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Belleair Bluffs keeps boat, RV rules
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BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A move to change the city of Belleair Bluff’s rules on parking of boats and recreational vehicles in residents’ driveways has been dropped.

The City Commission had appeared ready to replace the current law, which permits parking seven days out of every 30-day period, with a “weekends only” policy.

Police have said the current rule is difficult to enforce, and some residents had complained of being improperly cited. The weekend-only solution has also drawn criticism; residents with nontraditional work schedules have said they would be unfairly penalized.

The City Commission decided at its Nov. 5 workshop not to change the current seven days out of 30-day parking rule, and to go with an enforcement routine recommended by Commissioner Suzy Sofer instead.

Sofer created a log by which the parking of boats, trailers or RVs in driveways would be entered each day it occurs. When the maximum seven days allowable is reached, the vehicle would be cited for a violation. City staff members would maintain the log record during the week and by police over the weekends, Sofer said.

“This (log keeping) would offer accountability,” Sofer said.

Public Works Director Robert David said he favored leaving the existing rules as is.

“It’s difficult to change it and make everyone happy,” he said.

However, David refused to comment when questioned following the meeting about whether he believed the proposed log method of enforcement would work.

Mayor Chris Arbutine said at the meeting that he wants to give it a try.

“If we can handle this by simply enforcing the law, I am happy,” he said. “If we can make this happen, I’m OK with it.”

Resident and RV owner Darlene Kavanagh, who has criticized the current law for being improperly enforced and the proposed weekend-only approach as not fitting her work schedule, had doubts about the workability of the new enforcement procedure.

“We’ve done the drive-by (enforcement) for the past three years. We’ve already tried it,” she said. “We’re supposed to be keeping records, and I see trailers parked for months.”

Retention pond neighbors blast city

The city’s ongoing dispute with residents of the Dolphin Pond neighborhood over the cleanup of two hazardous ponds appears further than ever from resolution.

Last month, the commission failed to accept a contractor’s bid to begin dredging the ponds in a 2-2-tie vote. The cleanup had been considered critical, as the area is subject to flooding. The ponds are used as the city’s water retention basins. The city had agreed to dredge and maintain them on the condition residents grant permanent easements on their property.

Some residents had balked at that requirement. At the Oct. 15 commission meeting, City Attorney Thomas Trask had recommended accepting the dredging bid. He said the easements had been promised “by the end of the week.”

The commission’s rejection of the bid drew a sharp email response from Jeff Washburn, who represents the affected residents in the Dolphin Pond neighborhood. Washburn said the residents were unwilling to accept an easement agreement presented by the city.

He went on to criticize the city’s use of the ponds for retention and storm water runoff, saying that usage “results in the introduction of contaminants and the accumulation of sediment.” Also, the resulting reduction in the depth of the lake “inhibits or prevents photosynthesis and increases the potential for flooding.”

Washburn said the neighbors feel the city’s use of the ponds for retention and settlement of storm water runoff violates the federal Clean Water Act, as well as state and county environmental regulations. However, Washburn said the residents “are OK with the city continuing its existing use of the (ponds)… provided that the city continues to have its surface maintained to keep it free of weeds, algae and plant materials.”

If the city is unwilling to do that, Washburn said the residents “will seek to have the city either revise its drainage system so as to circumvent the (ponds) or treat storm water prior to its introduction to the (ponds) in order to eliminate or significantly reduce contaminants.”

The dredging easement dispute has been going on for several years, and Mayor Arbutine was at a loss to explain the harsh response from the residents when an agreement had appeared at hand last month, before the commission rejected the dredging bid.

“It sounds like they are getting ready to go to war with us,” Arbutine said, referring to the email. “We are kind of being threatened and we don’t want that.”

Commissioner Sofer said, “Everything we did, and we are right back where we started.”

City Clerk Debra Sullivan said she feared “five years of work is down the drain.”  

Attorney Trask said the city is not obligated to continue maintaining the ponds. He said the residents’ latest reaction means “we just keep the file open on this” and see what happens.

Despite the email letter’s combative tone, Arbutine expressed hope the issue can yet be resolved and the pond cleanup can begin. The mayor said he would meet with Trask and Public Works Director David “to see if we are doing everything properly and decide what we need to do.”

Arbutine promised to bring something back to the commission at the Nov. 19 meeting.

“It’s maybe not too late to salvage this,” Arbutine said. “We’ll see if we can get this back on track.”
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