CLEARWATER – There is a battle brewing over the ownership of that strip of white sand between the Gulf of Mexico and beachfront homes on Clearwater Beach. The homeowners say it is their beach, but activists say it’s public domain, and the city of Clearwater is caught in the middle.
On April 17, Clearwater’s City Attorney, Pam Akin, sought and received the Clearwater City Council’s permission to hire a “facilitator” in hopes of bringing the parties together.
“One of the reasons that we are using a facilitator is that the city may have a stake in this as well,” Akin told the council at its April 16 meeting.
The water has been there for millennia and many of the beachfront homes have been there for decades. But recently, some of the homeowners, mainly in the Carlouel section of North Clearwater Beach, have begun putting up “beach ropes” to prevent strangers from doing what they say is trespassing on their land. That has infuriated longtime Clearwater Beach activist Anne Garris, who says that those people aren’t trespassing, but merely exercising their right to take a leisurely stroll on a public beach.
“A lot of community members are concerned” about the beach ropes, Wendy Hutkin, president of the Clearwater Beach Association, told the council. She asked for the councilmembers’ help in arranging a meeting between her organization and the homeowners who have put up the beach ropes.
But Garris was more direct.
“One of the great things about Clearwater Beach is that you can start on one end and walk all the way to the other end without anybody obstructing you,” she told the council. “Please keep this in mind and do not abandon Clearwater Beach to this kind of a future.”
If appealing to the homeowners’ sense of neighborliness doesn’t work, Garris said, hitting them in the pocketbook might. She suggested examining the county property tax records to see if the offending property owners really do own the beach behind their homes and, if so, if they have been paying the property taxes on it.
“If they are paying property taxes only on the platted land (and not on the beach behind it), then they are depriving the people of Clearwater of a whale of a lot of tax that they should be paying,” she told the council.
But Akin replied that she had checked the property records, and some of the parcels do appear to go all the way to the waterline.
The council unanimously voted to give Akin the go-ahead to hire a facilitator in hopes of bringing the two factions closer together. Akin replied that she or a member of her staff will draft an agreement outlining the facilitator’s duties and compensation and present it to the City Council at a subsequent council meeting.