jacob Karr requested staff rethink the plant choices for the city-owned cemetery, and Commissioner Townsend Tarapani suggested the site should feature a public art installation, as is required with certain commercial developments, despite it being in a residentially zoned area. “I understand that it’s a service, but we’re also selling plots,” Tarapani said. “So, to me, it could kind of be construed as a commercial deal. So, I think it’s a little bit of a missed opportunity for us to not have some form of public art …. on site.” Construction on the project is set to begin this summer, with an estimated completion of spring or summer 2020.

• The commission also unanimously approved a site plan calling for improvements to the Meadows Mobile Home Park’s community center, including the addition of a health club and pool.

• Following the recent election, the commission named new appointees to county boards, including Tarapani to the board of the county planning agency Forward Pinellas and Commissioner Connor Donovan to the Homeless Leadership Board. The commission could not come to a consensus as to who would occupy a spot on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board and instructed City Manager Mark LeCouris to reach out to Tarpon’s north county partners about filling the vacancy.

April 16

• Tarpon and Pinellas County officials provided an update on the Beckett Bridge Reconstruction Project, a county-led project consisting of a complete reconstruction of the bridge that connects North Spring Boulevard and Riverside Drive. According to project manager Erin Lawson, officials decided during the design stage it would benefit the project to acquire 15 feet of right of way on the west side of the bridge to be used for sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the bridge. “This acquisition would provide many benefits to the project, to the city and most importantly it would be a safety enhancement to the project and to the bridge,” Lawson said, noting the area in question is comprised of 16 mobile homes and an RV pad, plus land, and would cost the county roughly $1.5 million in tenant relocation, legal fees and other costs. She said they plan to meet with the affected property owners to discuss the right-of-way acquisition and to go over the design, which is now 90 percent complete, according to Lawson. “We will go out again to the public and present this concept and garner some feedback from it,” she said, adding, “We want to wait until we have the right-of-way issues resolved and we have a more solid construction schedule.” In response to commission questions, Lawson said the project would include one bike-sidewalk lane, should the right of way not be obtained, and she said the city would not be reimbursed for the relocation of any utilities. The commission unanimously supported the county’s efforts to acquire the 15-feet of right of way, and county officials said several public meetings would be scheduled to inform and receive feedback from residents.

• The commission approved a bid not to exceed $391,657 to Precision Roofing Systems for the replacement of the metal roof at the Tarpon Springs Public Library. In addition to installing a new prefinished aluminum roof, the project will include new gutters and downspouts, painting and weatherproofing the library’s exterior as well as miscellaneous repair and restoration work.

• Commissioners agreed to enter a lease-purchase agreement with a finance company for an amount not to exceed $1,094,792.00 for a new ladder truck for the Tarpon Springs Fire Department. According to LeCouris, staff decided to enter the lease agreement to replace its aging ladder truck “to free up $800,000 in the Penny next year to do a lot of the projects you want to do,” LeCouris said, referring to the city’s share of Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue. “So, we feel it’s best to go to financing.” Fire Chief Scott Young explained the city’s lone ladder truck has experienced a lot of downtime over the past several years. This has forced the department to depend on other districts fire districts to provide support and leading the request for a replacement a year ahead of schedule. Young noted in a period of 165 days between October 2018 and March 2019, the ladder truck was down 72 days, or 44 percent of the time. He said the truck has required more than $134,000 in repairs over the past four and half years, including more than $23,000 worth of work since October. Mayor Chris Alahouzos thanked staff for designing the truck and addressing an important need. “I think it’s worth it, in my opinion,” Alahouzos said. The item was approved by a vote of 4-0.

• The commission unanimously approved a conditional use application for a distillery at 321 N. Safford Ave. According to the terms, applicant Steve Corrado would be allowed to produce spirits at the 335-square-foot site, pending the approval of state and federal distilling licenses, with an eye towards expanding and potentially relocating his operation following the approval. “All we’ll be doing at this site is developing our brand and our recipes,” Corrado said, noting his operation would sport a distinct Tarpon Springs theme. “Once we obtain that approval…we will look for a suitable site to build a legitimate craft distillery.” When Alahouzos asked if he would produce ouzo, a popular Greek aperitif, Corrado replied, “Yes. We couldn’t do this in Tarpon Springs without it.”

• The commission approved a trio of items pertaining to the city’s Land Development Code, voting 3-1 on the second reading of an ordinance calling for charging a flat fee of $200, rather than a land value calculation, for street vacation applications, with Tarapani voting against the change; a motion to change the mail notice radius for several LDC applications from 200 feet to 500 feet was unanimously approved on first reading, 4-0; and a recommendation by the Heritage Preservation Board to allow widespread appeals of board decisions also passed, 4-0.

• LeCouris closed the final meeting of the month by informing the commission the city has received another grant for the $3 million Pent-Grosse stormwater project. “After we originally got about a $400,000 grant, we had a chance to go for a higher one,” LeCouris said of the project that encompasses the “bowl” area east of City Hall. “We went for it, and $1,368,400 is going to be given to us 100 percent for construction on that major project that’s at the top of our list.” LeCouris said the much-needed project would “help us solve one of our major problems in this town.”