In wrapping up their lawsuit settlement with the Silver Sands Beach and Racquet Club Master Association, a condominium complex, St. Pete Beach Commissioners unanimously agreed at their regular meeting on November 12 to update their code with regard to the customary use of beaches and public access.
City Attorney Andrew W.J. Dickman recommended that commissioners adopt Ordinance No. 2019-16, which repeals an earlier measure adopted in 2018. Florida Statute 163.035(4) “preempts our ability to use our (2018) ordinance,” he said.
On September 17, 2019, commissioners unanimously approved a $50,000 settlement in a suit filed against the city by the association on September 14, 2018 in reference to a civil rights violation relating to beach use and public access. Part of the agreement asked that commissioners consider the repeal of the Customary Use Ordinance No. 2018-07, said Robert Sherman, an attorney with Henderson Franklin of Fort Myers who has been working the case for the city.
The condominium complex is located at 6595 Sunset Way.
The association argued that the historic and private character of their beachfront property along with the related signage predates the city’s ordinance, which was adopted “on or about June 29, 2018.”
At the September 2019 meeting, Dickman explained to commissioners that by agreeing to the terms of the settlement including the fee, the case is being dismissed without prejudice.
“What that means is that this lawsuit could occur again but they are releasing the city, all of the defendants from anything that has occurred up to now,” said Dickman. “But there is nothing they have agreed to that says they will not bring this lawsuit back again at some point. They would have to refile a complaint.”
On November 12, 2019, Dickman said, “I don’t think anyone has gone through the judicial process, yet. It’s a complicated bill based on what’s happening in the panhandle. It’s a small bill that created a gigantic problems for a lot of people.”
Future Plans Discussed
At the November 13 planning meeting, City Manager Alex Rey led a brainstorming session with commissioners and city staff regarding future planning goals for the city.
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said, “We have a lot of hotels here. We’re not rural – more cosmopolitan with full-service amenities and a mix of people that make it fun and different. There is a fear of overdevelopment that may hurt the character.”
One of his concerns is, “How do we keep making improvements but not go over the top where it causes too much traffic?”
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said, “We don’t have branded hotels. We have not cultivated the reinvestment into more offerings.”
Mayor Alan Johnson agreed saying, “The Hilton and Holiday Inn have gone away.”
Pletcher added, “A lot of our hotels are nice but they are dated. The vibe of downtown St. Petersburg has not come over here. We don’t have anything unique or special and that’s something we have to fix.”
Dickman noted that he thinks St. Pete Beach has “great name recognition for an international destination.”
Commissioners agreed and said that a future priority is to beautify the high perspective entrance to the city from the Pinellas Bayway bridge as vehicles travel west to Gulf Boulevard. It is a main thoroughfare that easily connects to I-275 that brings people into the area from Tampa International Airport.
Commissioner Doug Izzo said he appreciates that a public information officer has been hired to help publicize what the city is doing and has to offer.
Rey said, “We are dependent on the tourist industry, which is high-risk versus Sarasota that has created a financial industry especially with retired residents who have money.”
Commissioners also noted that prices of current residential housing options in the city are not conducive to young families with children who are just starting their careers or to city employees and this leads to staff turnover. They suggested that encouraging the development of townhomes could be an answer for young people and city staff who wish to live in the city for the long term.
Friszolowski said that their city’s proximity to St. Petersburg means they could “capitalize on the great things going on there and we have great beaches for them.” The other commissioners agreed that increased co-marketing between the two municipalities could be mutually beneficial.