CLEARWATER — Police Chief Dan Slaughter was a little miffed. It was August 2019 and one of his officers had received a letter from her homeowners association threatening hundreds of dollars in fines if she continued to park her marked Police Interceptor in her own driveway.
Neighborhood resistance to parked police cruisers was not unheard of; another HOA had warned a Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy against parking his cruiser at his property, too.
Holiday Isles Management, the association managing the Cross Pointe neighborhood, stood by its board on the banning of the Clearwater officer’s vehicle, but said it looked forward to the day when state law addressing the issue would be clarified.
That day came on Feb. 22, with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of SB 476. The new state law prohibits HOAs and other housing associations from banning law enforcement vehicles from their jurisdictions. The law also covers officers visiting friends and relatives in other neighborhoods.
Sponsored by State Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, and State Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the new law is simple in its language: “An association may not prohibit a law enforcement officer, who is a unit owner, or who is a tenant, guest, or invitee of a unit owner, from parking his or her assigned law enforcement vehicle in an area where the unit owner, or the tenant, guest, or invitee of the unit owner, otherwise has a right to park.”
Slaughter credited community outcry over the ban for the law’s creation and passage.
“While my officer and legal advisor were evaluating it, citizens had heard about it and felt strongly that it was wrong,” Slaughter said after the governor signed the law. “Sen. Hooper and Rep. Sprowls heard about it from their constituents as well. From there they made the change in law happen.”
Though Slaughter did not directly respond to his officer’s HOA back in August, he got the department behind her.
“The officer involved notified me about the issue and I offered my support and asked my legal advisor to consult with her on the issue,” Slaughter told the Beacon.
The presence of police cars on neighborhood streets are a natural extension of Neighborhood Watch and other community policing efforts nationwide. A visible police vehicle can prevent crime in the area in which it is visible.
“The community has demanded officers be dedicated community servants and respond, day or night, to emergencies,” Slaughter said in a written statement at the time. “This officer and her spouse have served her community admirably.”
Commercial vehicles, such as dump trucks, tree-trimming trucks, food trucks, and other commercial vehicles are banned by many Florida HOAs. Holiday Isles Management, however, said it also could ban government vehicles, i.e., police cruisers.
Hooper previewed the bill at an Amplify Clearwater breakfast on Dec. 4 by discussing two instances of neighborhood banning of police vehicles, which occurred in different parts of the county.
“They were told — both of them were law enforcement officers, one is Clearwater Police Department, one a deputy under Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. They were told, ‘You cannot park your law enforcement vehicle in your driveway because we consider that a commercial vehicle.’ If that were my community, I would love to have a visible law enforcement car so some would-be trouble-maker would (then) pick another community to go and terrorize or get the free stuff.”
Slaughter thanked citizens and lawmakers after it was signed into law in late February.
“I am disappointment the HOA acted as they did, but inspired by the citizens that saw the ridiculousness of the HOA position and drove this positive change,” Slaughter said. “I am very thankful to Sen. Hooper, Rep. Sprawls, Rep. Chris Latvala (R-Largo), and Rep. Chip LeMarca (R-Hollywood) for their work and support on this.”
Staff ranks potential City Hall sites
The proposed site for a new City Hall and/or government center combination has been narrowed to 10 possible locations.
Staff at the March 2 City Council work session told council members that the top two sites are next to the Clearwater Police Department and the Clearwater Municipal Services Building, with the top choice being Site B — Myrtle Avenue West, at the corner of Court and Pierce streets.
The city council, which will have at least two new members after the election on March 17, likely won’t make more decisions before that day.
In October, the City Council asked the directors of the Clearwater Redevelopment Agency, the engineering department, and the planning and development services department — with the help of Harvard Jolly Inc. — to conduct a site selection study using several criteria, including visibility and civic prominence, economic development catalyst potential, parking, and availability for acquisition.
At the Nov. 19 City Council meeting, the council expressed support for a government center option in addition to a City Hall-only option. Council members also asked staff to include the Main Library site in the site selection process, bringing the total to 10 properties to be evaluated. The second-favorite choice was Myrtle Avenue East, at the intersection of Park and Pierce streets, city Planning and Development Department documents show. It earned a score of 7.25 out of 10.
Site B, because it is already owned by the city and for other reasons, was the top choice with a total of 9.25 points out of 10 possible points, the site selection group decided.
“Based on the findings of the feasibility study, staff is recommending the city/CRA owned property located on the northwest of Court Street and Myrtle Avenue (Site B) be selected as the site for the new City Hall or Government Center,” they wrote. “The site provides excellent visibility at the intersection of two state roadways and provides a site of civic prominence. The site has good transportation access, is located along the Pinellas Trail and is in close proximity to other city facilities and is large enough to support a stand-alone City Hall or a larger Government Center.”
There are many decisions to be made before construction can begin, if that is indeed the site that finally is chosen. The city’s downtown rejuvenation plan, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s plans for its intermodal center, whether to build an office building large enough to house all city departments — including how and where to build parking garages — must all be finalized.
“North B is the only one that makes sense to me,” Mayor George Cretekos said. “We’ve been waiting for the PSTA to come up with a plan for that site for at least 13 years. If they want a stop, let them put it on Site A. The question is: Where are we going to serve our citizens with a City Hall?”
City Manager William Horne told the council he thought the council hadn’t wanted a building to hold all city departments.
“I’m looking for some firm guidance from you on what it is we’re building,” Horne said. “I’m not sensing that there is complete agreement. How do you want to approach this?”
The council hopes to learn more about the PSTA’s plans and the status of the other moving parts in the next weeks before narrowing what’s possible at Site B and a new city hall.