BELLEAIR BEACH – Following months of controversy, beach nourishment has been completed in Belleair Beach.
The city now has a wide expanse of sand throughout its nearly one mile of shoreline.
But big questions remain over future nourishments and whether a $200,000 bill for the current job is coming. A lack of public parking spaces for beachgoers needed to qualify for beach nourishment projects threatened the effort this time and put the next nourishment at risk.
The City Council spent nearly its entire Oct. 1 meeting trying to come up with a solution that has so far been elusive.
The problem has been the city has the total parking spaces required, but they are at the marina on the northern end of town and at Morgan Park in the middle. At the south end, 28 spaces are lacking.
County Commissioner Karen Seel came to the meeting with news the county might be willing to pay for creating parallel parking spaces on Gulf Boulevard.
“They did not vote (on the issue) but the consensus was they would pay for it,” she said.
But a council majority has opposed allowing parking on Gulf Boulevard for safety and aesthetic reasons, and an informal polling of members by Mayor Kathy Mortensen showed at least four of the seven members strongly rejected the idea. Mortensen, Vice Mayor David Dumville and Council Member Wanda Schwerer were willing to consider that approach, even as a last resort.
The purchase of a vacant lot or two on Gulf Boulevard was brought up by Mortensen as a viable solution. A lot could be gated and closed by the city at sunset, she said. A parking pay station would provide revenue to help cover the expense. Several lots are currently available for about $130,000 each, far less than the estimated $200,000 creating spaces on Gulf Boulevard would cost, she said.
Council members and residents who spoke on the issue appeared more receptive to a lot purchase than allowing parking on Gulf Boulevard.
Seel told the council the need to decide on a solution to the parking problem is urgent.
“I’m worried about the next beach renourishment cycle,” she said. “State and federal officials are going to say, ‘You have had several years to fix this and you didn’t do it. So why should we renourish you?’”
The council decided on a 5-2 vote to put aside a decision on either Gulf Boulevard parking or the purchase of a lot and instead request a variance for the city from the parking requirements.
Council Member Rob Baldwin proposed that option, which Mayor Mortensen said had been tried before and failed.
Baldwin said the sense of urgency on the issue “is false.”
“We need to do our due diligence with this. Our quality of life is at stake and worth fighting for,” he said. “I don’t want to stop fighting now.”
“I say we take no further action on the parking options and pursue a variance,” Baldwin said.
Council members Schwerer, Leslie Notaro, Jeril Cohen, and John Pietrowski agreed.
Notaro had said earlier that she believes Belleair Beach’s situation regarding the parking meets the qualifications for a variance.
“We are a totally residential community, and the rules affect us differently (than the other beach communities),” she said. “Parking credits are allowed for resort condominiums on the east side of Gulf Boulevard and for commercial businesses,” Notaro said. Belleair Beach has neither.
She said variances can be granted, “if the principles of fairness are violated.” They have been, she concluded.
But county Commissioner Seel said that Andy Squires, Pinellas County’s coastal manager, had already talked with Department of Environmental Protection officials about a variance and was turned down.
“They told him this (a variance) had never happened anywhere in the state and would set a bad precedent,” she said.
A committee will be formed to draft the variance language, which will be voted on at next month’s council meeting. Baldwin said he believes a strongly worded variance request can succeed.
City Attorney Paul Marino also was positive about pursuing a variance.
He said, “Do I think we can win a variance? I think so. There’s no question in my mind. It’s our rights as citizens.”
Marino had said earlier he considered that option “a long shot.”
Mortensen said following the meeting she still believes the variance approach is a dead end.
“They already told us they won’t grant it,” she said.