NORTH REDINGTON BEACH – Since time immemorial, the Planning and Zoning Board has been the entity in charge of reviewing and approving or denying variance applications in the town of North Redington Beach.

During new business, an ordinance passed on its first reading at the June 14 town hall meeting to provide for a special magistrate to review all requests for variances instead of the PZB.

St. Petersburg attorney James Denhardt will serve as magistrate for the town along with an as-yet unnamed alternate. Denhardt has a long track record of serving local municipalities in different capacities, including that of special magistrate in Madeira Beach and city/town attorney in Redington Shores and Treasure Island.

North Redington Beach Town attorney Jay Daigneault said he “legally endorses” the change to special magistrate.

“Magistrates are a lot more familiar with the process (than the PZB),” said Daigneault.

The PZB consists of five local residents. The magistrate is one highly qualified attorney. “(The PZB) pits neighbor against neighbor,” said Mayor Bill Queen.

Daigneault explained that one of the problems with having residents on a PZB make decisions on variances is the residual bad feelings between neighbors. Daigneault said he knows of cases where, as a result of denying a variance, neighbors stopped speaking with one another for decades.

According to Daigneault, the other side of making decisions that impact one’s neighbors is pushing through a variance that does not meet all the criteria for approval just to avoid hard feelings.

“It is a black and white issue,” said Daigneault. “All five criteria for a variance must be met, not two out of five or three out of five; it needs to meet all five.”

Daigneault pointed out that, as a “quasi-judicial function,” the magistrate is better qualified to address the viability of variances without being unduly influenced by the potential interpersonal aspects of making decisions impacting one’s neighbors.

The ordinance passed 4-1 with Commissioner Gary Curtis voting against. A second and final hearing on the ordinance will take place at next month’s meeting.

Also during new business, reappointments were made to both the Planning and Zoning and Beach Advisory boards. Mayor Queen announced that “all have volunteered to serve again.”

John Creighton was reappointed as a member and Debra Hammil as an alternate to the Planning and Zoning Board for three-year terms ending in 2021.

Reappointments to the Beach Advisory Board for two-year terms ending in 2020 include: Nila Postupack, Ruth Spears, Veronica Baldanza, and Sarah Balle (alternate).

During old business, two ordinances that passed on first reading at last month’s meeting passed unanimously on their second and final readings this month. The first was the ordinance amending the town’s budget for the fiscal year 2017-18 to allow for the purchase of a generator at a lower cost than was budgeted. The second was an amendment to the code to “confirm the long-standing customary use of the dry sand areas of the town’s beaches.”

Miscellaneous business concerned issues regarding short-term rentals in back neighborhoods. Currently, daily short-term rentals are zoned for use along Gulf Boulevard while back neighborhoods are grandfathered for a minimum 90-day rental as a residential area. Legislation is under consideration in Tallahassee to reduce the town’s residential zoning from 90-day rentals to 14-day rentals. This would impact the entire state of Florida with the exception of condo and homeowners associations.

“Home rule is being eroded right before our eyes,” said Queen. In order to keep local towns from losing the right to make their own decisions, the mayor recommended that residents know whether candidates running for office in Florida are for or against home rule and to vote accordingly in November.