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Today's Letters: On rentals, revisit spirit of the law

By LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published May 21, 2007


On May 3 the Clearwater City Council voted 5-0 to appeal Judge Nelly Khouzam's ruling of April 20 on short-term rentals in Clearwater.

The judge's ruling basically says that the 31 properties doing short-term rentals prior to April 2003 can continue doing so because previous codes did not state that short-term rentals were not permitted. And since the ruling, others are coming out of the woodwork asking to be grandfathered along with the 31 in the lawsuit.

It is of interest that very little proof was asked of the 31 properties to prove they were doing short-term rentals prior to April 2003 (licenses, taxes paid, income reported). Some of the properties are also homesteaded.

Short-term rentals and this ruling impact the quality of life in our residential area on Clearwater Beach and in other residential areas in Pinellas County. Codes and laws are put in place and enforced to protect the quality of life in residential areas.

In April 2003 the City of Clearwater clarified the code to state that short-term rentals of less than 31 days in Low Medium Density Residential areas are not permitted.

Of interest is that the 69-page code of 1999 says that in LMDR areas, "overnight accommodations" are not permitted. So now we need to define overnight accommodations and that is easy. Just talk to the folks in the motel and hotel business, and they will describe overnight accommodations as one day to a month. That is the general range that the tourist books when coming to our coastal islands to spend their vacations.

The Clearwater City Council is doing the right thing with the appeal. How many times have you heard, when talking about the law, look at what it says, look at its intent and look at the spirit of the law. We hope that in the appeal process, the quality of life and what the law says turn out to be important.

Ronald Delp, Clearwater

Re: Rentals ruling will be appealed story, May 8

Rentals appeal is waste of city taxes

The Clearwater City Council has done it again. It has made a totally irresponsible, uninformed decision on the short-term rental issue.

Mayor Frank Hibbard justifies his decision by stating that he would not want his neighbors changing every seven days. Would he prefer a year-round obnoxious neighbor, as many people have?

Did the council base its decision on the woman who spoke at the meeting complaining about the short-term renters (tourists, our No. 1 industry) who have the audacity to fish? According to her, that is a terrible offense because now they are attracting sharks.

More importantly, the City Council's own attorney advised them that they had a 10 to 15 percent chance to win an appeal, and they still voted to appeal!

What she did not tell them was that they had a zero chance to win because this same appeals court has already decided the exact same issue with Key West. Do they think the Second District Court of Appeals will overturn itself? The city of Key West even tried to go to the Florida Supreme Court, and the court wouldn't even hear it.

In this crucial time of tax cuts, the council members wring their hands, they grimace and whine at us, "What services do you want to lose?" And yet, they have no problem throwing away $5, 000, plus all the time and effort, for a totally useless, baseless and win-less appeal. That money could be going to one of our recreation centers for a lot of greatly needed equipment, or to buy food and clothing for the homeless children here.

And what will happen when the city loses yet another lawsuit? Oh well, that's just our money under the bridge, not theirs.

Jim Keating, Clearwater

Re: Rental ruling is irresponsible letter, April 30

Ordinance hurts property rights

Steve Osburg wrote that the short-term rentals were in violation of the "law, " and just because the "law" was not being enforced did not make the rentals right.

Well, Steve, that was exactly the point. There was no "law" until the ordinance of 2003, which is why the city of Clearwater constructed the ordinance. If there had been a law, why would Clearwater need the 2003 ordinance?

The judge followed the law clearly within the framework of that particular lawsuit. Those who owned and rented prior to the 2003 ordinance were "grandfathered." The ordinance could be further challenged by another lawsuit for those buying and renting after 2003.

The ordinance clearly violates private property rights. Florida case law states that rentals of any type do not change the residential zoning.

Clay Cole, Clearwater

Re: Short-term rentals are economic asset letter, April 29

Letter writer was off base

Former Judge Owen S. Allbritton's letter, in which he referred to "Jerry Murphy and his so-called neighborhood group, " reveals himself to be unfamiliar with the Clearwater Beach Association's existence and ill-informed by stating that the city of Clearwater has been urged by Jerry Murphy and the so-called neighborhood group to appeal Judge Nelly Khouzam's "delightful" decision.

Further, he is inaccurate and disingenuous to state that, "The Murphy group urged the city to pass an ordinance that required rentals to be 31 days or more."

Not true. In 2002, the Clearwater Beach Association repeatedly urged the city to "stop the proliferation of violations of rental codes." After months of staff consideration and a town meeting in November 2002, the staff produced a report on March 3, 2003 proposing to City Council that existing codes should be clarified. The city clarified the code in April 2003.

The ensuing lawsuit did not challenge the existence of a code limiting overnight accommodations (properly defined in existing codes). Rather, it requested the court to grant the plaintiffs nonconforming status simply because the city had not enforced the code. Due notice was never an issue.

Four years passed and reams of legalese, depositions and stipulations allowed the plaintiffs to operate onerous businesses with impunity in our single family neighborhood. We are not zoned for tourists in this Low Medium Density Residential single family neighborhood.

I leave you with this wisdom from Solomon: "They that forsake the law praise the wicked; but such as keep the law contend with them."

Jerry Murphy, Clearwater

Don't you feel the pain of homeless?

Why does it take people like Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein and Christopher Eckhardt (Thank you for helping homeless, letter, May 11) to explain to adults what homeless and hungry really means? How can we see these poor souls on our streets each and every day and not feel compassion for them?

If anyone thinks people are not homeless and hungry right here in Clearwater, just volunteer a few hours a week at a local soup kitchen. Not only do we have single men and women who eat at our local soup kitchens daily, we even have whole families who can't feed their children.

This is America and no one should go hungry and have to sleep in the streets while the majority of us have plenty of food and a nice roof over our heads.

How can the homeless just become invisible to those around them? Are we all so hard-hearted that we can't feel their pain?

If we as parents and grandparents choose to ignore the needs of these people, what kind of example are we leaving with our children? But for the grace of God, we could be one of the homeless and hungry, just as Christopher Eckhardt found himself one day. Thank God for the homeless shelter and local soup kitchen that helped him get back on his feet.

One of the saddest things about these homeless is that many of them are our own American veterans, who fought to keep America free, and this is how we thank them. Where would America be today if these men had not fought for America? Where would these homeless and hungry be, if not for leaders like Sid Klein, who work tirelessly with others to help these people?

Things are not always as they seem, and unless we know the whole story, we have no right to judge them for needing help to survive.

We are all so blessed, if we just stop and count our blessings, but we seldom do. It's always easier to ignore the needs of others and leave the job to someone else. We are all so busy living for ourselves and our own, that the needs of others seldom cross our minds.

Sad, sad, sad.

Fran Glaros-Sharp, Clearwater

Your voice counts

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