Digital sign draws resident protests

A rendering of the sign proposed for the intersection of the causeway and Gulf Boulevard in Belleair Beach shows a structure that is 9 feet tall, styled to coordinate with other city signs. A plan by the county to put a series of the signs up and down Gulf Boulevard has been canceled.

BELLEAIR BEACH – Four newly elected council members heard from residents concerned about issues ranging from code enforcement to paid parking at the City Hall lot at their first council meeting April 2.

The council moved cautiously on those and other issues, putting off decisions in each case until more information was gathered and options were looked at and discussed.

Complaints about a presumed lack of code enforcement in the city surfaced early, during the public comments section at the meeting’s beginning.

“We have no code enforcement, none,” said resident Bill Booth. He spoke about a home being built next door to him where “I had to call to get a dumpster in there,” about waterfront docks and decks that are “falling to pieces” and homes that have been “let go.”

“Nothing gets done,” about code enforcement, Booth said.

Sheryl Rawlings’ code enforcement issue had to do with what she said was a lack of enforcement of the city’s 90-day minimum rental requirement. A bed and breakfast operates across the street from her, she said, where “every night a new guest shows up.”

The B&B has a private entrance in the back of the house, she added.

City Attorney Paul Marino acknowledged a problem with what he called “willful and deliberate violation of the rental ordinance that people have dealt with as though it doesn’t exist.”

Marino suggested the city get tough, and, instead of issuing civil citations “we have the code enforcement officer, who is also a marshal, start arresting people as this is a criminal violation.”

Councilman Nicolas Pavouris said the city needs to “get serious” about code enforcement but said, “we need to educate everyone in the city – hey, listen, enough is enough – before we start arresting people. I wouldn’t carry it that far.”

City Manager Lynn Rives said anyone who rents property in the city has to complete a rental registration and pay an annual fee.

“It’s $100 and then it goes to $200 if it’s not paid,” he said.

“We’ll look at the ordinance to see what we need to do,” Mayor Leslie Notaro said. “Maybe we can get them for not paying the county bed tax.”

Council members also focused on the code enforcement issue during dais comments at the end of the meeting.

Councilman Glen Gunn said code enforcement is important, but residents need to be given fair warning that a tougher approach is coming.

“We need to let people know that this is at the top of our priority list and we are going to crack down on it,” Gunn said.

Council Member Marvin Behm said code enforcement was “talked about a lot” by residents during the recent election campaign. He said “the many derelict houses” in the city were big concerns.

“We need to get started on correcting these items,” said Behm.

The council has discussed leveling derelict, abandoned homes in the past, said Council Member Wanda Schwerer.

“Where does that stand?” she asked Attorney Marino.

Marino said he had been in touch with authorities in Tampa “to see how far we can go in declaring houses derelict so we can tear them down.”

Gunn told Marino, “We’re looking at enforcing existing codes, and we are looking to you to put some muscle behind it.”

Paid parking recommended for City Hall lot

A parking station and charge for nonresidents may be coming to the lot next to City Hall. Council members appeared to agree with some type of parking fee, although the actual charge and hours were not determined.

The parking station had been recommended by the city’s Parks and Recreation Board. Board Chairman Robert Sample said people use the lot either to go to the beach or walk the causeway bridge. He said the Sheriff’s Office had determined the majority of people parking there do not live in Belleair Beach.

By parking at the City Hall lot, they avoid the paid parking lots at the Causeway Bridge marina in Belleair Bluffs and at the city’s Morgan Park lot on the beach, Sample added.

The lot starts filling up as early as 5 a.m., Sample said, and that disturbs residents on Cedar Drive, adjacent to the lot, where he also lives.

The Parks and Rec Board believes the visitors should pay. A parking station would also be a revenue source for the city, he said.

Residents would park free with a sticker or other identification, Sample added.

Council Member Jody Shirley said she and her girlfriends are some of the early morning users of the lot. They run on the bridge at about 5:30 a.m., she said. Shirley said she is not opposed to a parking charge, but the timeframe should be limited.

Councilman Pavouris said the nearby residents’ quality of life is an issue and they should be listened to.

“I favor a 24-hour, seven days a week parking charge,” said Pavouris.

Schwerer said some type of landscape buffer along the Cedar Drive edge of the parking lot would also be useful.

“I think we agree a parking station is a good idea, but we need to refine it,” Notaro said.

No digital message signs on Gulf Boulevard

A plan by the county to put a series of digital message signs up and down Gulf Boulevard has been canceled. The signs would have informed motorists of traffic conditions on the boulevard and across the bridges, including notices on actions such as evacuations, bridge closures, and traffic delays.

Notaro said the signs are “not going to happen.”

So many cities said they didn’t want them that the county said, ‘That’s fine, (we won’t do them),” Notaro reported.

Her remarks were greeted with loud applause from the audience.