ST. PETE BEACH — The city plans to hire a “beach manager” who will scour the city’s largest tourist attraction and serve as a liaison between the Sheriff’s Office, code enforcement, area hotels, residents, visitors and city staff.
The beach manager will also be responsible for helping to educate the public visiting the beach, as well as oversee the dune system and oversee maintenance of the beach and its adjacent waterways.
Jennifer McMahon, the city’s chief operating officer, told the Beach Stewardship Committee on Aug. 17 the position will be created through a repositioning of staff, but she did not mention exactly how the transformation would take place.
City commissioners voiced approval of the beach manager idea when City Manager Alex Rey suggested it during a recent meeting focusing on design of an all-encompassing beach ordinance to centralize rules and regulations.
McMahon told members of the stewardship committee that staff met with the City Commission for two workshops, and received direction on what they would like to see in a proposed beach ordinance.
Additional public hearings are planned by the City Commission before a beach ordinance is codified.
McMahon said that while the commission’s initial direction was to prohibit fishing on the beach during certain hours, so as not to endanger nearby swimmers, subsequent research by staff found a ban could be problematic and run afoul of state law.
City staff then proposed a different solution to protect swimmers from those casting fishing lines and hooks into the water. Under a staff proposal, the city would adopt a regulation making it “unlawful for any person to fish in the Gulf after being warned by a law enforcement officer that the health and safety of bathers is being endangered.”
“So you can fish as long as you’re not endangering anyone,” McMahon explained.
If a deputy says a fisherman is getting too close to swimmers, they will need to move or will be asked to leave the beach, she said.
That change will be proposed to the City Commission the next time the beach ordinance is considered. She said it may also be proposed that fishermen be required to get a city fishing permit, where they sign off that they have read the new rules and regulations.
City commissioners initially wanted bicyclists limited to specific hours, so as not to come into conflict with pedestrians. Later, they considered limited hours for residents only who wanted to bicycle on the beach, after applying for a “bicycle-on-the-beach” permit where they would sign off that they read new regulations.
“So, a compromise I hope,” McMahon said.
Exactly how bicyclists and fisherman will be restricted will come up for further debate at a future City Commission meeting.
When it comes to popular beach cabanas, McMahon told members of the committee that the direction given staff by city commissioners includes that cabanas should only be placed in designated areas when in use or reserved, rather than just left out on the beach the entire day.
They will also have to be brought in each night year-round, not just seasonally with turtle season.
“Bringing them in each night is in the current ordinance, but we haven’t been enforcing that, and so that is something we will be working with the vendors and hotels to give them some time to make adjustments,” she said.
It was also suggested that a density requirement be imposed for hotels utilizing cabanas. “The direction I got from the commission was they didn’t want to get into density limitations at this time,” McMahon said. “The thought is that hoteliers not being able to put out cabanas until they are reserved or in use, and that they have to bring them in each night, might curtail the amount that’s out there.”
When it came to seabirds, commissioners were in favor of adding protections to the beach ordinance.
“We had a lot of issues in particular with the Black Skimmers, with residents and tourists and coyotes interfering with their colonies, so we want to make sure we have this in here, so it’s something that can be enforced,” McMahon said.
Commissioners said they also want to ban plastic foam containers such as Styrofoam on the beach.
City commissioners also want to take advantage of the new the state law permitting cities and counties to ban beach smoking.
“Other beach communities are waiting for us to follow. If we all adopt it, it will be much easier to educate and promote no smoking on the beach,” McMahon said.
As for people holding classes on the beach, McMahon said if it’s an activity that would have been held inside one of the city’s recreation centers, then it will be treated like renting a classroom for instruction, and the same is true for city parks.
Some type of vendor permit might be required for companies willing to provide picnics or weddings on the beach.
City commissioners will make a final decision, based on additional comments of staff and the public, at a future public hearing.