BELLEAIR BEACH — The hot topic of the night at the Aug. 1 Belleair Beach commission meeting was the ongoing dispute with neighboring Belleair Shore over a ban on beach umbrellas. It was clear there remain differences of opinion in Belleair Beach as to the best way to resolve the issue.
Belleair Shore has banned beach umbrellas on the beach, which residents claim as their own, for the past two years. This particularly affects Belleair Beach residents who live south of 19th Street on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, because they are right across the street from Belleair Shore. The Belleair Beach residents claim the ban on beach umbrellas violates their right to protect themselves against skin cancer and to enjoy the shade of an umbrella.
Belleair Beach Mayor Dave Gattis, who decisively defeated former mayor Joseph Manzo in the March election, promised during the election campaign that he would negotiate with Belleair Shore to settle the disagreement over its ban on beach umbrellas. Manzo, an attorney, had filed a lawsuit against Belleair Shore to try to overturn the town’s shade ban, saying it was illegal and unconstitutional.
Up to now, the ban has remained in effect, and the issue is seldom brought up at Belleair Beach City Council meetings.
At the Aug. 1 meeting, Manzo and others came to speak on the issue during the portion of the meeting reserved for citizen comments. During that time, citizens can speak on any subject, including those not on the agenda.
Just before the citizen comment period, Gattis said he wanted to update everyone on what’s happening in the town of Belleair Shore concerning its shade ordinance.
Gattis said he had been pleading with Belleair Shore Mayor Robert Schmidt, Commissioner Steve Blume and the commission to allow single-pole umbrellas, at least in the area near the beach accesses.
“At the last Belleair Shore commission meeting, Commissioner Blume made a motion to allow 4-foot umbrellas in the access areas, and it passed,” Gattis said.
Four-foot umbrellas are small, Gattis acknowledged, but “it’s a start.”
Gattis said he later contacted Blume and stressed that 8-foot umbrellas would better serve the Belleair Beach residents, and would allow two people to bring chairs and sit comfortably under an umbrella.
A change of the beach umbrella law would require the creation of an ordinance at Belleair Shore, with passage by a majority of commissioners on two readings.
“I remain optimistic concerning this matter,” Gattis said.
That solution was not acceptable to the residents who came to speak at the Belleair Beach meeting.
Manzo said the proposed 4-foot umbrella is the size of a golf umbrella and can accommodate only one person.
A lawsuit is the only way to resolve the issue, Manzo said.
“It’s time to stand up and say no,” Manzo said. “Tell (Belleair Shore) that you are disgusted and that you demand they repeal this ordinance.
“A town of 58 people is taking away our beach rights and our constitutional rights,” Manzo said.
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Please don’t get in my way in my lawsuit,” Manzo said. “I don’t need your legal help, but the citizens of this city could use your support.”
Another person who spoke passionately on the subject was Yoli Redero, who said her husband Pete recently received a citation that requires him to appear in criminal court to be arraigned and prosecuted for having an umbrella on the beach.
“Now that is absurd,” Redero said, “but that is what we’re fighting.”
Redero said that when she and her husband bought their house here 11 years ago, it was for one reason: to be near the beach. “For two years now, we have not been able to enjoy our beach, even though it has been deeded to us,” she said.
“Also, this is going to impact property values,” Redero said. “I know some people who have bought homes here and are angry that no one told them there’s a ban on the umbrella.”
“I’d like to ask all of you to stand up and fight back, to support the citizens of this community,” Redero said.
Shore ‘safety zone’ debated
After numerous discussions and failures to reach a decision, the commission once again set aside a proposed ordinance to define the rules for boaters and swimmers in the near shore “safety zone” inside the buoys along the beach.
An initial proposal that was presented at a public forum in March showed distinct swim areas and boat areas inside the buoys. Based on comments that were made, that plan was not popular with condo owners along the beach. A revised plan was on the agenda as an ordinance at the July 5 council meeting that created designated swim areas, which excluded vessels altogether. That ordinance died when no one made a motion to even discuss it.
The existing rules in Belleair Beach make the entire area within the buoys a swim zone but do allow boats to come in at low speed, and also allow kayaks and other non-motorized vessels.
City Attorney Randy Mora explained at the Aug. 1 meeting that the city cannot leave the law on the books as it is, based on advice from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Mora said there are two choices: create a swim zone inside the buoys which excludes watercraft altogether, or remove the buoys which opens up the area to swimmers and unregulated watercraft.
Council member Jody Shirley said that at Clearwater Beach, they have an area south of the pier that is swimmers-only, while north of the pier there are no buoys and swimmers as well as boats are allowed. It seems to work, she said.
The ordinance up for consideration called for no buoys, with swimmers and watercraft allowed. After some discussion by the council, member Frank Bankard said he would like to talk further with FWC, and postpone discussion to the next workshop. His motion to table the ordinance passed 5-2.