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Ruling could resolve fight over liveaboards

A controversial ordinance to regulate people who live aboard their boats has been upheld by a judge, perhaps finally ending the long and bitter fight between the city and liveaboards.

The ordinance that requires people who live on boats to register with the city and allow inspections of their boats was challenged in July 1992 by activist Robert Collins as unconstitutional.

Often seen as a leader in the cause, Collins alleged in his suit that the city was unfairly picking on people who chose an alternative lifestyle and that the law was overly vague and arbitrary.

However, after nearly two years, Pinellas County Circuit Judge David Walker ruled that the city was within its rights to enforce the ordinance and to regulate liveaboards and their boats.

Collins said Monday he had not heard of the judge's ruling. He added, though, that it didn't much matter to him anymore. He was leaving Madeira Beach for Gulfport and leaving his home aboard a boat for one on land.

"It's been too much of a hassle," he said of the long fight with the city. "It's taken too much out of me."

Jeffrey Jirles, the lawyer who represented the city, said Monday the city had successfully argued that it was necessary to inspect boats to make sure they had proper sanitation facilities to prevent pollution.

City Manager John Mulvihill said all marinas in the city would be notified of the ruling and any that housed liveaboards would now be required to install pump-out stations. He said enforcement of the ordinance would begin in about 30 days.

The ordinance prohibits liveaboards in residential neighborhoods and restricts the number of liveaboards to 15 percent of all boats at any marina. Mulvihill estimates there are about 25 such boats in the city.

The fight stretches back to the arrest of Benny Parr in March 1992. Parr was cited for living aboard his boat behind private property without a permit.

When his case went to court later that summer, the ordinance cited was challenged as unconstitutional. He won that fight when the judge ruled the city's ordinance was, indeed, too vague.

However, in the meantime, the city, anticipating defeat, had written a revised liveaboard ordinance. It is that second ordinance that was challenged by Collins.

Howard Sutter, the attorney who represented Collins, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Barring an appeal, Jirles said this might end the controversy. "I think we're pretty much done."