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Cities wait for state's line in sand

The Department of Environmental Protection is ready to release its proposal for the Coastal Construction Control Line for the gulf communities in Pinellas.

Hundreds of hotels, condominiums and homes _ snugly nestled against the state's coastal development line when they were built _ soon could be subjected to more stringent statewide standards for building on the beach.

The state plans to push the development line back _ east of Gulf Boulevard in some cases _ taking in most existing beachfront buildings.

The Department of Environmental Protection plans to release its long-awaited Coastal Construction Control Line maps to Pinellas County's coastal cities today or Thursday. The maps will be available for public review at area city halls, and the DEP plans to host public workshops in March.

The list of beachfront landmarks affected by the changes is long: the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant; the Tradewinds; the Thunderbird.

Only a handful of properties that hug the beach, most notably the Don Cesar Beach Resort & Spa, managed to remain outside the new line, which stretches along Pinellas County's 39 miles of Gulf Coast.

The DEP demarcation is where a municipality's control over beachfront development ends and where state control begins. Property located on the gulf side of the line must apply for state permits and meet tougher standards.

But DEP officials insist the impacts of the new line will be minimal in Pinellas County. The line is designed to protect natural dunes, but because few exist in Pinellas, development seaward of the line likely will continue, said Gene Chalecki, program administrator for the state Office of Beaches and Coastal Systems in Tallahassee.

"I just don't see where the control line is going to have a major effect on the kind of building that can be constructed within that particular zone," Chalecki said. "The effect is primarily going to be on construction standards and elevation standards for buildings."

The difference, local officials worry, will be in the permitting costs and time delays involved in applying for state permits. They also are concerned about insurance rates of local residents who built their homes inside of the control line but now could find themselves dangling on the beach side of the line.

Here is a brief look town by town.

ST. PETE BEACH

Among the Pinellas coastal communities, St. Pete Beach fared better than most.

"Actually seeing it, while it's not good for those who are going to be seaward of the line, it's better than we had heard," said City Manager Carl Schwing, who got his first look at the new maps on Tuesday.

In the northern part of town, the new line cuts through the swimming pools at the Silver Sands, then slices through several more hotels and condominiums along Gulf Boulevard. Unlike the control line in Madeira Beach and other beach towns, the line never reaches Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach.

According to Chalecki, if a portion of an existing building falls seaward of the new line, the entire building is subject to the state standards.

The control line bisects the horseshoe-shaped Lido Condos on Gulf Boulevard, which were built within feet of the original DEP line, established in the mid-1970s.

"You make the assumption that the CCCL is set and you're not going to have to worry about it coming in on you," Schwing said. "And unfortunately, for some of these people, it now does."

A portion of the Don CeSar Beach Club & Spa, located north of the resort of the same name on Gulf Boulevard, is now seaward of the control line.

The Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa, however, narrowly escaped the new line, which veers closer to the gulf as it approaches the St. Pete Beach landmark and veers landward when it reaches Pass-a-Grille, the most affected neighborhood here.

At some points, the new control line runs down Sunset Way, the small thoroughfare located between the beach and Pass-a-Grille Way.

Schwing said the city's concern with the new line is three-fold: a possible increase in insurance costs; the increased cost of permitting because of the state regulations; and the additional time needed to process permits through DEP.

"They're going to allow you to build," said Chris Brimo, the city's director of planning and development, "but you're going to have to build to their standard."

TREASURE ISLAND

Several high-profile developments that are not within the CCCL will move seaward of the dividing line under the proposed plan.

On the northern end of the city, the new line skips across Gulf Boulevard to include the Rice family property up to the edge of Gators Cafe & Saloon.

The line used to go around the Holiday Inn, but the proposed boundary includes the entire hotel and a portion of its parking lot.

From the Holiday Inn, the line was moved halfway between the beach and Gulf Boulevard, bisecting most of the properties in its path.

The Sea Horse Cottages & Apartments at 10356 Gulf Blvd. are entirely seaward of the new line.

"I was expecting that," said Sea Horse owner Roseanne Petit, head of the city's planning and zoning board. She said her biggest concern is that her cottages, built in 1939, would be less attractive to potential buyers.

The proposed line curves sharply to the east at the intersection of Gulf Boulevard and West Gulf Boulevard, placing the city's new beachfront property within the tighter restrictions. City Manager Chuck Coward said a shelter planned for the new Sunset Vista Trailhead Park could cost a bit more and possibly take longer to construct if the new line is adopted.

From the proposed park site, the line remains on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, putting all of the beachfront property in the new boundaries. The Treasure Island Beach Center going up on the site of the former Bedrox bar would not be affected by new regulations because it is under construction and expected to be completed before the new line is adopted.

From the beach center, the proposed line moves slightly to the east and extends to the tip of Sunset Beach. It encompasses one of the two, high-rise Mansions by the Sea Condominiums, but stays to the west of the Lands End condominium development.

MADEIRA BEACH

The new line stretches along the west side of Gulf Boulevard until _ luckily for the city's tax base _ it reaches the older developments on the south side of the city.

The city's oldest properties can be remodeled or razed and rebuilt without state restrictions.

That area is ripe for redevelopment, City Manager Mike Bonfield said, and the revised line will do little to hinder that.

The line turns away from Gulf Boulevard near the intersection with 137th Avenue Circle, and continues moving even farther away from Gulf as it nears John's Pass Bridge.

Near the bridge, around Mitchell Beach, the new line drifts closer to Gulf Boulevard again.

THE REDINGTONS

Redington Beach, North Redington Beach, and Redington Shores extend only about three miles along the Gulf but include some of the most expensive beach property in the county. The value of all properties in the three towns comprises nearly half a billion dollars.

Officials in the three towns are concerned new restrictions on buildings and property west of the proposed line could negatively impact property values and, therefore, tax revenues.

Redington Beach is a residential community with more than 40 beachfront private homes, many valued at $1-million or more. The new line is east of all of these properties and extends to the eastern edge of Gulf Boulevard at one point.

"These homes represent at least 60 percent of our tax base. What is the line going to do to our property values?" questioned Redington Beach Commissioner Joanne DeSimone. "The new line could make it difficult for people to sell their homes."

The 214-unit Tides Beach Club on North Redington Beach is the newest condominium development project in the three towns. Its nearly $80-million assessed value represents a significant tax base for the town. The line is closer to Gulf Boulevard than in Redington Beach, bisects the nearly completed Tides project, continues to the front door of the North Redington Beach Hilton, and gobbles the parking lots of most of the town's beachfront properties.

"I was afraid of this," said North Redington Beach Mayor Harold Radcliffe. "If the new construction rules are too strict, the state is going to see the damnedest series of lawsuits they've ever had. You can't take property rights without compensating the owners."

Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti was more relaxed about the proposed construction line. His town has the largest number of properties on the west side of Gulf Boulevard, but many of the small cottages that date to the 1950s or earlier are east of the proposed line. The planned town hall is also unaffected.

"The impact right now is none," said Beyrouti. "It's not the end of the earth and will make the beaches more livable. It will just be a more rigid code. Unfortunately, no one likes change. They'd like everything to stay the way it is."

Coastal Construction Control Line

The line exists to protect Florida's beaches and dunes, a natural buffer against hurricanes and storms. Construction seaward of the line is not prohibited but must meet special state standards.

The Department of Environmental Protection uses historical weather data, erosion trends and topographical studies, among other factors, to establish the line. Generally, modifying existing structures that are seaward of the line does not require state approval as long as the work does not alter the foundation.

Construction costs for buildings seaward of the control line can be higher than normal because the structure must be built on a pile-supported foundation and must be constructed of wind- and water-withstanding materials. The state argues that individual's insurance costs actually decrease when buildings are built seaward of a control line because the buildings meet stricter standards, but local governments are concerned their residents' insurance rates could increase.

If a structure is under construction before a new control line is established, it is exempt from the state permitting requirements.

SOURCE: Department of Environmental Protection

Maps are available

to public for viewing

Beginning Thursday, the Department of Environmental Protection's new Coastal Construction Control Line maps will be available at the following city or town halls: Belleair, Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island. The maps also will be available at the Clearwater Public Works Building.

The DEP will host two public workshops to answer questions and receive comments about the proposed changes. The first workshop will be held at 6 p.m. March 7 at Clearwater City Hall, 112 S. Osceola Ave. The second will be held at 6 p.m. March 8 at the Treasure Island Community Center, 1 Park Place.

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