BELLEAIR BEACH – The city of Belleair Beach’s ongoing dispute with county and state authorities over public parking spaces needed to qualify for beach renourishment could benefit from rule changes under consideration by the state EPA.
Under current regulations, Belleair Beach is 29 parking spaces short of the number that must be provided to qualify for future renourishment of its beach. The renourishment is critical to replace sand lost through erosion.
Changes to two Florida Administrative Code rules that affect the spaces needed could move Belleair Beach closer to compliance and increase the city’s chances of gaining a variance from the current regulations.
The parking spaces counted for eligibility must currently be within one-quarter mile walking distance of a beach access available to the public. One change would increase that distance to one-third mile, so the spaces available would cover a longer distance.
The other change would lower the public parking spaces needed to qualify as a “primary” beach access from 100 to 50. That would allow the parking lot at the city marina, with 70 spaces, to be considered a primary access, which extends the coverage area to one-half mile from the marina, up from a quarter-mile. That half-mile would reach to the Morgan Park lot, where more spaces are available. The city would need to add restroom facilities at the marina to qualify.
The two rule changes, if approved, would lower Belleair Beach’s parking space shortage from 29 spaces to 9.
Council member Leslie Notaro said this could make a big difference to anyone considering a variance request.
The city has chosen to seek a variance from the parking space requirements rather than try to create more spaces. No beachfront land is currently available for parking on the city’s south end, which is packed with condominium developments.
The county has proposed reconfiguring Gulf Boulevard to gain spaces, an option opposed by council and many residents. Another alternative would be the purchase of one of several vacant lots currently available on the east side of Gulf Boulevard and turning the land into a parking lot. The council has also been less than enthusiastic about that move.
A decision on the rule changes will not be made for a couple of months, Notaro said at a special workshop meeting on Monday.
Notaro, who is leading the effort to get a variance from the parking requirements, said the city must prove that a strict application of the rules would create a substantial hardship. That is true, she said, since parking is not allowed on the city’s side streets, and putting spaces on Gulf Boulevard would change the nature of the community.
Council Member Wanda Schwerer said there are safety issues with allowing parking on the busy boulevard.
Property values in the city would be adversely impacted, said Council Member Rob Baldwin. Belleair Beach is also unique as the town of Belleair Shore occupies half of its shoreline.
“We have to provide the parking spaces, but we only have 50 percent of the opportunity,” he said.
But getting a variance will not be easy, Mayor Kathy Mortensen pointed out.
“In the talks I’ve had with the county, I don’t think it will be granted,” she said.
Mortensen said, “We are asking for a variance, and saying there is no way to comply. I don’t think that’s true. A lot could be bought, or Gulf Boulevard parking could be done.”
She chastised the council for “not working diligently enough to try and solve this ourselves.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Baldwin, who will become mayor in March. He pointed out that the city had tried very diligently to work with the county on the issue but had gotten inconsistent answers, or in some cases no answers, as to what was required of the city.
Notaro said the council needs to wait and see whether the parking rules are changed before proceeding further with a variance request.
“Our arguments would be the same, but they will be easier if they change the rules,” she said.
“Let’s wait and see,” Schwerer agreed.
If the parking requirements are changed, the beachfront eligible for renourishment would extend to 24th Street, leaving a gap of only about 500 feet, rather than 1,200 feet.
Schwerer said shifting sands would fill in the space.
“That’s how (neighboring) Belleair Shore (which does not participate in beach renourishments) gets their sand.”
Notaro said after the meeting that she believes the EPA will change the beach nourishment rules as proposed.
“I got the impression during a teleconference call we had with them that they will go ahead and make the changes,” she said. “They have gotten complaints (on the issue) from others as well.”
Boat parking rules changed
The council proposed new rules regarding parking of residents’ boats in driveways for cleaning and maintenance. With display of a permit obtainable at city hall, residents would be allowed to park their boats for up to 48 hours three times a year.
Mortensen said the permit requirements and rules were requested by the police due to problems encountered in Belleair Bluffs.
“It’s very confusing there, and the deputies thought the permit part would cut down on the confusion,” she said.
Cleaning agents used also must meet environmental rules, City Manager Nancy Gonzales said.
An ordinance outlining the proposed rules will be prepared for public hearing in February and March.