By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge Mayor Geoff Pugh may want to make a promenade out of Old Ocean Boulevard but so far he’s only created a promenade for skeptics leading to the microphone in Town Hall chambers.
A dozen residents took turns expressing their worries and complaints about Pugh’s proposal during the Town Commission meeting Oct. 5, saying it’s a bad idea to turn Old Ocean into a southbound one-way street and block off several entrances.
The mayor took the objections in stride, saying the important thing is for officials and residents to begin a dialogue about how the town will handle the changes that growth in communities across the bridges will bring. Pugh said a small town has to have “face-to-face conversation” about its future.
“The intent is to propose ideas so the town gets talking about a subject, and the subject is a compilation of the last 20 years of ideas we’ve had about Old Ocean,” Pugh said. “Change is coming, and it’s going to be a very big change in the town of Ocean Ridge, and the town of Briny Breezes and all up and down (the coast) here. We need to make plans not just about tomorrow but for the coming years. This idea is just a way to start us talking about how are we going to manage this change.”
Among the comments from critics of Pugh’s Old Ocean plan:
• Why try to fix what isn’t broken? Residents said they like the road the way it is, there are no safety problems to speak of, the traffic flow is good, and so there is no reason to change things.
“In 25 years, I’ve walked up and down Old Ocean at least 10,000 times, and I can tell you, car traffic is not a problem,” said Bob Weisblut. “I doubt that there’s ever been a fatality.”
• The plan might reduce car traffic but would increase pedestrian and bicycle traffic, which causes problems, too. The reconfigured one-way street will cause problems for dog owners whose pets will be forced to walk in each others’ way, some residents said.
“The pedestrian traffic already believes that it is a promenade,” said Carol Besler, who lives on Old Ocean. “I have a lot of difficulty getting in and out of my driveway.”
• The mayor’s plan to change the name of the road to Ocean Ridge Boulevard will cause address problems for those who live on the street. It could also diminish property values because of the loss of an iconic name with historic significance.
• Expense. Though the cost of signs and street barricades would be minimal — no more than a few thousand dollars — the money could be better spent on other things.
• The plan is likely to increase the response times of emergency vehicles and force them down narrower streets, some residents argued.
Commissioners have decided to set a date during their Dec. 7 meeting for a workshop on the Old Ocean proposal, probably scheduling it for sometime in January.
The workshop would be a back-and-forth session with the public during which residents are encouraged to give their opinions and ideas, Pugh said.