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HB center committee looks for downtown improvements

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach officials have plans for improving the area at the intersection of Marina and Gulf drives, including the elimination of the merge/turn lane along Marina Drive northbound from Gulf Drive to the Island Library, 5701 Marina Drive, to improve safety and allow for landscape buffering. Islander Photo: Mark Young

There’s a good reason former Bradenton planner and development director Jerry West called the Holmes Beach city center committee an “exciting” group.

Of the many committees focusing on traffic, congestion and parking problems, the city center committee isn’t just looking at resolving existing problems, but also has a focus on enhancing the city for future needs.

The city center committee comprises volunteers with more than a century of engineering and architectural experience.

The ideas for what the city center — the surrounding area at Gulf and Marina drives — should look like have been forthcoming, but nothing can come to fruition until the storm drains start flowing.

West said no surface projects could be implemented until the city addresses drainage issues.

Building official Tom O’Brien said the city is seeking an engineering study and, based on his inspections, there is much to do in terms of locating stormwater pipes that aren’t identified correctly on city maps and cleaning out the known pipes.

O’Brien said one of the main drains responsible for carrying rainwater into the Mainsail marina basin is about 90 percent blocked. He also said some drain pipes are too low in the ground.

“At high tide, the tide will overflow where it’s plugged and seawater will go all the way to the city hall swale,” said O’Brien. “That’s why you have stinking water, because the seawater is just sitting in the plugged pipe.”

O’Brien said seawater is getting trapped in swales and it’s killing vegetation, adding to the odor issue.

Once the drainage situation is addressed, plans include shortening the merge/turn lane on Marina Drive from the intersection to the Island Library, 5701 Marina Drive.

On an island with little opportunity for expansion, committee members say the idea will accomplish two goals: improve safety and provide landscaping.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said motorists use the lane to speed past other vehicles and jump back into the primary lane. The elimination of the lane would decrease the potential for accidents. It also would give the city added space for landscaping and a boardwalk along the marina where businesses on barges also are being proposed.

The atmosphere would be enhanced with old-fashioned gas street lights.

The ideas from the committee are to make the city center a walkable shopping destination for residents and visitors.

The plans include enhancing pedestrian and bicycle traffic flow in the area.

The committee suggested the use of portable planters to experiment with landscaping if and when the Marina Drive merge lane is eliminated.

O’Brien also suggested eliminating the driveway entrance on Gulf Drive into S&S Plaza at Hurricane Hank’s.

O’Brien said an intersection is meant for public streets and it’s not meant to be a four-way intersection with one path being a private driveway.

“It doesn’t meet Florida Department of Transportation standards,” said O’Brien. “We’ll have to work with the property owners to come up with another plan.”

While city center ideas are being vetted in the public, committee members stress that they are simply brainstorming.

There was, however, a plan submitted by a group of merchants to create a roundabout at the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives, although the committee has not addressed it.

“There are no plans being submitted,” said O’Brien.

West said the city center committee is supposed to be bringing up the rear of what other committees are doing.

“We need them to be on board before we know where we are going, so I think we are moving faster than everyone else,” said West.

O’Brien said the city could move early with shutting down the Marina Drive merge lane, however, and will turn the idea of portable planters over to the city’s beautification committee for discussion.

Much of what the committee wants to do hinges on the successful completion of the Mainsail Lodge development site. The Mainsail site and the proposed city center projects are expected to work in conjunction with one another to enhance both projects.

In other matters, since the city center committee is ahead of other committees, and December is a busy holiday month, West proposed cancelling the Dec. 17 meeting.

The members agreed and scheduled the next meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

West said he would like to see more people join the committee to expand its creative potential. Anyone wishing to join the committee can contact West at 941-778-2268.

Along the lines of more participation, O’Brien said he would like the committee to consider the creation of a design competition for city center amenities.

Members agreed that would be a good idea moving forward and would discuss it at a later date.

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