Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Assorted Items of Interest

This week let’s look at several topics of interest in our town.

Trail and Sidewalk Planning
There have been questions asked recently about the new trail on the east side of North Wailes Drive. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee recommended the connection between the new Trailway to Spook Hill Elementary School to improve safety for school children. Using asphalt allowed for a wider path at a lower cost than the use of concrete. It also opened up the paved area for easier travel for bicyclists. The east side of the street was chosen since it keeps pedestrians from having to cross a number of streets and provides a much safer path for the elementary school students.

The next phase of this work will include painting in a crosswalk, the installation of signage, and the construction of a concrete sidewalk on school property. Additional sections of sidewalks are planned along the west side of North Wailes Dr. south of the Trailway to make a connection down to Lakeshore Drive.

SR 60 East: Lighting and Medians
City staff approached FDOT several years ago to inquire about their ability to improve street lighting on State Road 60 from 11th St to Buck Moore Road. FDOT completed that work months ago. City staff then approached FDOT about the feasibility of continuing the grass median from 11th St to the east. FDOT staff prepared a conceptual plan that is on display in the lobby of city hall. The City Commission will be asked to endorse their plan, and FDOT staff will then hold an open house to review and explain the plan to affected property owners and interested citizens.

At present this stretch of State Road 60 has an open turn lane. Motorists traveling either east or west can pull into the lane and then turn left. Unfortunately, some drivers also use this lane as an “acceleration” lane. If they want to turn left from a street, say 12th Street for example, but traffic is heavy going in that direction, drivers sometimes pull into the center lane and drive there until traffic opens up and they can move over. This is a very dangerous move.

FDOT has federal safety funds that can be used for this sort of project. The conceptual plan shows that there will be full openings at some intersections, and “directed” turns (which only allow cars to turn a certain direction) at other locations. Landscaping will be provided to enhance this area and make a very nice entryway into town from east SR 60. The median will end west of Capps Road.
Park Planning, Trees
The Parks and Community Appearance Board has been busy. The board recently heard a presentation from an arborist regarding trees in Lake Wailes Park, including the type of trees and their condition. One of the arborist’s recommendations will involve ways to relieve the stress of some large trees caused by mowing grass beneath the trees. These areas may need to be mulched.

City staff is also researching available properties in the northern areas of the city for the building of a city park. It is anticipated that recreation impact fee funds, as well as any available grant funds, would be used for this purpose.

Utility System Improvements Workshop
Every year the City Commission approves a plan that lists the capital improvements that will be needed for the next year. The plan recently adopted contains financing and expenditures for the first phase of work for the wastewater treatment plant. This work includes maintenance work for the plant, which is now twenty years old, as well as other improvements and a small expansion of capacity. There are also plans to extend a water line to connect to the new airport system and go further west on SR 60. It is anticipated that these topics will be discussed at an upcoming City Commission workshop.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vandals & Litterbugs

Many people have a cell phone…and yet there are relatively few calls made to the police department to report crimes while they are in process. I believe that there is at least one crime that could be substantially curtailed if people would call when they see it happening: vandalism. Another problem that can be addressed with community action is littering. Let’s take a look at these problems and determine what can be done to address them.
Our parks have suffered the effects of vandalism for years. Some of the worst cases in recent years include the following:
  1. Crystal Lake Park – There were very few swings in the park this summer. Most had been vandalized, and the swing seats that meet insurance requirements cost $129 each. Other items of playground equipment have been destroyed as well. Perhaps the most costly item was the bar-b-que grill. Last spring, vandals literally dismantled the chimney to the grill. The entire chimney had to be re-built at a cost of over $3,000.

  2. Shuffleboard Courts – in 2004 the City was awarded a grant (no city money required as match for this grant) to re-surface the shuffleboard courts and make other improvements. Soon after the work was completed, the improved area was vandalized – including damage to the new scoreboards. In order to reduce the likelihood of continued vandalism, the City had to close in the courts with new sections of tall, chain-link fence.

  3. Northwest Complex (Frasier Field) – vandals destroyed fixtures in both restrooms. Following their replacement, a heavy metal bar had to be placed over the doors to ensure their security.

  4. Lincoln Park – playground equipment has been vandalized.

  5. The pier on Lake Wailes – this picturesque spot, with the gazebo reaching out into the lake, has been severely vandalized. Much of the woodwork has been broken off and removed, and City facilities staff had to install a plywood ceiling as vandals had punched a hole through the wood shingled roof from the inside.

  6. Graffiti – Graffiti defaces public buildings, traffic control signs, and street signs around town, as well as privately owned buildings. City staff spends hours painting out graffiti and replacing signage that has been defaced.
It is difficult for me to believe that not one vandalism incident has been witnessed by someone with a cell phone. If you see vandalism occurring please call the police at 911. Vandalism is a crime that must be stopped.

Another problem that could be curtailed with community action is litter. In a number of areas of the city we are awash in litter. It is so bad that I occasionally take a plastic grocery bag with me when I take a walk to pick up the litter as I go. In my experience the most popular litter items come from fast food restaurants, but there is the occasional beer bottle, drink can, or 12 pack cardboard carton.

City staff is considering the preparation of an ordinance similar to the county program and state program, in which groups could volunteer to “adopt a street”. In this program a group would volunteer to pick up litter at least once every three months on both sides of their adopted street. A sign designating that group and their adoption of the street would be placed in the area.

One of the many keys to attracting visitors to our town is to have a sparkling clean appearance. This fact was echoed in the first Donald Trump book, in which he expounded on his demands for cleanliness at every one of his facilities. Our beautiful entryway to downtown via Central Avenue is quickly spoiled if the roadsides are littered. The same is true once visitors begin exploring our “quaint” downtown, which quickly losses its charm if visitors are stepping over food wrappers or discarded newspapers.

Your City staff is open to your suggestions on how best to fight these two nagging problems. Please give me a call at 678-4182, ext 225, or e-mail me at totte@cityoflakewales.com. All suggestions will be given serious consideration.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rumor Report #2

In this column let’s look at several rumors that have been circulating around town for quite some time.

Rumor: The City is going to close the Depot Museum.
The City never had any intention of closing the Depot Museum. City staff prepared draft budgets for the Depot Museum last summer that included the funding for operational expenses, such as electric, phone, water, etc., with the idea of having the Museum operate with volunteers. This plan came from the thought that a number of community museums operate with volunteers. It was later reported that museums in Dundee, Fort Meade, Frostproof, as well as in other communities around the country operate with volunteers.

In a later draft of the City budget, City staff proposed that in addition to the operational expenses noted above, the budget contain a grant to the Historic Lake Wales Society for the operation of the museum with funds for a paid position. The initial proposal was for a part-time position; the final agreement contained the funding for a full-time position. The total cost of museum operation under the contractual arrangement with the Historic Lake Wales Society, even with the full-time position, is less than the previous year with a city employee. At no time did the City staff recommend, nor did the City Commission discuss, closing the museum.

Rumor: The City violated the law in the approval of a contract with former Mayor and City Commissioner Linda Kimbrough.
The City Charter has a provision which provides that no former elected City Official shall hold any compensated, appointed city office or employment until one year after the expiration of their term. The City went out to bid for community development consultant services last year and received two bids. The bid submitted by Kimbrough and Associates was the lower bid. The City Attorney was asked if the acceptance of this bid was a violation of the charter provision referenced above. He stated that in his opinion since Ms. Kimbrough was not employed by the City in her individual capacity, the utilization of consulting services from Kimbrough and Associates does not violate the charter provision.

Rumor: a portion of the south wall of the 1919 building fell down.
Earlier this year the Construction Manager for the 1919 building project brought in a structural engineer to inspect the south wall. A portion of the wall was “bowing” out, and the engineer recommended that this section of wall be removed by the contractor and re-built. The wall was taken down carefully so that the original windows and bricks in the exterior wall would be in good condition. They were then re-used in re-building the wall. In this way, there was no problem encountered with matching the existing windows and bricks. This work was reported in an article in the Lake Wales News on February 27th.

Speaking of the 1919 building, there have been two tours of the building recently with Hank Donaldson, a local residential contractor, at his request. Mr. Donaldson then wrote a letter to the editor that omitted some relevant information.

For the first tour Mr. Donaldson was asked if the project architect and structural engineer could attend. Mr. Donaldson said no, he did not want to “get in a debate” with them. Later, Mr. Donaldson called back and requested a second tour, this time with a reporter. City staff asked if he would object if a structural engineer who had no connection with the project could attend. It was explained that the large engineering firm that employs the City’s water and sewer engineer also employs structural engineers, and an engineer who has never been in the building and has no connection with it would be available to accompany us. Mr. Donaldson said that was fine, no problem with that. But then Mr. Donaldson wrote in his letter to the editor, “I wish the City had chosen an independent engineer to initially review this. Instead they chose an employee of a firm the City has an ongoing contractual/monetary relationship with. This makes me question the City’s integrity, not the engineer’s.” Mr. Donaldson failed to disclose that before the tour he agreed to have an engineer from that firm present, knowing the firm and their relationship to the City that he later questioned!

Follow-up reports from these tours are being prepared and the results will be featured in a future column. The reports will be available for review at City Hall.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Economic Redevelopment

Community re-development is a busy activity in our town. The proposals for the Grand Hotel will be opened, the Lincoln Ave area is moving forward, and the City Commission just approved the submission of an application for the next round of Community Development Block Grant awards. Let’s take a quick review of these activities!
Grand Hotel
The City has received five proposals for re-development of the Grand Hotel. The City Commission has appointed a committee to review the proposals consisting of the following individuals:
  • Robin Gibson, representing the Chamber’s CRA Steering Committee;

  • Betty Wojick, Chamber Executive Director

  • Jan Privett, Main Street Manager

  • Tony Otte, City Manager

  • Harold Gallup, City Economic Development Director

  • Tina Peak, Library Director

  • A representative of the City’s new Historic District Regulatory Board

  • Don Martin of Martin Vargas (author of the recent downtown re-development plan), advisor
The proposals will be distributed to Committee members and opened at the Committee’s first meeting, which will be held at 1 pm on Thursday, October 9, at City Hall. Two additional Committee meetings have already been scheduled: Thursday, October 16, and Thursday, October 23, all at City Hall at 1 pm. All review committee meetings are open to the public, and minutes will be taken.
Lincoln Avenue Re-Development
Five years ago a meeting was held at the B Street Center to discuss the re-establishment of neighborhood commercial business activities on Lincoln Avenue. Al Hawkins, a member of the Green and Gold Foundation, summed up what was needed to be successful: the area has to be “clean, and safe”.

Since that meeting, the City has purchased or foreclosed on 8 land parcels in the Lincoln Avenue area, with additional parcels being considered. One of these parcels is the location of the Walker Building at the SW corner of Lincoln and C Streets, which is the largest commercial structure in the Lincoln Avenue neighborhood commercial area. The City has secured and painted the building using a color from the color palette selected for the area. Plans for the sale and renovation of the building are now being formulated.

The City has also demolished two dilapidated commercial buildings on Lincoln Ave, and has provided grants through the CRA to renovate the building front and exterior walls (“fa├žade grants”) for four commercial properties, two on Lincoln and two on Wiltshire Blvd.

More recently, the CRA Board approved the opening of a police sub-station to serve Lincoln Ave and the surrounding area. The substation will supplement existing police efforts and will be staffed with three experienced police officers. This community policing initiative is another step to make the area safe.
CDBG Grant Application
The City Commission recently approved the submission of a grant application for the next round of Community Development Block Grant awards. In order to be competitive, this grant requires a match of City funds. The match is a City utility project that has been planned to bring better water service to the east side of downtown. If awarded, CDBG grant funds will be used for the following projects:
  • Additional landscaping on Central, Stuart, and Park Avenues

  • New lighting on Lincoln Avenue

  • A parking lot near Lincoln and C streets

  • New facades for three buildings on Lincoln Avenue
Re-development is an essential goal for our town. The City is working with the Chamber’s CRA Steering Committee, Main Street, and other interested parties to plan and complete re-development projects. Your interest and participation are welcomed.