BELLEAIR BEACH — More than a quarter of the city's beach may not get any renourishment sand this year or in the future.
The reason? The city does not have enough public parking spaces under the rules set by the federal government and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In order to qualify for beach renourishment, the city must provide one parking space for approximately every 53 feet of beachfront to guarantee adequate public access to the city's mile-long beach.
There are more than enough parking spaces throughout the city to meet that requirement, but there is a catch — the spaces must be within a quarter-mile of each beach access point.
The bottom line is the city is short 28 spaces for a 1,477-foot stretch of beach beginning just north of 25th Street and stretching south to the border with its neighbor, Belleair Shore, between 19th and 20th streets.
Mayor Kathy Mortensen and Council member Leslie Notaro pleaded with the Pinellas County Commission last week to ask the state for a variance to the parking rules. But the commission refused.
The reasons were varied, beginning with fears about potential county costs to frustration that Belleair Beach officials seem unwilling to accept county ideas for creating the needed parking spaces.
The draft permit for the renourishment project now calls for the ineligible "gap" in Belleair Beach to receive sand, but that could change any time up to the actual pumping of sand.
The county is concerned that if it allows the gap to be renourished, the state won't pay for it and the county will be left with a $224,000 bill.
If the gap does not receive sand, it will require the contractor to move its equipment twice at an unknown cost.
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told us the cost to pick up the equipment and not do the gap could be a wash," county coastal manager Andy Squires said Monday. "It is really a county decision."
Complicating the decision is the fact that previous renourishment of the Belleair Beach gap in 2005 was apparently done in error and the county, as the recipient of federal and state funds, could be liable for past costs.
Also complicating that decision is the 43-room Belleair Beach Resort Motel, which sits almost in the middle of the gap and is eligible to receive renourishment sand for its 213 feet of beachfront because the establishment rents its units to the public.
The likelihood that any sand would remain very long if the beach to the north and south of the motel is not similarly renourished is slim, Squires admits.
"If they don't give us sand, it leaves me and the city with virtually no protection from hurricanes," motel owner Macari Bishara said Monday.
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The county proposed creating on-street public parking spaces along Gulf Boulevard and on adjacent side streets, as is done in other beach cities.
Belleair Beach officials rejected that option partly because the city does not allow on-street parking. Mortensen said homeowners on Gulf Boulevard would be upset if the public were allowed to park in front of their property.
In addition, she said allowing parking on narrow residential streets would not be safe, a notion supported by Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue Chief Robert Polk. He said such a parking plan would violate state and national fire prevention codes and "would present a significant obstacle to the efficient response of emergency vehicles."
Another county-proposed solution would be for the city to buy three lots on Gulf Boulevard to create the needed 28 spaces.
But there is only one vacant lot available, and the asking price is about $400,000.
"It's like two heads hitting on a wall," said Mortensen, who added that she "would rather find a solution that's amicable to a majority of citizens."
She plans to ask her colleagues to discuss the options at the council's July 11 meeting.
While Belleair Beach and the county wrestle with the parking problem, plans are moving ahead on renourishment for most of Sand Key, which extends south from Clearwater to North Redington Beach.
Contract bids are scheduled to be opened by next month, and work is expected to start by November.