Sunday Alcohol Sales Time Changed
The first reading and public hearing at the May 23 city commission meeting to change the hours of alcohol sales to 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. on any day of the week, including Sunday, was approved unanimously by the commission at the June 13 meeting, keeping St. Pete Beach regulations regarding Sunday purchase of alcohol in line with Pinellas County, which recently changed the law.
Medical Marijuana Moratorium Extended
The commission voted unanimously to extend the temporary moratorium on the establishment and operation of medical marijuana dispensing organizations and treatment centers at the July 11 meeting. The original 120-day moratorium expired in July. City Attorney Andrew Dickman advised commission not to extend the new moratorium beyond 120 days, noting that the ordinance could be revisited if the state of Florida and the Florida Department of Health have not finalized guidelines by the end of the 120-day period.
Establishment of Millage Rate and Other Budget Items
The commission unanimously approved to keep the millage rate at 3.15 per $1,000 of taxable value for the upcoming fiscal year despite property value appraisals rising 7.2 percent at the July 25 regular commission meeting. The tentative rate was decided at a commission budget workshop held July 20-21.
Parking fee collections are projected to increase General Fund revenue by $620,000. According to the budget document, all aspects of the city’s parking enforcement are experiencing significant growth.
The projected budget also includes $20 million for general operating expenses and $30 million for wastewater and storm water projects and capital expenses. Residents and businesses will see a rise of 8.25 percent in sewer fees. Storm water assessments will increase 3 percent to 13.5 percent.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher called maintaining the current millage rate “the responsible thing to do,” noting that the city would continue to receive Penny for Pinellas money through 2019.
The final votes on property taxes will be held at two public hearings on September 5 and September 19 when the commission approves the budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year which begins in October.
Cabanas and Cocktails Generates Much Discussion
A first reading and public hearing to amend Chapter 6, Alcoholic Beverages, of the City of St. Pete Beach Code of Ordinances allowing for the consumption of alcohol on the sand beach in conjunction with a transient lodging facility was introduced at the July 11 commission meeting.
The amendment would allow hotel guests in a specified cabana area on hotel properties to drink alcohol on the sand beach. The change would apply only to persons staying at a transient lodging facility and not include residents or other beachgoers. Current city laws bar the consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages on all sidewalks, streets, parks and sand beach areas. The amendment was originally sent to the Planning Board in November of 2016, which met with hoteliers, cabana vendor and the Sheriff’s Department. The proposed amendment generated plenty of discussion both for and against.
“This is a smart thing for us as a city to support,” said Commissioner Pletcher.
Residents, such as Susan Perodeau, did not agree.
“Why not allow residents who pay taxes and live here all the time to take a cocktail onto the beach at sunset? I see no reason to give preferential treatment to hotel guests,” she said. “I think it’s very wrong.”
Bill Pyle, president of the Silver Sands Condominium Master Association and a resident of St. Pete Beach for over 30 years called the proposal “unmanageable” and “problematic” regarding noise creation and disturbance to residential areas, and “inherently discriminatory.”
The discussion included the definition of “guest,” regulations and signage as well as proper enforcement.
“If not managed well, what would be the consequences?” posed Pletcher.
“Consequences should be severe,” said Commissioner Rick Falkenstein.
Tim Bogott, CEO of the TradeWinds Island Resort, supported the measure, saying businesses are in “a deficit position,” and the amendment would be good for business. The TradeWinds currently owns over 500 cabanas. Bogott noted that that the difference between hotels offering alcohol to guests and residents taking alcohol to the beach is that the hotels operate under a liquor license which includes strict guidelines for serving alcohol to patrons.
“It is in the best interest of the hotels to manage this properly,” he said.
The commission voted unanimously to continue with the amendment.
Since the July 11 meeting, the city staff has been rewriting the ordinance with stronger restrictions and guidelines. During the audience comments portion of the July 25 commission meeting, resident John-Michael Fleig, owner of the Baywaters Inn and a former candidate for mayor, stated his objections to amending the ordinance, saying the commission was “playing favorites” by considering changing the ordinance to accommodate the large hotels along the beach.
Fleig, whose business is on the bay, objected that his guests couldn’t bring alcohol from his tiki bar to the beach to watch a sunset without facing arrest.
“The amount of taxes I pay helps maintain the beaches. My guests are just as valuable as any of the mega-hotel guests,” he said. “If someone gets rowdy, the cops should handle it.”
Instead of a vote, the final reading and public hearing on the ordinance was tabled until the August 8 commission meeting at the suggestion of City Manager Wayne Saunders.