TREASURE ISLAND – City leaders put off a vote on a controversial resolution Feb. 5 that would amend the beach parking permit program and add a substantial amount to the annual cost of a resident pass.
Treasure Island Commissioners voted unanimously to table the proposal in favor of getting additional information from Pinellas County Coastal Coordinator Andy Squires regarding the number of parking spaces the city must have to be eligible for state beach renourishment funds.
The move was prompted by city resident Roger Evans who told commissioners all of the city’s parking spaces do not have to be made public to conform to state standards.
At its Dec. 18 meeting, commissioners voted to make beach parking permits available to both residents and nonresidents at an annual cost of $75 in an effort to head off a possible showdown with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over beach renourishment funding.
Because the permits were offered previously to city residents at a cost of $5 per year and not to nonresidents, DEP said the parking spaces the city counts toward its overall total to qualify for state renourishment funding could be in jeopardy, which if true, could make the funds unattainable for the city.
Since public funding is used toward renourishment, state guidelines require public beaches to have 100 public parking spaces per mile to be eligible for state renourishment funding.
State funding accounts for 40 percent of the cost of renourishment projects. Federal money accounts for another 40 percent and county funding for another 20 percent.
Evans called the city decision premature.
“The state does not say you cannot have residents-only beach passes, because they’re all over the place,” Evans said. “What the state says is if you have residents-only passes, the spaces those passes are good for are not counted in the mix as far as sharing funds for beach replenishment.”
Evans said he checked with state officials and discovered the biggest count for nourishment purposes is the parking lot owned by the City of St. Petersburg.
“That (lot) counts for the majority of the spaces necessary for beach replacement in Treasure Island,” Evans said. “So what I did was go around and counted the spaces in Treasure Island. The city basically has 330 to 340 spaces. If you pull out all the spaces that count (for nourishment), you lose 72. That’s it. There’s still like 260 spaces that could be issued to residents with a residents-only pass. But this wasn’t looked into.”
Evans said four small lots could be eliminated.
“The only (large) lot that would be eliminated would the lot just north of the Mansions by the Sea (on Sunset Beach),” he said. “The rest are 10- or 12-meter lots.
“We need to do something for the taxpayers,” Evans added. “They deserve a break on this. The town played Chicken Little on this. They threw up their hands without looking at the facts.”
Commissioner Phil Collins questioned whether the elimination of the spaces Evans suggested would put the city in jeopardy for nourishment funding.
“I think we’re supposed to have so many parking spaces for so many linear feet (of beach) and they have to be within a quarter-mile (of the beach), if I remember correctly,” Collins said. “If we eliminate those four lots, would that put us below the number we need?”
“If we eliminated those, we would still be eligible,” said Mayor Bob Minning.
Commissioner Alan Bildz reminded everyone that the city is not the source of the decision.
“We’re not the ones that do the counting,” Bildz said. “Andy Squires is the one that does the counting.”
“We can beat this to death but I think there’s information we’re missing,” said Commissioner Carol Coward. “So could you (City Manager Reid Silverboard) research this information and talk to Andy Squires so we could get an understanding? So at least our citizens would know we gave this our best effort.”
“You’ve got to keep in mind beach renourishment is not a city project,” Bildz said. “It’s a county project. That’s why the county coastal coordinator does the counting.”
The resolution is expected to come up for consideration again at the Feb. 19 City Commission meeting after additional details are obtained from Squires.