The boardwalk reconstruction is currently budgeted and City Manager Reid Silverboard said there would likely be funds available to add the stairs.
TREASURE ISLAND – Reconstruction of a stairway leading to a beach area at the south end of Sunset Beach next to Blind Pass will soon get underway.
After a discussion on whether the responsibility lies with the city or residents of Mansions by the Sea, city leaders decided the best solution would be to rebuild the stairway at city expense on city property next to an existing city parking lot immediately north of the former stairway.
The project is expected to be complete later this spring, giving residents access to a popular dog walk and recreation area.
City Manager Reid Silverboard said the boardwalk reconstruction is currently budgeted and there would likely be funds available to add the stairs and a railing to the boardwalk.
“We bought the materials for the boardwalk. It’s just a matter of getting it scheduled,” Silverboard said. “We would have to buy a little more wood (for the railing and stairs). Another question is do we need a permit from DEP to put the stairs up. Hopefully, they will allow us to move it down (from the previous location) without getting a new permit.”
City Commissioner Carol Coward suggested the Sunset Beach Civic Association make a donation to the city. Sunset Beach resident Anna Storey said she would be open to organizing a fundraiser for the additional expense.
“I live four houses down from where the steps were,” said Storey. “Indeed, it’s like a barricade down there now (with railing that has been installed along the Mansions boardwalk). I used to use that area to take my dog down there to play. Those stairs being available is why I chose my location (to live).”
Residents of the Mansions recently spent about $60,000 to rebuild their portion of the boardwalk that includes a new rail for safety reasons. However, it did not include a new set of stairs.
Ron Kananen, former president of the Mansions condo owner’s association, said the previous stairway was a problem for residents of the Mansions.
“We have created a playground that has caused lots of difficulties for us,” said Kananen. “We’ve had two dog bites and people that picnic on private property.”
He said there also has been vandalism to nearby recreation vehicles belonging to residents.
Bill Harper, a resident of the Mansions, said he did not agree with the stance of his condo association.
“Back in the day, when the developer of Mansions by the Sea faced opposition from Sunset Beach residents, he agreed to provide access to Blind Pass that had always been there,” Harper said. “Over the last 30 years, a timber dock (boardwalk) and stairs have been open to the public. Now I understand there are lost documents and confusion. But there can be no confusion about what was the intent of the agreement over 30 years ago between the Mansions and the city, which was to provide the public access to Blind Pass.”
When the issue first came before the city, staff believed the expense of rebuilding the stairs should be borne by residents of the Mansions. The city sent a letter on Dec. 31 to the Mansions requesting it do so.
But after researching the legal history of the issue, City Attorney Maura Kiefer said she didn’t believe the city had a strong enough case.
“The issue is whether there’s a legal obligation on the part of the Mansions to maintain a staircase that goes up to the boardwalk,” Kiefer said. “I found and reviewed a final judgment that we have in our files from a 1988 case some 26 years ago. It stated they (Mansions) shall be required to adequately repair and maintain the boardwalk and easement so that it will be in a safe, sound and secure condition. We don’t know how they define boardwalk because we only have the first and last page.”
Kiefer said it’s a very old case and legal records concerning responsibility are incomplete or don’t exist.
“We don’t have the documents,” said Kiefer, “so I cannot sit here tonight and express an opinion that the Mansions has the responsibility to maintain these stairs.”
Commissioner Alan Bildz said the city could sue the Mansions but it would be in litigation for years “and there still wouldn’t be a stairway built.”
“I see on the Google Maps diagram that was provided to us the two tennis courts and to the right there is a parking lot, which is city property,” said Bildz. “My proposal would be for the city to put in a set of stairs and we put it into the budget for next year. With about seven steps, I don’t see this costing more than $2,000 or $3,000.”