CRYSTAL BEACH — The people gathered in the Crystal Beach Community Hall Thursday night included old salts in foul weather gear, middle-aged baby boomers still in their 9-to-5 clothes and grandmothers with folded umbrellas.
But they all seemed to share the same sentiment: They don't want Pinellas County to let Glenn Bergoffen build a 300-foot-long dock into St. Joseph Sound.
Bergoffen owns a home on Maryland Avenue that has an assessed value of $1,546,480, according to the Pinellas County property appraiser. But his home is not on the water. A stretch of county-owned land lies between his home and St. Joseph Sound.
Bergoffen wants the county to give him ownership of a strip of that land that is about 90 feet long and 6 feet wide so he can access the dock he wants to build.
In exchange, Bergoffen says he would give a small easement back to the county so the public could continue to walk near the shore.
At the April 9 Pinellas County Commission meeting, commissioners will consider Bergoffen's request for the county to vacate the 90-foot-long strip.
Five years ago, Bergoffen made a similar request to county commissioners. Commissioners denied the request then, encouraging Bergoffen to consider helping the community build a public dock. Bergoffen did not express interest in that idea at the time.
Bergoffen did not attend the Crystal Beach meeting Thursday, but his representative, Todd Pressman, a zoning consultant, attempted to explain the details of the project to the crowd of about 80.
Many in the audience already have signed a petition stating that the public waterfront in Crystal Beach should be "preserved and protected as a complete and contiguous, 100 percent public-owned tract of land for community and public use forevermore.''
During the meeting, Pressman explained that Bergoffen has decided to pursue the request this second time because "there was a lot of misinformation in 2008. All the facts were not presented last time around,'' he said.
Pressman also provided details about the dock. It would be approximately 296 feet long, and on the end would be two electric boat lifts. Although the dock would be private, because of the proposed easement, the public would still have the ability to walk along the shore, Pressman said.
During the 90-minute discussion, residents voiced frustration that a private citizen could receive waterfront land for free. They also expressed fears that the project could set a precedent for other wealthy homeowners to also build private docks.
Crystal Beach homeowner Tom Rose called the issue a case of "the shark and the sardines.''
"The Bergoffen family is the shark, with a hotel-size house out of proportion to the community, deep pockets and connections that allow shark families to buy power and influence,'' he said. "The sardines represent the rest of our community (who) want to preserve public land for all of us to share in perpetuity.''
Before longtime resident Mickie Flinner attended the meeting, she decided to do her own review of the request.
"I walked the area tonight. I counted right away at least nine houses on the water, and if this goes through, what would stop those homeowners as well as several others from wanting to do the same thing?'' Flinner said.
The issue concerns Linda Henry, a third-generation Crystal Beach resident. In a letter to Pinellas County, Henry wrote that a long, private dock would "defy the original developers' aspirations of keeping (Crystal Beach) public and natural.''
Henry described her community as one striving to keep the land "pristine and unique, and we know what we are going up against on this issue,'' she said.
After the meeting, Pressman was asked what the public would receive in return for giving over the land. He answered the question by first expressing frustration.
"The big picture here is that people anchor their boats, moor their boats, on this very fragile area," he said. "Mr. Bergoffen's property is sitting right next to this unregulated, unlicensed, non-permitted mooring field, and although he is being portrayed as a bad guy, he is actually a victim,'' Pressman said. "It would be better if the boats had a place to dock.''
However, Pressman did not say during the meeting that Bergoffen has plans to share dock space.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.