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City may restrict water scooters

City officials are considering creating rules to control the use of Jet Skis and similar watercraft off the Belleair Causeway. Prompted by residents' complaints about noise and safety in recent weeks, the City Commission on Monday decided to start looking into ordinances that would control the water scooters on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The commission reviewed a recent ordinance passed in Dunedin but decided it was too broad to adopt.

"I think this is too much of a grab bag," Commissioner Wallace Witham said. "I would be more comfortable if we put together an ordinance that dealt with Jet Skis specifically."

By a 3-2 vote, and to the dismay of several Jet Ski enthusiasts, Dunedin officials decided last month to ban launching or retrieval of motorized water craft from the Dunedin Causeway.

Belleair Bluffs Police Chief James Mangum doubted whether such an ordinance could be enforced since it would require a police officer being anchored on the beach waiting for the offender to return. The ordinance also would be ineffective without the participation of Belleair Beach, which is on the other side of the causeway, he said.

City Attorney John Hubbard, who also worried about enforcement, said the noise problem could be solved with an ordinance banning Jet Skis with modified mufflers.

"They're not going to be quiet, but they're not going to be too noisy either," Hubbard said.

Hubbard will meet with Mangum and Belleair Beach Police Chief Frank Anderson to discuss what kinds of ordinances would be effective. The issue will be discussed again at next month's workshop meeting.

In other news, city officials were disappointed to discover that they can't ban political signs.

The city is in the process of revising its sign ordinances to meet new requirements in its comprehensive plan.

The ordinances now on the books prohibit all temporary signs except "For Sale" signs posted for real estate sales.

The commission asked city attorney Hubbard to look into whether political signs could be banned. His answer was no. "You're violating people's civil rights if you do that," he said.

"I would rather face a court challenge than face the voters who elected us," Vice Mayor Barbara Jonas said. "I don't want to end up looking like some of our other communities."

Hubbard pointed out that in most cases, the erection of political signs is protected by courts.

But he added that the commission could put a reasonable limit on the amount of time the sign could be up.

"I think we're going to have to bite the bullet on this," said Witham, who not only suggested time limits but limits on the number of signs erected on a property. "There's no sense banging our head against the wall on this . . . because we're not going to win."

The commission decided it would limit the time political signs could remain posted as well as where signs could be posted on property.

The exact wording of the new ordinance is to be discussed at a workshop meeting following the Feb. 20 regular meeting at 7:30 p.m.

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