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Date of Issue: May 05, 2005

Sunrise at last in Holmes Beach, maybe

After nearly three years of investigation, discussion and preparation, the Holmes Beach City Commission was ready for an ordinance at its April 26 meeting that would lease space in the Sunrise subdivision boat basin to existing dock owners and absolve the city of any liability.

Although it took three years to prepare, the ordinance may have raised more questions than it answered.

Mayor Carol Whitmore said she went to the Sunrise boat basin - located along Avenue C - last weekend and talked to several boat owners about the proposed lease.

The first question came from a boat owner who operates a charter fishing service out of Boca Grande and local waters, picks up fishermen in Cortez, but keeps the boat docked in Sunrise where he lives.

"There was some concern about running a business from a boat," she said, because the ordinance prohibits such activity.

Commissioner Roger Lutz, an attorney, said in his opinion parking your boat in Holmes Beach and picking up passengers in Cortez is not "operating a business in Holmes Beach." He suggested that based on his 30 years of civil litigation, any circuit court judge would make that same decision.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff, however, disagreed. The intent of the ordinance is to lease dock space to pleasure craft associated with a single-family residence.

"The issue becomes one of degree," she said. Is it permissible to dock a tugboat or barge in Sunrise, even though it’s used elsewhere? What about a shrimp boat that unloads in Cortez, but is docked in Holmes Beach? There’s also an enforcement issue involved, she suggested.

Petruff also observed that technically speaking, the docks are not going to be owned by the people under this lease, although they will have the liability.

That raised a red flag to Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger. What if a dock starts falling down? "Is the city to be the judge of what’s safe or not?" he asked.

Commissioner Pat Morton said maybe the city should tear down all the docks and install new ones to ensure conforming safety standards are met, but added, "Who wants that price?"

Commission Don Maloney agreed with tearing down all the docks and starting over.

Lutz, however, noted that the city already wears the hat that determines when structures are safe or unsafe, and it should fall on the lessee of the dock to repair or build a dock to meet city safety standards.

Petruff noted that the 1995 ordinance governing the T-end canals in the northern part of the city had language that the public works director could deem a dock unsafe. Maloney, however, reiterated that starting all over again was the best way for the city to proceed.

At that rate, said Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens, the work won’t be finished "in our lifetime."

Lutz noted that Sunrise residents are getting frustrated by the entire process, which has taken nearly three years to get an ordinance to the commission. There are only a few revisions in language needed to approve the measure, he maintained.

Then bring the corrected ordinance back to another workshop, suggested Haas-Martens.

That solution was deemed wise, and the three-years-in-waiting ordinance will now have at least another month added to its lifetime.

The Sunrise dock issue came up several years ago when the seawall in the boat basin begin to crumble. The city learned that it owned the basin and seawalls, including the docks, and was responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the area. The ordinance was prepared to allow present-day dock owners and residents to continue to enjoy a dock at their residence, but the city would transfer liability under a lease agreement.