BELLEAIR BEACH — Despite recent efforts to create new parking spaces, the city is still short the 10 spaces needed to qualify for federally and state funded beach renourishment.
If the parking issue is not resolved, the city will have to choose between paying $200,000 or more for the cost of renourishment — or forgo rebuilding its beaches entirely.
City Manager Nancy Gonzalez is hoping the parking shortfall can be made up by moving the city's beach pavilion at Morgan Park closer to the beach, freeing up space that could be converted into parking.
That project would be partly funded by the $2.9 million in Gulf Boulevard beautification money the city expects to receive over the next few years from Pinellas County.
The city has advertised for landscape design proposals and bids are to be opened today.
Moving the pavilion closer to the water line could require state and county approval, however.
So far the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been cooperative in the city's efforts to find additional parking.
The DEP sets the rules on the number of public parking spaces that are needed to qualify for periodic renewal of eroded beach sand — and recently ruled the city can count bike racks toward the required number of parking spaces.
Despite the parking already available at beach access points and at public parks, the city lacks 28 of the 85 spaces needed to qualify for beach renourishment.
In recent years, the city unsuccessfully sought a parking space variance, arguing that the requirement that public parking must be evenly distributed along the city's nearly 1 mile of beach front presented a hardship.
Now the City Council has budgeted $8,000 in the coming year to install four additional bike racks at its four beach access points and at Morgan Park.
The bike racks will make up 18 of the missing 28 spaces, leaving a 10-space shortfall Gonzalez hopes will be eliminated with the reconfiguration of Morgan Park.
The only other option would be Pinellas County's call for parallel parking along Gulf Boulevard and side-street parking — a proposal the city has strongly opposed.
Beach renourishment conducted by the U.S. Corps of Engineers is funded primarily by the federal government, with the balance paid out of state and county funds.
Normally beach renourishment is done every four or five years. The last time the city's beaches received new sand was in 2012.
Both the state and county have told the city that for it to qualify for future taxpayer dollars for beach renourishment, the beach must be available to the public.
And that means people must be able to park their cars in order to get to the beach.
The tiny town of Belleair Shore, which takes up a portion of Belleair Beach's frontage along Gulf Boulevard, has no public access points, and therefore does not receive beach renourishment.