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Oceanfront home awaits decision

St. Pete Beach will try to clarify how seaward a new home can be. The city boundary is fuzzy.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001

ST. PETE BEACH -- City commissioners plan to decide Tuesday whether Fred and Janice Dempsey can destroy dunes to build their new beachfront home.

As proposed, the home would cross two lines that limit how close structures can be built to the beach -- one governed by the city, one by the state. Different maps and surveys illustrate various locations for the city line, and neighbors and commissioners are insisting that the city discern where the line is before letting anyone cross it.

"I think someone needs to ask why they can consider granting a variance seaward of the line when they don't even know where the line is," said Liz France, who lives next door to the vacant property the Dempseys are purchasing. "It's not a floating line."

Commissioner Lolly Kreider, who represents the district that includes the Dempsey property at 3150 Second St. W, asked the city staff to place stakes on the property representing the two lines that control beachfront development. That hasn't happened yet, and so many people disagree about the lines' location that Kreider isn't sure anyone has an accurate answer.

"I'm looking forward to seeing both lines staked out in the actual property, in the ground, wherever the lines run," Kreider said. "In my mind, that will be the best way to see where the lines actually run."

In July, the city's Development Review Board ruled that the Dempseys could not build any farther west than neighboring houses, which would protect neighbors' gulf views. The board also ruled that the house could not encroach on the dune.

The City Commission agreed Aug. 7 to consider the Dempseys' case itself, rather than accept the Development Review Board's decision. But three weeks later, the Frances next door videotaped workmen at the Dempsey property with a bulldozer.

Mike France said he told the workmen to stop because the Dempseys did not yet have permits, but they refused. Ultimately a city official demanded that the tree removal service stop work.

"I was dismayed," Kreider said. "I'm glad that we have city staff who were able to go out and rectify the problem at the time."

The Dempseys, who live in Tierra Verde, referred questions to their attorney, David Bacon. He said he believed the workers were sent to remove a cactus, not begin work on the dunes, and was not sure the work required a permit.

The city's construction line was created in 1973 as a first effort to restrict building on the actual beach. The state's line, called the Coastal Construction Control Line, was put in place in 1979. The state is re-evaluating that line.

While several structures, including the Frances' home, have been built westward of the state line with state permission and under stringent state standards, the Frances question whether any other structure in St. Pete Beach has ever been built westward of the city line. She believes such a variance could be "precedent-setting."

Mike Knotek, the community services director who recommended that the Development Review Board approve the Dempseys' request to build into the dunes, said he thought the Frances' home was also west of the city's line, though he said he was unsure and would research that question before Tuesday's meeting.

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