For 20 years, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has done its part to make the holidays bright for children and families in need.
It’s a tradition, and it’s humbling, said Major Sean Jowell, with the Sheriff’s Office Support Services, who has participated in Ride & Run with the Stars for more years than he can remember.
This year’s event is Saturday, Dec. 7, 8 a.m. to noon, at Fort De Soto Park.
Ride & Run with the Stars has taken place the first Saturday in December since 1983. The event was the brainchild of three former deputies, Michael Platt, Scott Stiner and Gary Herbine. Back in those days, employees of the sheriff’s office would donate their own money to try to help families and children they knew needed help, especially during the holidays. But the need was too great. They couldn’t do enough on their own.
So, Platt, who retired as a captain and now works at the sheriff’s office as range master, Stiner, now a retired captain, and Herbine, a retired lieutenant, came up with the idea to have a bicycle riding event at Fort De Soto to raise money for the children.
“It was a very simple thing, but it really took off and grew,” Jowell said. “Now, it’s the 20th anniversary.”
PINELLAS PARK - Saddle Up Riding Club could find itself homeless in 90 days - unless it’s able to raise $90,000 by the end of those three months.
The club, which offers equine therapy for disabled children, adults and veterans, in addition to its programs for able-bodied riders, has operated on about 7 acres in Pinellas Park for the past six years. Now the property’s owner, Arianna Land LLC, is no longer willing to lease the land to the nonprofit organization and has given it 90 days to come up with the financing to purchase the property at 6080 94th Ave. for $450,000.
Several months ago, Kellie Sipos, executive director at Saddle Up, was approached by Second Chance Foundation, an organization that assists struggling nonprofit groups and offered to help her purchase the property. Saddle Up would be required to provide a 20 percent down payment, as well as to pay the difference between what a property appraiser recently determined the property to be worth - about $375,000, Sipos said - and Arianna Land’s $450,000 asking price. According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser website, the most recent assessed value of the property is $233,010.
CLEARWATER - The Goldstein family of Odessa already have four biological children, but they have the big house and the big car, they love kids and wanted to do more. Timothy and Kimberly Nall are in their 50s, but they’ve known for years that they wanted to help more kids after their biological kids were grown. Douglas and Joanna Whitacre wanted to give their grandchildren a stable, forever family and a place to call home. Joanne and Gary Sastamoinen love children and have always wanted them, but when they couldn’t have biological children, they realized there were plenty of other kids who need loving parents.
All of these families and more celebrated Pinellas County’s National Adoption Day Ceremony on Nov. 22 at the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater. Once a year in November, the courts open their doors to the press so the public can witness one of the happiest things the courts do - finalize adoptions.
In the United States, there are about 104,000 foster children who are available for adoption. Of those, 750 are in Florida, and 225 are in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties alone. Eckerd Community Alternatives oversees all of these foster kids and adoptions in these three counties, and in addition to the kids waiting to be adopted, there are also currently more than 6,000 other children in foster care who are not yet available for adoption.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Sarah’s Seaside Cottages at 306 Gulf Blvd. is 25 years old. To get to that age has not been simple. The life and birth of the establishment has been somewhat complicated. It is a story with some international involvement and a lot of hard work and dedication.
The story began in 1988 when Lee and Mary Wilkerson wanted to get some rental property in Florida. They both had educational backgrounds and Lee, who had an architectural background, was working in construction.
“It was natural for us to have this as a sideline,” he said. “Mary grew up in Tampa and always wanted a beach place.”
They were living in Atlanta at the time but soon found a property in Indian Rocks Beach that fit the bill.
“It was a fixer-upper at 810 Gulfside. The original name was the Seashed,” said Wilkerson. “My energy level at the time allowed me to do my full time job as a builder and work on this property. We had full time renters; it wasn’t a vacation resort.”
CLEARWATER - Wendy Nero, Intergovernmental Relations Manager, started her fourth week on the job with a presentation to Pinellas County Commissioners on the 2014 State Legislative Program.
Nero admitted during the Nov. 19 meeting that much of the work on next year’s list of priority items to keep an eye on during the 2014 state legislative session had already been done when she started. However, she has already talked to as many stakeholders as possible about what they thought was most important.
Pinellas County Commissioners approve a list each year of items staff and paid lobbyists are asked to monitor during the legislative session. Nero pointed out that this year’s program was “not an exhaustive list” and said other issues could evolve that might require commission action.
Top of the legislative program is unfunded mandates that “negatively impact local government budgets and control.” Unfunded mandates by the state are usually imposed without discussion or consensus from local governments about the impacts they might have on available resources.
Nero presented six priority items, including support of the State Housing Initiatives Partnership and State Apartment Incentive Loan Program. According to her report, documentary stamp tax on deeds was created specifically to fund the state’s affordable housing trust fund. Lawmakers continue to redirect the approximately $100 million in document stamp revenue each year to the general fund.
BELLEAIR - For the fifth year in a row the staff at the Belleair Recreation Department has put together food baskets for people who need a helping hand at Thanksgiving. It is not a difficult task according to Special Events Coordinator Sara Borger.
“We have the most generous community I have ever been a part of,” she said. “They very much embrace the giving spirit, all times of the year and especially now.”
Borger said they put together 20 baskets for families of children who go to Mildred Helms Elementary School in Largo and another 25 for families who are using the services of the Suncoast Hospice. They are doing it with the help of some new partners.
“The Gracie G. Purdy Foundation is one of our sponsors,” said Borger. “And the newly formed Teen Advisory Council is also helping together and packs food.”
Giving baskets to the Suncoast Hospice was something that started last year once the Purdy Foundation joined the project. Gracie Purdy was a child who had terminal cancer and at one point was a patient at Hospice. Gracie’s Big Splash, one of Belleair’s signature events, is named in her honor.
Deb Shade, the director of Palliative Services at Suncoast Hospice, said the food basket donations are very important.
BELLEAIR - The fate of the Belleview Biltmore hotel is all but sealed. It appears the only thing that could save it from demolition is what Mayor Gary Katica described at a recent Commission meeting; “a guardian angel who comes from above with $150 million.”
Ed Armstrong, the Clearwater attorney who represents Daniel Ades, one of the brothers who own the hotel, said they are ready to move toward demolishing the hotel and building townhouses on the site. He said the recent discussion by the Belleair Commission on creating a new zoning designation is the first step in that direction.
“The language and the ideas of the RM-10 designation are a direct result of our discussion with city staff,” he said. “The code change would allow us to fulfill our vision of the property and we hope they adopt the proposed changes.”
The proposed code change involves loosening the height restrictions and cutting down the number of units per acre, 10, that would be permitted on the site.
Armstrong said as soon as the proposed changes are approved then they will take the next step.
“We would be part of a redevelopment application once the code changes are in place,” he said. “Once the rezoning is done we’ll be able to submit our site plan and the demolition permit would be part of that.”
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch will relinquish his gavel Dec. 31. By unanimous vote Nov. 19, Vice-chair Karen Seel got the nod to lead the commission during the next calendar year.
Commissioner Susan Latvala won the vice-chair’s position, 5-1. Commission Norm Roche voted no. Commissioner John Morroni was absent. Roche said he was voting no on principle not because he thought Latvala was incapable of carrying out the duties of vice-chair.
Seel last served as chair in 2010. Latvala served as chair in 2011. Morroni was chair in 2012. Roche was elected to the commission in 2010.
Seel thanked her fellow commissioners and said she was “very much looking forward to working with you next year.” Welch thanked Seel her support during his year as chair. In turn, Seel thanked Welch, especially for the job he did communicating with the public on behalf of the commission.
“Your emails were always on point,” she said. “Very nicely done.”
County administrator’s contract
The commission also voted unanimously to amend the County Administrator Bob LaSala’s contract.
The amendment, effective Nov. 19, adds 120 hours of annual leave to LaSala’s “leave bank.” It changes the way the administrator earns leave to match the method in place for exempt employees with 20 years of service. The change ups his annual leave from 29 days to 32 days - an increase of three days.
TARPON SPRINGS - In time with the soft breeze that drifts over the water, tie-dyed dresses and wind chimes flutter against the stores on the sponge docks. The merchandise racks that crowd the sidewalks, calling to tourists and locals alike with their brightly colored apparel, are a staple to the area. But maybe not for long.
If anything is certain about the sponge docks, it’s that the fight isn’t going to be settled quietly.
Originally approved as Ordinance 2013-18 with a 5-0 vote at the Sept. 17 City Commission meeting, Ordinance 2013-24 limits the outdoor display of retail merchandise along public streets and sidewalks to the primary frontage of a building. Five additional criteria were approved as part of the ordinance:
- Displays won’t block access to the public sidewalk.
- Displays cannot extend more than 30 inches deep and 36 inches high (the height restriction was originally set at 36 inches, was later raised to 66 inches, and then set again at 36 inches).
- Displays located entirely on private property under a roofed porch area at least 36 inches high can use display racks up to 66 inches high as long as they don’t obstruct accessibility.
CLEARWATER - What should come first - the levy of the tax or the purpose for the levy?
Pinellas County Commissioners spent a portion of their Nov. 19 meeting working on the ballot language for a Nov. 4, 2014 referendum. The county’s legal team and the attorney for Pinellas County Transit Authority have been negotiating for weeks on how best to ask voters to approve a change in the funding source for transportation needs.
Plans call for changing the funding method from an ad valorem tax to a 1 percent sales surtax. The additional money would be used to improve the county’s transportation system, including the addition of rail service.
County Attorney Jim Bennett prefers ballot language based on what has been used in the past for Penny for Pinellas referendums. PSTA prefers language closer to what has been used in Hillsborough County.
The ballot title, which is restricted by state statute to 15 words, is close in both versions.
The county’s states, “Levy of one-percent sales surtax to fund Greenlight Pinellas Plan for countywide-public transit.”
PSTA’s reads, “Levy of countywide one-percent sales surtax to fund Greenlight Pinellas Plan for public transit.”
PINELLAS PARK - State representatives, County Commissioners and a cadre of local elected officials gathered at the PSTA transfer facility on 70th Avenue North in Pinellas Park the morning of Dec. 2 for the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new Pinellas Park Transit Center.
The center will be the first of its kind in central Pinellas and will feature a customer service window for information and ticket sales, along with fully equipped and maintained restrooms for the hundreds of riders who pass through the facility every day
CLEARWATER - For the past 38 years, Instrument Transformers Inc. has been a corporate citizen of Clearwater. Now, the company - a subsidiary of the giant General Electric Company conglomerate - wants to expand both its plant and its workforce in Clearwater and has requested a tax break for doing so.
In 1995, the Florida Constitution was amended to allow municipalities to grant “Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemptions” to companies considering moving to those municipalities or expanding their existing operations in them. On Nov. 6, 2012, Clearwater voters authorized that concept in hopes of luring highly paid jobs to their city.
Currently, Instrument Transformers has 436 employees in a 190,700 square-foot plant on 17.44 acres at 1907 and 1925 Calumet Street. It considered building a plant in Louisiana or abroad, but decided to buy additional land, which will eventually be annexed into the city, and build a 208,000-square-foot plant in Clearwater at a total cost of $49 million for the land, construction and machinery. The site plan was approved by Clearwater’s Community Development Board on Oct. 15.
“This project is really about bringing new jobs for the citizens of Clearwater,” Denise Sanderson, the city’s assistant director of economic development and housing, told the Clearwater City Council at its Dec. 2 work session.
BELLEAIR - Once the town of Belleair bought the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club on Indian Rocks Road 10 months ago, the actual fate of the property has been up in the air.
The town bought the facility for $3.5 million for two reasons: To remove the development rights from the property so no future owners could build condos or anything else on it and as a way of getting something out of the owners who were assessed more than $250,000 in liens because of penalties levied due to the deteriorated state of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, an associated property.
SEMINOLE - The city of Seminole Fire Rescue has hired a new fire chief.
The city has made a conditional offer of employment to Heather Burford, fire chief for the Ridgefield Fire Department in Connecticut, said City Manager Frank Edmunds. Burford has accepted the offer and her anticipated start date is January 13, 2014. Her starting salary is $91,000.
“Ms. Burford is an enthusiastic mid-career professional who responded well during our selection process,” Edmunds wrote in an email to the members of City Council.
No snow is needed to celebrate the winter holidays in Pinellas County. Plenty of festive fun can be found throughout each and every town, including the following.
Holiday boat parades
- St Pete Beach and South Pasadena Holiday Lighted Boat Parade ST. PETE BEACH - The St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena holiday boat parade and tree lighting is Friday, Dec. 6. The boat parade starts at 6 p.m. at the Blind Pass Bridge and heads south to the Bayway Bridge. Free tree lighting festivities take place at Horan Park, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive. Enjoy crafts, music, lighting of the Christmas tree, a visit with Santa, music, food and refreshments. Visit www.spbrec.com for more information including the parade route and boater application, or call 727-363-9264.
ST. PETERSBURG - The Tampa Bay Rays announced plans Dec. 3 for a major upgrade to Tropicana Field that will significantly enhance the fan experience for the 2014 season.
The project will create 360-degree pedestrian circulation around the lower seating bowl at Tropicana Field. The improved circulation will provide easier access to and from ballpark gates, concessions and activity areas throughout the facility. Existing cross-aisles in the lower bowl will be extended from the left and right field foul poles to create a walkway lined with drink rails as it winds toward center field.