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Belleair Beach bracing for battle
City puts team together to obtain variance from parking rules
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Belleair Beach City Manager Nancy Gonzalez’s is recognized for 20 years of service at the Nov. 5 council meeting.
BELLEAIR BEACH – The city’s battle with county officials to get beach renourishment this year has been won, for now. Belleair Beach has a new wide beach, and so far has not been assessed the estimated $200,000 cost or, alternatively, been forced to agree to have 29 new parking places carved out of Gulf Boulevard.

But the war with the county over the issue is far from ended. Belleair Beach officials want a variance from public parking requirements that must be met to gain future renourishments of its beaches.

To accomplish that goal, the City Council put a team in place at its Nov. 5 meeting that council members hope will have the knowledge and expertise to convince Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials to grant Belleair Beach an exemption they have never given to any other beach community.

Mentioned as likely members of the committee were residents Dick Crowl and Joe Ford, along with council members Leslie Notaro and Rob Baldwin.

Crowl is a former council member who has taken an active interest in the renourishment controversy. Ford has expressed his opinion that the city already has an overabundance of parking spaces, and does not need to create more. Ford also believes a lack of participation in future renourishment by Belleair Beach would not jeopardize the countywide program, as neighboring Belleair Shore has never had its beaches renourished.

Notaro, who has led the effort to get Belleair Beach exempted from the public parking requirements, said the city needs to apply for a variance now in order to get future renourishment of the beach.

“We need to get all our arguments together, and take a look at the rules and regulations. We need to get all our ammo (ammunition) together, then I think we will have a good chance,” she said.

In granting the city a variance from the beach renourishment requirements, the committee will need to convince the DEP to take an action it has so far refused to do for other communities, including Belleair Beach.

County Commissioner Karen Seel told the council last month that Andy Squires, the county’s coastal manager, had talked with DEP officials 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.

That argument “won’t fly,” Notaro declared. She said, “The fact that the DEP said, ‘We don’t grant those’ is absolutely bogus.”

“If they won’t grant (a variance), they are going to have to specify reasons why they will not grant it,” Notaro said. She added, “The reason has to be something other than ‘We don’t do those.’”

The committee that is being set up to put together the variance request will hold informal meetings that will be open to the public. When their work is completed, the council will have a workshop session on the issue to determine how to proceed, Mayor Kathy Mortensen said.

“This is an important enough issue to the community that the meetings should be open to the public,” Baldwin said.

City Attorney Paul Marino forewarned any resident who may be thinking of attending that “most of what we are going to be discussing will be purely ‘legalese.’ ”

The council voted unanimously to approve the committee startup and workshop session.

Election qualifying period set

Three council seats are up for election next March, along with the mayor. The terms of Council Members Jeril Cohen, John Pietrowski, and Wanda Schwerer, and Mayor Kathy Mortensen are expiring.

Mortensen has said she does not intend to seek re-election. Council Member Rob Baldwin announced he will be running for mayor.

The qualifying period for those wishing to be on the ballot is from Friday, Dec. 14 through the following Friday, Dec. 21, noon. All council seats are for two-year terms, and represent the city at large.
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