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Beach compromise facing opposition


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001

ST. PETE BEACH -- The lengthy and complicated fight against state and federal beach building restrictions took another odd turn Tuesday when the city's top building official urged the commission to oppose a recent compromise proposal by the Barrier Islands Governmental Council.

The issue is expected to be debated, at least informally, at Wednesday's Big-C meeting in St. Pete Beach.

Building officer Mike Knotek last week called the Big-C's compromise proposal "unacceptable" and said it needs "to be challenged economically and politically."

The Big-C's suggestion calls for the state to keep the Coastal Construction Control Line at its current location in exchange for the county and local municipalities instituting higher building elevations, more stringent construction regulations, and supervision of construction licensing and permits.

Knotek argued against tougher standards, which would require that new or reconstructed homes be raised 2 feet higher than levels set by the federal government.

A large number of existing structures in St. Pete Beach and other island communities would fall into non-compliance, according to Knotek. Homes elevated or recently built according to current code might be required to elevate again if severely damaged in a storm.

"I don't think all the mayors (sitting on the Big-C) understand what they are talking about," Knotek told the commission. "I think this alternative is not the answer. I don't think it is good for the city."

Commissioner Jim Myers, the city's representative on the Big-C, agreed Tuesday that Knotek had raised a significant issue.

Mayor Ward Friszolowski said he would request that Knotek be allowed to make a similar presentation at Wednesday's meeting.

City Manager Carl Schwing has asked Knotek to "visually survey" city properties to determine how many might be adversely affected by the Big-C's proposal. Schwing also is meeting Tuesday with Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti, who is the Big-C's point man in negotiations with the county and the DEP.

"Non-compliance is a problem, but we don't really know how many people would be affected," Schwing said. "It certainly would be a hardship for people who recently raised their home or built new homes. We hate for anyone to be in a hardship. And we hate to be in opposition to the Big-C."

Beyrouti acknowledged Friday that Knotek has "legitimate concerns," but stressed that the concerns of about a half-mile of beach property (Pass-a-Grille) must be weighed against the benefits that a compromise with the state would bring to 30 miles of coastline.

Beyrouti has told both Schwing and Friszolowski that the Big-C will not "insist" on the additional 2 feet of building elevation. Beyrouti also said the county has agreed to take over all licensing and permitting both east and west of the CCCL. The state no longer would be involved. "It's a done deal. The county is on board," he said.

And although the state has set an Oct. 1 deadline for implementing the CCCL, Beyrouti said he believes the state will wait until Jan. 1, when the new statewide building code goes into effect, to finalize beach construction rules for Pinellas County.

The state has proposed moving the CCCL eastward from the beach and requiring any construction westward of that line to seek state review and permitting.

If you go

The Barrier Islands Governmental Council is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in St. Pete Beach City Hall, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive. The meeting is open to the public.

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