BRADENTON -- County staff came with photographs of the grassy strip of land that was soon to be a four-lane highway that would be the new face of their neighborhood. Their homeowners association had met twice with planning to iron out some of the few choices they had in the matter. The more they listened, the more they twitched in their seats.
After the photographs, staff brought out the aerial artist renditions with the marked icons that coded where utility access and emergency vehicles would go if needed; the shape of the median and the shoulders of the road, and how close it all was to their houses. The aerials made it look like they had to squeeze that four lane highway through the 1700' long, 120' grass field they knew.
The road is to run from 30th street E. to 45th street E. All residents knew it was going to happen some day, it has been a designated four lane highway since 1995. But they had hoped to find comfort by being obliged a few requests.
Residents noticed from the get-go that the wall they were waiting to see, and where it would be located, was being called a fence -- a plastic one at that. I asked some of the residents if they knew there would be a fence, not a wall -- some did, some clearly didn't. Steve Gasper said, at the comments part of the meeting, "My house is 40 feet from the road," then stood there for a second looking at the commissioners, and then walked away. The residents also felt the 45 mph speed limit, staff had set for the road, was too fast and going to be too loud.
The County Commissioners were scenting discomfort among this well behaved crowd. In effort to offer up options to the fence, another surprise, residents found out the homeowners association would be forking the bill for fence maintenance and repair. This clearly struck a tone, and commissioners suggested landscaping -- which would be on the county's property, not the development's. It sounded good and Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who suggested it said, "where I live, they put a black chain link fence, that you can't even see and landscaped all around it." A lot of discomfort in the face of residents still.
Later, I asked about the chain link and landscaping, and resident Sonja Briggs said, "No way, she can keep her chain link where she lives." "... This is terrible." Rose Schoenbeck said. "45mph is too fast. It's 40mph just blocks down the road, what are they just going to speed up for five or six blocks?" One gentleman was too frustrated to talk, warning "I might say something bad."
The speed, the closeness of the road and the fence were all issues some Commissioners attempted to address. It was clear Chairwoman Commissioner Carol Whitmore fished for more reasonable approaches. Commissioner Joe McClash's suggested planning revisit an 11ft. wide road instead of the 12 ft. one. Residents were pleased to see something going their way and the suggestion to lower the speed limit also went over big. But Commissioner Donna Hayes said she saw no reason to lower the speed if that's what staff came up with, and that thinning the road would be a safety issue.
Resident Carol Sukoneck wondered why she would say that. She said "45 is more dangerous" Other residents I talked to agreed a thinner road would be a better option. One gentleman jumped in and said it was a safety issue, asking, "40' from a house and a car at 45 can be stopped by a plastic fence?
Things were not smooth anywhere in the room. Staff took some offense to the suggestion of going to an 11ft. road instead a 12ft., saying that the commissioners would regret it, same for lowering the speed. Commissioner McClash replied, "We did it before - many times, not setting a standard in attempt to compromise with the homeowners."
Then Commissioner Robin DeSabatino came up with the most soothing idea. Recognizing the tension and the disconnect, she suggested making a motion to continue and having the county and homeowners try and work out a deal. Soon the motion was made, passed, and the county staff members will be back to work.