REDINGTON BEACH – Town commissioners rejected proposed changes to an ordinance sought by marine contractors that would have loosened the approval process for over-long docks.
The contractors argued Dec. 19 the city’s current building codes unreasonably restricted the maximum length of a dock to 30 feet and that the process for reviewing exceptions added thousands of dollars to the dock’s cost.
Among the list of changes requested by contractors were:
• Allowing dock length to be no more than half the width of the lot.
• Allowing so-called “neighbor waivers” that would permit property owners to build docks longer than 30 feet if adjacent property owners gave written approval.
The existing ordinance requires homeowners seeking to restore or renovate docks that would violate regulations to seek a variance as a “special exception” from the Board of Adjustment.
Jeff Patterson of the Tampa Bay Marine Contractors Association argued against the 30-foot limit, saying it was more restrictive than Pinellas County rules. He told commissioners of a property owner who had been told by county officials to extend his dock to 61 feet to keep his boat out of seagrass beds but could not do that because of the town’s length restrictions.
He charged that docks were “over-regulated” because contractors had to deal with rules from four different government levels: municipalities, the county, the state and the federal government.
Patterson said that most municipalities in the county allowed for longer dock lengths and that “we’re just trying to make it (the approval process) simple for everyone.”
Patterson said contractors were afraid to go to the board to get a variance because of what they considered the high probability of being refused. In 2016, Patterson said, six public hearings were held for dock variances and three of them were denied. Since then, he said, there had been only four public hearings.
He noted that the cost of preparing for a variance hearing had risen from $2,500 to at least $5,000.
He said aerial photographs of Redington Beach appeared to show that possibly 50 percent of docks in Redington Beach were over the allowed 30 feet.
Patterson argued for a process that “was uniform and fair for everybody.” He said many people just didn’t want to go through the variance process. He said town staff should be able to grant a variance without going to the Board of Adjustment.
Doug Speeler, president of the contractors’ group, said the current process puts a burden on homeowners, who often hire consultants to meet with the BOA, “turning a $20,000 dock into a $30,000 dock.”
By requesting the changes, Speeler said contractors are “trying to make your lives and our lives simplified. And our customers.”
Mayor Nick Simons praised the town’s variance procedure, saying it “has worked very well for a long time.” He added that no one on the commission or city staff was capable of making administrative waivers and that he was not in favor of a “neighbor waiver.” No “edict” had ever been issued, he said, that dock permits over 30 feet would not be granted.
Simons added that canals on several of the town’s finger streets were very narrow and the 30-foot length was “appropriate” for those areas and that variances might be granted in other places.
Vice Mayor Dave Will said he was “very pro-dock.” Both Will and Commissioner Fred Steiermann said they had served on the Board of Adjustment for a number of years and that if a longer dock would fit in an area, it was granted.
A decision by the Board of Adjustment cannot be appealed to the commission, but can be appealed to the court system, said Town Attorney Jay Daigneault. He said the review board considered hardship a reason for granting a variance and when an applicant is refused it was because “they simply didn’t provide the evidence.”
A contractor from Treasure Island questioned why the commission was not willing to compromise on dock length. Will replied that “30 foot has always worked well in our town and there are areas where a dock could be longer.” He noted the town was constructed with “different shapes, different sized fingers.” He said the BOA can approve a non-conforming dock if it fits into a particular area.
Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the ordinance as it was written. Further approval is required in a second and final hearing.
In other action, the panel approved a resolution appointing Madeira Beach City Manager Jonathan Evans to represent the 11 beach communities on a countywide review committee that will recommend guidelines for spending Penny for Pinellas funds beginning in 2020. The additional 1 cent sales tax approved by voters in November 2017 is projected to raise $2 billion in revenue.
Evans will serve a two-year term on the review committee.