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Pretty plantings, or public priority?

Give me the local fight every time. Mighty debates rage in Washington, but equal passions are kindled when the subject pits neighbor against neighbor, or, in this case, Town Hall against a strip of landscaping.

Just north of the Dubai Long Pier (which has nothing to do with this; I just like the name), 176th Avenue intersects the main coastal Pinellas drag of Gulf Boulevard in Redington Shores.

From the end of that street a quiet brick walkway leads out to the broad, amply renourished beach. It runs between the Gulf Mariner Condominiums on the left and, on the right, the private two-story home of Joanne Greenberg.

To the right of the walkway next to Greenberg's home lies a pleasing stand of flora including cacti, bayonet plants and crotons. There is lush grass and an irrigation system. At the beach end of the sidewalk is a pipe with a showerhead for visitors.

Joanne Greenberg, who has lived in the house 20 years, tells me her family has put $40,000 or so into this strip of landscaping over time. The folks from Gulf Mariner also have helped maintain it.

But strictly speaking (no, even loosely speaking) this strip belongs to the town of Redington Shores. The town has a 20-foot easement between the condos and Greenberg's home. The town put in the sidewalk.

Now Redington Shores proposes to widen it, which involves taking out everything else — crotons, cacti, irrigation and all. This is the town's only 20-foot beach access, and the town says it needs to make it clear who owns it.

"This is public beach access, and we're going to make it so," says Mayor Jody Armstrong.

The proposal greatly distresses both Greenberg and some of the residents of Gulf Mariner, who have attended public meetings in protest.

The residents have discussed a compromise, moving the shower and the remnants of old beach steps to make sure emergency vehicles can enter, and posting signs saying it's public land. The town is not persuaded.

Now, what am I leaving out? Oh, right. There is the angle of the town's former longtime mayor, J.J. Beyrouti.

Beyrouti owns a lot a little bit north, right past 177th Avenue. The town now uses a 10-foot-wide beach access next to his property for its tractor, police vehicles and so forth.

The folks down at 176th wonder whether one day, when Beyrouti redevelops his property, there will be no more vehicle access there, which is the real reason behind the town's plans.

I asked Beyrouti about it. "They always throw in my name, because it's easy," he sighed.

He says he absolutely does not mind vehicle traffic next to his lot ("They can drive all day long") and can't do anything about the width of the city's easement anyway.

But the current mayor, Armstrong, told me things still might get tight if Beyrouti develops. It is the duty of the town to make sure the wider 20-foot access off 176th Avenue is clearly public.

"I want to make doubly, triply, quadruply sure," she said.

So this is where matters stand. Being a noncombatant, I can see both sides. The town must preserve its easements. But I do not know if it really has to rip out everything next to Joanne Greenberg's house to do it.

Our nation was built on far greater compromises, although, admittedly, they usually did not involve beach access in a small coastal town.

Pretty plantings, or public priority? 01/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 10:55pm]

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