ST. PETE BEACH — Reluctant to incur yet more legal bills, the City Commission changed its mind and will allow the Sirata Beach Resort to rent out four water scooters.
Last fall, months before the commission banned the renting of personal watercraft on the beach, the commission granted the nearby Tradewinds Island Resort permission to rent four of them.
However, in late January, similar requests from the Sirata and the Travelodge were rejected.
In late February, the Sirata appealed the decision, triggering a formal mediation process.
Meanwhile, in March the commission approved the new rules banning all motorized vessels under 16 feet in length for the CG-1 and CG-2 commercial and the RFM Resort Facilities Medium zoning districts. The ban did not affect personal watercraft owned by residents.
Tuesday, City Attorney Susan Churuti presented the commission with a mediated settlement.
"You could be in litigation for quite a while on this issue," Churuti told the commission. "We think this is your best result at the least cost."
The settlement restricts use of rental water scooters to between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Those renting the scooters must be at least 24 years old and be given at least a half-hour of training. Beach access for the watercraft is restricted to a 75-foot channel. The agreement can be canceled by the city if any of the conditions are not met.
"I believe we need to approve this," said Commissioner Al Halpern.
Resident Carol Walker told the commission she lives "in the fire zone" between the Tradewinds and the Sirata and had no objection to the Sirata being allowed to rent water scooters.
"This is a tricky situation," said Commissioner Christopher Leonard, adding he was concerned that if the city refused the settlement, any eventual court decision "in fact could be worse."
Commissioner Bev Garnett agreed, saying "it could end up costing us a lot more."
Mayor Mike Finnerty disagreed. "The only fair way for everyone is to remove Jet Skis from the beach. Jet Skis are too dangerous. I honestly feel we need to remove them from beach for public safety."
Commissioner Jim Parent's response drew laughter: "I taught survival in Air Force. There ain't no way Jet Skis are more dangerous than parasailing."
In the end, the commission voted 4-1, with Finnerty still opposed, to allow the Sirata its water scooters.