CLEARWATER — After declaring it an issue among neighbors last year, city officials may be roped into facilitating discussions to help resolve a neighborhood dispute over the transition between private property and public beach.
City Attorney Pam Akin suggested during a Monday work session that the city council authorize the hiring of a retired judge or lawyer to facilitate a meeting between the homeowners in the North Clearwater Beach area, which is comprised of two subdivisions — Mandalay and Carlouel. Each has its own neighborhood association.
Last November, members of the Clearwater Beach Association that represents homeowners in the Mandalay subdivision sought city council support to determine whether homeowners in nearby Carlouel have the legal right to rope off areas of the beach near the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico.
Because the city doesn’t own the stretch of beach near Carlouel Yacht Club, where three homeowners have roped off their backyards, the private property ownership line is subject to interpretation of the subdivision plat, Akin previously said.
The change in direction to get involved stemmed from ongoing conversations since last year between the city and the beach association.
Akin said Monday that the beach association has a “fairly strong argument” that residents of the Mandalay subdivision have the right to use the roped-off sections.
Three beachfront homeowners in the 1000 block of El Dorado Avenue have roped-off areas and posted private property or no trespassing signs. The homeowners say their recorded deeds and surveys show that their property extends to the mean water line.
Property rights along the water have long been a complicated matter for Florida and other coastal states. The dividing line traditionally has been the mean high water line, a flexible border that depends on shifting sands and tides, according to Florida law.
Furthermore, one Carlouel homeowner has a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Protection that allows for the roped-off area, which is not encroaching, Akin said.
Vice mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito asked whether the rationale to coordinate the discussion was in the city’s interest to head off future issues.
Akin replied, “It will ultimately end up in court, but not because of the city…the decision would be best in the hands of a judge.”
“This is more like sticking our toes in the water to get a feel for the temperature,” said Hoyt Hamilton, a council member whose family owns the Palm Pavilion near the Mandalay subdivision. “I think it’s a good first step.”
The facilitator would likely charge $300 an hour for research, meeting preparation and facilitation. Akin estimated a total cost to the city of $3,000-$5,000.
One unknown, according to Akin, is whether the three homeowners in Carlouel will participate in the facilitated discussion.
Based on recent correspondence, “I don’t feel encouraged,” she said.
The city council was expected to continue this discussion on Wednesday after the Gazette’s publishing deadline.