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Belleair Beach to raise parking meter fees
Decision made on bike rack design
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A “closed loop” style bike rack, painted dark green, has been selected for installation in front of three condominium buildings in Belleair Beach to help qualify for beach renourishment. Eight will be installed at each location.
BELLEAIR BEACH – Parking and beach issues dominated discussion at the July 7 city council meeting.

In a series of actions, the council voted to increase parking meter fees and parking ticket charges. A “convenience fee” also will be added to credit card charges for services at City Hall.

The fee hikes are needed to cover increases in the amounts charged by SunTrust Bank to process credit card charges and the amount charged by the county to process parking tickets, said Finance Director Melanie Neumann. The money gained also will help to pay for a part-time maintenance worker to assist with beach cleanup.

The council chose the higher of two options presented by Neumann for the parking meter increase, voting to raise the hourly rate from $1.25 to $1.75 an hour on weekdays and from $1.75 to $2 on weekends. The daily rate also will be increased from $10 to $15 during the week and $12.50 to $20 on the weekend.

The parking meter rate increases are expected to bring in about $12,800 a year in added revenue, Neumann said. City residents are allowed to park free at city lots with a parking sticker available from City Hall.

The council also voted to raise the charge for parking tickets from $30 to $35. That is expected to generate about $1,200, which is needed to offset the cost of processing the tickets.

A 2.75 percent convenience fee was approved for the use of credit cards to pay for services at City Hall such as facility rentals, document copies, etc. A minimum fee of $1.50 will apply, and credit cards can be used only for charges of $10 or more.

The new fees will take effect Aug. 1.

The maintenance worker to be hired is needed to deal with what was described as a worsening beach litter situation. Several residents complained of negative conditions at the beach.

Randy Lebedz said the shoreline “is becoming a mess,” with beer bottles and cigarette butts strewn about, drinking and “dogs crapping on the beach.” Lebedz said he saw college students throwing pizza boxes onto a home site under construction in Belleair Shore.

Marian Liswith said police officers once patrolled the beach at least four times a day. “Now, I don’t see the police at all,” she said. “I see dogs on the beach, beer drinking and beer bottles.”

Tax money should be used for increased beach patrolling, said Liswith.

Who owns the beach in Belleair Shore?

Recent press coverage about Belleair Shore residents asserting ownership of their beach also was mentioned. Unlike other local beach communities, Belleair Shore residents own the beach in front of their homes up to the “high water mark,” City Attorney Paul Marino pointed out.

Belleair Beach resident Jerry Smith said the beach entrances in Belleair Shore “were put in a trust for us who are on the east side of Gulf Boulevard (in Belleair Beach) so that we could have access to the beaches.”

“I respect their property,” Smith said, but “I feel like they think they just own those entrances and we don’t have much to say about them. I think we have a lot to say about them.”

Rick Schock said he believes most Belleair Beach residents respect the rights of Belleair Shore homeowners, but the general public “regularly violates the rules by parking (illegally), bringing in coolers, setting up tents … and they do so with impunity.”

Schock said he believes the rules should be enforced as they exist, with tickets given to violators.

“Then the general public might get the message,” he said.

Schock recommended officials from the two communities get together and discuss the situation and explore solutions to the problems.

“We need to respect private property so that we can all work together and enjoy what the good Lord has given us out there” said Schock.

He also said he hoped “we don’t get into the ridiculousness that’s going on” with a Clearwater Beach establishment, where people are wanting to build fences.

Bike rack proposal approved

Using bicycle racks to gain the public parking spaces the city needs to be assured of future beach renourishments has been a controversial topic.

City officials say it is the most feasible means to gain the needed spaces and points to a tentative approval given at the county level to the city’s proposal to install bike racks in front of three condominium buildings located beside beach accesses.

Originally the city was proposing “public art” style bike racks that they thought would be desirable because it would disguise the racks as art. However, due to objections from condo residents, less obtrusive alternative styles were introduced.

A meeting of the Gulf Boulevard Beautification Committee prior to the council session focused on the pros and cons of three bike rack styles.

There also was discussion of a plan submitted by a condo resident that proposed placing the bike racks closer to the beach access rather than in the condo’s front yard. Most said that was an excellent idea. But that proposal was rejected on the advice of Drew Copley of Copley Design Associates. He said the design would not allow the proper sight line clearance for cars exiting the condo parking lot.

Dennis Gallen of Soreno del Sol condominium said, “If this is what gets the sand, then this is what we ought to do.” But he said he is concerned that the city is moving forward without having assurance they will get the sand.

Katie Cole, an attorney with Hill Ward Henderson representing the interests of Los Caracoles condominium, also said she recognizes the importance of getting the beach renourishment. But she said she hoped the city would consider other alternatives before just presuming that this is the only solution.

“I think what you are hearing is that the condominium owners are willing to be creative in helping the city solve this problem,” she said.

Cole also asked that city officials continue to explore other options that may be possible for getting relief from the current rules.

Nonetheless, the council unanimously approved a “closed loop” rack which designer Copley described as “more open and less visible” than the “work of art” bike rack. The loop racks would also take up about half as much space as the artsy design, Copley said.

Addition of the bike racks still leaves the city about 10 spaces short of the number needed to get beach renourishment, which Mayor Rob Baldwin said he hoped to make up by other means.
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