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Date of Issue: April 19, 2007

Live-aboard, dock ordinances under review

A state law enacted last July is causing Holmes Beach officials to revisit the city's ordinance prohibiting the use of watercraft as a residence.

The new Florida statute states, "Nothing contained in the provisions of this section shall be construed to prohibit local governmental authorities from the enactment or enforcement of regulations which prohibit or restrict the mooring or anchoring of floating structures or live-aboard vessels within their jurisdictions or of any vessels within the marked boundaries of mooring fields.

"However, local governmental authorities are prohibited from regulating the anchoring outside of such mooring fields of non-live-aboard vessels in navigation."

The law means that with the exception of designated mooring fields, municipalities have no authority to regulate where a cruising vessel anchors unless they can prove the watercraft is used "solely" as a residence or is "represented" as a business.

Holmes Beach City Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens recently informed other commissioners that in light of the state law, the city must review its ordinance.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger commented, "We have an ordinance we can't enforce."

Now city attorney Patricia Petruff is at work on a revised ordinance to bring Holmes Beach into compliance with the state law. The measure will be presented at the commission's April 24 meeting.

Petruff said that other cities throughout the state also must modify their ordinances.

"There are no creative ideas for thumbing it," she said, referring to the new law. "What you will see is an ordinance that brings you into compliance with this statute."

Petruff said if the city experiences trouble with live-aboard vessels, officials might need to "bring it back to the legislative delegation."

The commission also is reviewing a draft ordinance on mooring and dock regulations. The proposed measure, expected to be taken up at an April 24 commission meeting, is in its third incarnation.

"We believe the proposed changes address all the situations that have been identified during our previous meetings and discussions," said Bill Brisson, the city's planning consultant.

Work on the ordinance began after a study conducted by Brisson, with input from Petruff and building official Bill Saunders, identified numerous problems with the docks in Holmes Beach. Specifically, the study found that some docks failed to meet city code or were built in the wrong location and ownership of some docks was in question.

The measure, Brisson said, would require that accessory mooring areas and boat docks be associated with a principal use or an abutting lot, though certain locations would be "grandfathered."

The measure also would:

  • Set a minimum mooring width of 10 feet and a minimum dock width of 2 feet.
  • Prohibit an installation from extending more than 20 feet from the seawall or mean-high water line into the waterway.
  • Identify "dead-end" canals at 56th and 58th streets, 58th and 59th streets, 65th and 66th streets, 66th and 67th streets, 67th and 68th streets, 69th and 70th streets, 70th and 71st streets, 71st and 72nd streets.
  • Provide for exceptions to requirements for mooring areas and docks so adjoining property owners can navigate their own 15-year agreements that run with the property.

The proposed ordinance states, "The agreement contains acknowledgement that since the agreement is a voluntary opting-out of the city's regulations, the city will not enforce said private agreement in the event of a future dispute among the parties."

The provision helps keep the city out of a potential legal fight.

"Somewhere down the road you are going to get warring neighbors," said Petruff.

"The city," she said, "is not going to get into the middle of squabbling neighbors."

Brisson characterized the proposed ordinance as a general regulation that should alleviate some specific problems in the city.

"We have a lot of interesting situations within the city," Petruff said. "There are areas where developers did indeed deed out little slips.... Then there are many other areas of the city where deeds just started appearing in the title, being passed on."

"We have had times where several people have had the same deed for the same dock," Petruff added.