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BELLEAIR SHORES, Fla. – In June 2020, the tony Town of Belleair Shores banned beachgoers from using shade devices, whether they’re umbrellas, canopies, cabanas or other shading products. Sooner and later, the town also banned food and bicycles.
Although there are no such bans immediately known anywhere else in Florida, these bans were allegedly passed by the Town of Belleair Shores after the COVID-19 lockdown caused swarms of beachgoers to trespass on the shore’s private lots. These lots extend almost to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, but the last several feet to the shore are designated as State-owned “wet sands.” These “wet sands” are not private properties, thus anyone can settle on them for “purposes of recreation”.
Legal and constitutional issues allegedly abound with the bans and the way they have been enforced and unenforced.
The bans breach a 1940s series of deeds. The deeds were written to “perpetually and irrevocably license” or guarantee that “across the street” Belleair Beach residents could access three private lots on Belleair Shores “for beach and bathing purposes.” For nearly 78 years with just a few breaches – one in 1995 which attempted prosecution against a Belleair Beach mother and her daughter for drinking iced coffee – the deeds have been honored. The homeowners on these private lots are “trustees” of the deeds’ demands and are to maintain the private lots assigned for exclusive use by Belleair Beach residents.
They also must ensure that Belleair Beach residents always have access. With the exception of the “wet sands” area, no other beachgoers are allowed on the beach and its private lots. Specified parking lots are also designated for use by only Belleair Beach residents, according to the deeds, but Belleair Shores’ past mayors or town clerks have allegedly issued parking permits to landscapers, contractors, and other parties that are not Belleair Beach residents.
The homeowners on the Gulf justified a shade device ban by complaining that beachgoers “blocked their view” by using such devices, according to attorney Joseph A. Manzo. But Manzo believes there is actually more to all of these bans than just that. In his lawsuit, he cites a statement from a May 19, 2020 Town of Belleair Shores public hearing where a commissioner says the ordinance banning shade would “deter people from coming to and using the beach.”
Manzo is an “across the street” Belleair Beach resident who previously served as Mayor. He is steadfastly committed to his personal, two-year-old lawsuit filed against the Town of Belleair Shores because he hasn’t been able to safely access the beach for the past two years. He said it is unsafe to exercise his deed rights when the trustees and Town of Belleair Shores prohibit use of shade. This week, he said, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared UV sunrays a carcinogen.
This whole giddy-up has led to the first-ever citation against a beachgoer for having an umbrella on the beach – and the citation for $125 was written despite the beachgoer relaxing on the “wet sands” where he was constitutionally protected under Florida’s Public Trust Doctrine. The recipient of the citation was Pedro Redero, who happens to be an 11-year Belleair Beach resident.
This incident proceeded an event over Memorial Day weekend this year where police “threw a three-year-old baby out of a baby tent and forced her to roast in the sand,” according to Manzo. This occurred the same weekend when a photograph captured former Belleair Shores Commissioner, Steven Blume, sitting in a beach chair, in a tent, illegally drinking beer out of a glass bottle. A Belleair Shores homeowner, Blume is pictured with his wife enjoying leisure near their house. Manzo said it was Blume who remarked in a city council meeting, “If you make the shade ban as tough as you can, maybe they’ll go somewhere else.”
Manzo also said, “Blume admitted in his deposition that he had a beer, the tent was his, the woman was his wife, and the loveseat was his.”
Blume was allegedly given a verbal warning for violating the bans, but Manzo declared, “The police captain said this at Town hearing, ‘Well I’m not going to enforce this against the Belleair Shore residents.’ But it applies to everybody, so we have uneven enforcement going on here.”
Manzo also said, “Our friend here Pete (Pedro Redero) is the first guy who got an enforcement – got a ticket all during the time they want to settle with me. You’re not engendering yourself to me to want to settle anything here, so Yolanda (his wife, an attorney) and Pete are both interveners on this case, so they’re not helping matters by ruining their afternoon by putting them into the sun.”
There are 44 current “interveners” involved in the lawsuit, which are Belleair Beach residents who have personal stakes in the suit against the Town of Belleair Shores. Four more residents are pending.
Manzo stated, “A lot of us have had skin cancer before – including two elected officials who admitted to me they’ve had skin cancer. So they’re well aware of the dangers of exposing yourself to this.”
Manzo believes it is erroneous thinking by the City to think bans will ward off trespassers. He explained that if they are trespassers, you don’t need any bans to remove them. He believes this is just an excuse for Belleair Shores homeowners to simply do whatever they want on the beach without disruption or the presence of beachgoers. But Manzo and his neighbors want their legal rights to the three private lots on the beach back, in full force, with no bans. And they want the judge to clarify what “beach and bathing purposes” actually mean.
He indicated that Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff, told his people to just relocate the beachgoers to the wet sands. His lawsuit states that Belleair Shores leaders lamented lack of enforcement by the Sheriff’s Office.
Redero described his position regarding his umbrella citation. “We wanted our grandkids to have a walk to enjoy the beach. Up until now, everything’s been fine – we were putting our umbrellas up, now we’re getting harassed by police.” Prior to his citation, Redero was given four warnings. But he contends his rights are being violated.
Manzo declared, “The Florida Constitution gives everyone the right to the wet sand – that’s where Pete was. He was not on private property. This has legs all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.” He explained that other Florida cities have attempted to enforce a variety of bans without judicial success.
Among Manzo’s last words was, “This is a waste of judicial and sheriff resources just to protect a few millionaires who want a view of the water.”
A brief review of news articles indicates that the Town of Belleair Shores has struggled with accusations of poor leadership. In TBN Weekly and its Belleair Bee online publication, Town of Belleair Shores Commissioner Coleen Chaney said during a town meeting that she was “absolutely frustrated and appalled by the state of our codes and our lack of leadership on this issue.”
The Free Press originally reported on this lawsuit on October 25, 2020.
Contact was made on June 28 with the Town of Belleair Shores’ city attorney, Regina Kardash of Persson, Cohen, Mooney, Fernandez, and Jackson of Lakewood Ranch. Ms. Kardash was asked several questions but remarked, “The town does not comment on active litigation matters.”
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