BELLEAIR SHORE – Beachfronts owned up to the tide line by residents are rare in Florida and almost nonexistent in Pinellas County. That fact has posed a challenge for officials in Belleair Shore, where the beaches are resident-owned.
The price paid for that privilege is non-participation in periodic beach nourishments, which requires they be publically owned. The issue was discussed at the commission meeting June 17.
Belleair Shore commissioners have been concerned their beaches’ privacy is being increasingly disregarded by visitors who enter with their dogs, on bicycles, bring alcoholic beverages, set up tents or otherwise violate the town’s beach rules and regulations.
These are often more stringent than those of neighboring Belleair Beach and Indian Rocks Beach.
The answer, they hope, will be new signs at the town’s beach entry points informing visitors that the beaches are private property, and what that means. It means, said Commissioner Deborah Roseman, enjoying the beaches, but respecting the residents by following the rules. Roseman submitted her ideas for the signs’ wording to be reviewed by the commission.
Roseman’s recommendations did not include the words “Private Property,” which Town Attorney John Elias was adamant be avoided. Elias said his objection was a personal feeling, not specifically based on any law. Roseman said she came up with the wording for the beach signage after researching and consulting with several New Jersey communities that have a similar beach ownership situation.
As proposed by Roseman, the new signs would read:
“Welcome to the unique community of Belleair Shore where owners’ property rights extend to the high water mark. As a guest of our community, we ask that you comply with our charter’s regulations including: No trash, no pets, no bicycles, no watercraft, no vehicles beyond this point, no alcohol.”
Familiarity of beachgoers with Belleair Shore’s unique situation is important, said newly appointed Commissioner Steve Blume. Education is the key, he said.
“About 99 percent of the people believe all beaches are public and they can do what they want,” he said.
“I’m a homeowner,” said Blume, “and I wasn’t even aware that I had rights right down to the water.” The signs should inform people the town’s beaches are private, he said, and communicate “that we would appreciate your help in keeping them as pristine as you found them, abiding by our rules and regulations.”
Resident Uday Lele agreed.
“The signage is a great idea,” he said. “Most people are law-abiding, and will respect the law if they know it.”
In a separate email, Lele also urged the commission to send a letter to residents of neighboring communities, “explaining what their rights are, and asking them to respect our property rights.”
Lele said putting up beach umbrellas and chairs “in front of our property is a direct encroachment on our property right.” He also mentioned dogs on the beach, which Commissioner Jennifer Lindsay said is a problem that has gotten worse.
Mayor Robert Schmidt said the signs are needed, at the Indian Rocks Beach and Belleair Beach borders and the beach access points.
Roseman’s ideas are “a good starting point,” he said.
The commission members agreed to add their own suggestions.
Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Chris Mantzanas said the police would assist in enforcing the rules related to Belleair Shore’s private beach status. Violators would be given a warning first, with tickets issued to repeat offenders, he said.
Homeless occupying vacant properties
Commission members were surprised to learn their upscale enclave has been home to the homeless on occasion.
That fact came to light when Schmidt said only a few communities in the county support organizations that care for homeless people. When Schmidt said, “we don’t have a homeless problem here,” he was corrected by Roseman, who has been dealing with the town’s derelict properties. She said homeless people have been found camped out in homes that were vacant. That has been a problem, she said.
The commissioners appeared sympathetic with possibly helping out with the cost of caring for the county’s homeless population.