ST. PETE BEACH — In the 1970s, the city established a line on the beach beyond which buildings were banned.
It was not until the 1980s that Florida followed suit with a statewide Coastal Construction Control Line.
"The city was environmentally proactive," senior planner Catherine Hartley told city commissioners last month as she urged them to eliminate their line and instead adopt the state's line.
The two lines are not the same and, particularly in the city's northern large resort district, the city line is more restrictive than the state line.
As a result, even though many hotels own the beach all the way to the mean high water mark, they are prohibited from building anything in between the two lines except small tiki huts or dune walk-overs, Hartley said.
During the past year, the city has received several applications from hotels seeking to build on the area of the beach that lies between the two lines.
"Eliminating this (city line) allows us to look at applications for site plans on a case by case basis," Hartley said.
She also stressed that dunes or vegetation on the affected beach cannot be removed and that beachfront property owners would be prevented from building in those areas.
The commission tentatively approved the change last month and, when it meets tonight at 6, it is expected to vote its final approval to remove a line that opponents say will open up to 30 acres of beach to future development.
"This just does not have the impact that people think it has," Hartley said.
The largest single area affected by the proposed change is at the TradeWinds Island Resort, where Hartley said about an acre and a half of beach lies between the city and state construction control lines.
The nearby Postcard Inn has about a third of an acre between the two lines, while the city line actually runs through several of the Silver Sands condominium buildings just to the north.
Residents at the Silver Sands are among those most vocal in opposing the change. Bill Pyle and the board of the Silver Sands II Condominium Association are urging the city not to abandon its construction line.
"This could lead to the conversion of approximately 30 acres of our beach used by public to private development," Pyle said.
Nearly a decade ago, Pyle was the first among several city residents to file development-related lawsuits that by last December had cost the city $1.3 million in legal fees — an amount that continues to rise each month as the last of the lawsuits are argued in court.
"I ask that you not allow conversion of our beach to high-rise condominium hotels," Pyle told the commission.
Deborah Scheckner, another resident who has repeatedly called for less beach development, argued that the city's "ultimate goal" should be to protect the beach and provide sanctuary for native and migratory birds and nesting sea turtles.
"Protection of the beach environment is crucial and should not be subjected to any more encroachment," Scheckner said. "Giving away part of our beach makes absolutely no sense."