MURDOCK — Charlotte County commissioners decided Tuesday to move ahead with the original plans for new sidewalks along Gulf Boulevard on South Manasota Key.
The county plans call for sidewalks with curbs, primarily for pedestrian safety, to be built along the west side of Gulf Boulevard.
But that plan stirred up controversy, especially for the property owners on the west side of Gulf Boulevard who have, over the years, added landscaping and other barriers onto the public right of way.
A year ago, the county was ready to hire a contractor, but shelved the $1.7 million sidewalk project. Instead, the county hired Weiler Engineering to consider alternative plans. According to the review, stormwater drainage and additional engineering would be needed if the sidewalk project crossed the street. And it would cost more money.
“If we widened the (road) shoulder, we will turn Gulf Boulevard into a parking lot,” said Lorriane Johannessen, chairwoman of the Manasota Key Street and Drainage Taxing Unit’s volunteer advisory committee. She also suggested to commissioners the sidewalks were needed for pedestrian safety.
Damian Ochab pointed out how it has taken eight years to complete plans for Gulf Boulevard. The county has future plans for sidewalks in the commercial portion of Manasota Key near Englewood Beach, and then the northern portion of Beach Road. Ochab quipped he might be in his 90s or older before those sidewalks are poured.
A slim majority of emails the county received, 65 out of 116, asked commissioners to stick with the original plan. Some cited how much more alternative plans could cost them.
“The additional cost of the alternative layout will be approximately $310,000 to $410,000 more than the current design inclusive of additional construction and permitting/design fees,” the Weiler report stated.
The project is to be paid from the Manasota Key Street and Drainage Taxing Unit, which is financed with taxes from property owners on Manasota Key in Charlotte County.
The commissioners voted unanimously to keep the sidewalk plan as it is, with one caveat: Commissioner Ken Doherty suggested adding $50,000 as a “landscaping allowance” to replace some of the landscaping that will be lost to the sidewalk project. Public Works Director John Elias said that could be used for plants on the rights of way, but not on private property.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to add the landscaping funding.