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Paving of Centre Street meets dead end at council

By Staff | May 20, 2009

While members of the City Council failed to lean one way or the other during discussions about the possibility of paving Centre Street on Tuesday, most members of the public – either in person or via correspondence sent to city administrators – voiced strong opposition to the proposal.

According to City Manager Judie Zimomra, the idea to pave the roadway between Court Place – a 14-unit Below Market Rate Housing (BMRH) development – and Dixie Beach Boulevard had been suggested by the Planning Commission. Residents of the neighborhood worried that the increased traffic along Centre Street, presently a crushed shell composite surface, would be dramatically impacted by increased traffic the development would bring.

During talks held prior to the approval of Court Place, several residents warned that paving Centre Street would likely entice more traffic to the area, which is already burdened by large commercial vehicles and islanders who use the thoroughfare as a “shortcut.”

In approving the BMRH project, planners requested that City Council consider paving Centre Street at the city’s own expense.

“This is a discussion between the council and the public,” said Mayor Mick Denham. “We’re in the process now to decide if this is something we want to do and how we want to proceed.”

More than a half dozen residents who received a letter from Zimomra, dated May 7, informing them that the matter was to be discussed earlier this week spoke before the council. The first speaker, Larry Strange of Fitzhugh Street, worried about what portion of the paving – estimated at $55,525 – would be borne to residents of the affected area.

Zimomra explained that historically, a petition by 80 percent of the affected property owners has been required to convert unpaved streets to paved surfaces. In addition, two-thirds of the cost for this type of project has been borne by the benefitted property owners and one-third of the cost by the city.

“The timing on this thing is absolutely ridiculous,” said Gray Scott, who lives at the corner of Main and Centre streets. “We are already having traffic issues in our neighborhood.”

“I don’t want any more asphalt brought to Sanibel,” he added.

Les Forney, a member of the Planning Commission who resides on Palm Street, said that in his opinion the primary beneficiary would be the city itself.

“I think that some of the property owners would like to see that road paved, but I don’t think that any of them have the wherewithal to do it,” said Forney, who likened the current condition of Centre Street’s unpaved surface to “a third world country.”

Warren Schwab, also of Palm Street, agreed that any paving of Centre Street should be paid for “100 percent” by the city.

“If that street is paved, it’s just going to become a high-speed neighborhood where people and children will be put in danger,” he added.

“I believe we have paved enough of paradise,” noted Centre Street resident John Costanzo. “I say ‘Nay.’ Completely nay!”

In one letter to the city from Mary Jeanne McAward, who suggested that if paving was being considered that Sanibel should use the permeable macadam used on Wildlife Drive within the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, wrote “Many people want their ‘here’ to have the look and feel of their former ‘there,’ whether the reason is property values, less wear-and-tear on vehicles or a dislike of eating dust. These are lousy reasons to pave anything.”

Following some additional discussion, Denham made a motion to end discussions regarding the paving of Centre Street. His motion passed 3-0, with Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane and Councilman Peter Pappas absent from the meeting.

“We can bring it back, if necessary, when there are more residents here that may be affected by this,” he said.

Councilman Marty Harrity made a suggestion to post “No Thru Traffic” signs at entrances to the surrounding neighborhood, with hopes that they might discourage some drivers from using it as a “shortcut.” Zimomra said that while there would be no way to enforce such a sign, the council may consider adding the notion to an upcoming agenda for discussion.