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Date of Issue: May 03, 2007

Draft dock ordinance still anchored in review

A draft ordinance on docking regulations remains anchored in Holmes Beach City Commission work sessions.

Commissioners took up the proposed measure at length during a work session April 24, but indicated additional discussion is needed.

"We knew this was going to be a couple more work sessions," said Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens.

City attorney Patricia Petruff added that before the commission takes action on the ordinance she wants to make sure a review of docks and deeds has been thorough.

"I would like to go through and make sure we are comfortable we've taken care of everyone," she said.

Work on the ordinance began following a study conducted by city planning consultant Bill Brisson in conjunction with Petruff and assistant superintendent of public works Bill Saunders.

The study identified docks that failed to meet the city's code, that were built in the wrong location, that were built without permits and built with dubious or wild deeds.

So city officials set to work on the ordinance. The intent was to clean up confusion and to help neighbors navigate a peaceful coexistence on the canals.

The proposed ordinance, as written last week, would set a minimum mooring width of 10 feet and a minimum dock width of 2 feet. It would prohibit an installation from extending more than 20 feet from the seawall or mean-high water line into the waterway.

The measure also would provide for exceptions to requirements for mooring areas and docks so property owners can chart their own agreements that run with the property.

The ordinance states, "Adjoining property owners may agree to a spatial arrangement of mooring areas different from that set forth ... provided the agreement meets the following conditions." The conditions state the agreement is binding on each party and their successors and assigns, the agreement is recorded in the public records and identifies the properties by legal description and does not exceed 15 years.

Much of the discussion last week involved the provision for the private-party agreement.

Marie Corbett of 72nd Street said she liked the idea of property owners being allowed to negotiate an agreement, but she objected to the agreement expiring in 15 years.

"I feel the limit on 15 years is a recipe for disaster," said Corbett.

Reaching an agreement could be difficult and time consuming, as well as financially costly. "We wouldn't want to face it again in 15 years," she said.

Attorney Scott Rudacille, representing John and Diane Crawford of Key Royale, also brought up the provision for an agreement. Rudacille said his clients and their neighbors entered an agreement eight years ago and he asked commissioners to amend the ordinance to recognize the existing agreement.

Haas-Martens asked whether the ordinance should be amended to honor existing agreements.

 "I think there is possibly a danger in doing that," Petruff said, noting that there might be existing private-party agreements for docks that don't comply with city code.

"My suggestion is," she continued, "if everybody is still all happy, why not enter into a new agreement."

Rudacille also questioned the 15-year limit on an agreement.

Commissioners, in a previous discussion, had said the limit provides an out for an unhappy party.

"I think there is a place when times are appropriate," said Commissioner John Monetti, reminding other commissioners that the limit puts "an end in sight to a bad situation."

But Rudacille said his clients entered into a "permanent" agreement. "Every 15 years your neighbor would have you over a barrel," he said.

Commissioner Pat Geyer said she too dislikes the 15-year limit. "I hate to put a deadline of 15 years," she said. "People own their homes for years and years."

Petruff told commissioners, "I'm not strongly tied to that 15 years."

She also offered alternative language that has worked in Longboat Key. The alternative read, "Two or more adjacent waterfront property owners may join in an application for the construction of a dock. Said dock shall be no wider than 12 feet and shall not interfere with the navigational rights of adjoining property owners.... Property owned by the joint applicants shall be treated as one lot for purposes of determining setback for the dock and ancillary structures. As a condition of granting a permit, the applicants shall prepare mutually reciprocal easements for the use of said dock and shall record the easements in the public records in the county where the property is located as a condition for the permit being granted."

"It's a different approach," said Petruff, adding, "It's just something to take a look at and give some thought."

In addition to talking about the provision for an agreement, property owners raised questions about setback requirements and dock sizes in an era of ever-increasing boat sizes.

City commissioners plan to continue discussing the ordinance during a work session May 8 at city hall. The session would follow the regular commission meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.