Longboat Key officials aren’t used to having little to no control over a project that’s happening in their own back yard.
But that’s exactly what’s happening with the $500,000 Gulf of Mexico Drive beautification project.
In April, town staff was notified it received a sliver of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pie, better known as the nation’s economic stimulus package.
Public Works Director Juan Florensa received confirmation from the Town Commission in May that the town was willing to accept $500,000 in federal funds for Gulf of Mexico Drive beautification, although 30% of the money will be used for the design of the landscaping work.
Trees, shrubbery, trash receptacles, benches and welcome signs, Florensa said, are some of the items for which the town can use the money after design costs are calculated.
The town will use $120,000 of the money to upgrade the two welcome signs at the north and south ends of the Key and $50,000 to upgrade the way-finding signs that alert motorists to business off the beaten path.
The rest of the money will be used for Gulf of Mexico Drive landscaping.
And at the Planning and Zoning Board’s Tuesday, Sept. 15 regular meeting, Florensa explained that the town has an opportunity to let the Florida Department of Transportation know what type of signs it would like on the island.
Hoping to present the planning board’s sign suggestions to the Town Commission at its Thursday, Sept. 24 regular workshop, Florensa displayed a variety of sign options for the board’s consideration.
However, the board did not make any recommendations on the signs, likening the choices presented to signs that belong in a cemetery.
Upset that the process was moving so quickly, planning board member Al Hixon said the town “was missing the boat entirely.”
“We don’t want the federal government to force us down the road for a new sign when we should be talking about getting a good landscape architect first,” Hixon said. “I’m appalled we are just talking about graphics and a sign.”
Planning board Chairwoman B.J. Webb agreed.
“We are not overly excited with any of these (sign suggestions),” Webb said. “This is like building a building and then putting the trees in afterward.”
Florensa said he understood the board’s concern.
“But if we don’t give the state any suggestions, they will just put in whatever they want,” Florensa said.
Florensa said he pushed state officials for as much input as possible in the federal project that will be overseen by the state.
“We told the state we are picky and want public input,” Florensa said. “And the only compromise we could get was to give them an idea of what they should bid for the project.”
Florensa told The Longboat Observer the project is designated as a design-build concept.
“Federal regulations for this stimulus money do not allow us to take our time and tell the state’s hired contractor what we want,” said Florensa, who explained the project will go out to bid in mid October.
Florensa will present the signs to the Town Commission Thursday without a formal recommendation from its planning board, in the hopes town staff can receive some direction to relay to state officials.
“If the state doesn’t get this project out to bid, we lose the money,” Florensa said. “Our backs are against the clocks here and we just need some basic direction.”