ST. PETE BEACH — In the next few months, city commissioners plan to enlist the Planning Board to redesign landscaping regulations for both residential dwellings and commercial businesses.

A recent attempt to have Planning Board members recommend changes to landscaping requirements at their meeting ended in confusion.

At the City Commission meeting, Feb. 26, City Manager Wayne Saunders told commissioners “the Planning Board needs more direction as to what you want. At the end of the Planning Board meeting, they really didn’t know what they were supposed to do.”

Saunders suggested commissioners may want to hold a joint workshop with the board or place it on a City Commission agenda for discussion.

He added “due to lack of clarity, staff, too, had a problem when putting the item on the planning board agenda, because it was unclear as to what the commission wanted them to do.”

City Attorney Andrew Dickman, who attends Planning Board meetings said he doesn’t think it’s 100 percent clear what their charge is.

“So, I think that needs to be clarified. It’s a little confusing for the Planning Board as to what you want them to do. Discussion at the Planning Board meeting focused on perviousness and impervious (surfaces) and the use of shell, but it really went nowhere,” Dickman said.

Dickman suggested the commission may want to spend some more time and “frame the item for them. We have staff trying to figure out what they are supposed to be presenting to the Planning Board. It’s a good idea to use the Planning Board for this section of your land development code, but they need to know what they are supposed to be doing.”

The problem was brought to the commission’s attention by property owners who ran into problems with city staff for using shell on their driveway.

Mayor Al Johnson said he wants the Planning Board to look at landscaping requirements in several areas.

“A woman had to rip out a shell driveway and it doesn’t make sense for a beach community,” he said.

“The Planning Board can start the process of changing the city landscaping ordinance, so we can allow stuff like that, including environmentally friendly yards like a shell yard,” Johnson said.

Dickman noted “shell may not be the best answer, because it often gets crushed. What happens on your private property is directly linked to your stormwater sewer system; if you have crushed shell, yes it looks very nice, but eventually it turns to dust and gets compacted. The Planning Board needs to explore all of this.”

Johnson said he wants them to look at the code and make sure we can allow materials such as that.

“You put in some sort of rock or shell in a landscaped yard and you don’t have to water it; you don’t use as much water and it drains well. There’s a whole bunch of advantages that we don’t allow in our current regulations, which makes no sense to me,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said “that’s where the problem is, because our codes are silent specifically when it comes to shell.”

“We need to have that discussion at the Planning Board level to address our entire landscape ordinance in general and how shell becomes a component, because it does have attributes such as xeroscape type things,” Pletcher said.

St. Pete Beach used to have all hardscaped type surfaces and Commissioner Ward Friszolowski was instrumental in bringing reclaimed water into the city so it could have green landscaping.

“It’s still an option not to have a green yard; we don’t even address Astroturf,” Pletcher said. “There’s a lot of different things available now that weren’t in the past, and our ordinances were written in the past. It’s not gospel; it’s something that needs to be very thoughtfully analyzed. Shell and certain materials could impact our very expensive stormwater system,” Pletcher added.

Johnson said city officials have a lot in their codes that don’t make sense. If staff is pressed for time, he said, the city needs to hire a consultant to look at the codes.

“The state supports xerospace and environmentally friendly development and we remain silent,” he said.

Pletcher suggested the city look at landscaping ordinances from other communities and that the city might want to consider adopting minimal landscaping requirements.

Friszolowski said he is concerned that the city doesn’t require enough greenery in terms of sizes of trees or bushes.

“We can all see some pretty expensive homes going up; to me if you are putting a million dollars into a property, and only putting a thousand dollars into landscaping, there is some kind of imbalanced there,” he said.

The other concern he has is homeowners put all their green landscaping in the backyard and the whole front yard is paved.

The commissioner added another issue is there are plenty of properties were landscaping was originally installed but not maintained, especially in commercial districts. Trees and bushes have been left to die off.

Commissioners told staff they plan to address the landscaping issue in the next few months.