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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 2 weeks ago

Town considers update to rules governing docks

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Issue of access through narrower waterways forms basis for offsetting proposal.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Commissioners in the next few weeks will likely consider an update to town code allowing officials to more formally require builders of boat docks to account for canal widths and the effect of docks on the other side of the waterways.

The issue of ensuring future water access to homes and businesses along the town’s nearly 30 miles of canals arose as part of the Planning, Zoning and Building Department’s effort to update more than a dozen areas of Town Code. That ongoing work, started early this year, includes other such topics as parking standards, side yard setbacks, pickleball court standards and the shadow effects of elevated buildings.

As currently written, the town code allows construction of docks on canals and waterways to either extend a maximum of 30 feet from the seawall’s edge or 30% of the total canal width, whichever is less. Those dimensions rarely have caused problems, especially in the town’s wider canals – as much as 120 feet in some neighborhoods.

But, as Commissioners were told by Allen Parsons, the town’s Director of Planning, Zoning and Building, some of the town’s canals are in the 30-foot-wide range.

“This issue had to do, I think primarily, with narrower canals and the challenge where someone builds a dock out to its fullest extent, and then moors a vessel on the outside of that dock,’’ he said.

Seeking guidance from Commissioners at a recent workshop session, Parsons said there already is a state law that forbids boat owners and operators from mooring in such as way as to block another boat’s path.

 “Our town police are fully authorized to remove vessels that are impeding navigation,’’ he said.

What the town didn’t have, and Commissioners suggested moving forward on, was official language encouraging property owners to avoid building new structures directly opposite existing structures. While not providing for a numerically wider navigation channel, the move would open up space for boaters to steer their way around docks, and docked boats.

Commissioner Randy Clair said one of the related problems to the issue is people who build docks with more in mind than simply tying up a boat. He called on better enforcement of dock square footage (750 by town code), to cut down on docks that extend needlessly into the canal, especially when a vessel is then tied up beyond that.

Parsons said even without explicit language on offsetting docks, the town has worked successfully with homeowners on their projects. He said adding the ability to more directly suggest on offset dock would come in handy.

“The language isn’t absolutely concrete, but if that would have been included,  something to be able to refer to to say “the code says if you have the ability to offset a dock, the code has a preference to do that.’’

The alternative could be approving a dock that is less than 30% of the canal’s maximum width. Commissioner Ken Schneier cautioned against changing rules to the extent of creating a new class of non-conforming properties. “I think it would be good to avoid them,’’ he said.

With the Commission’s guidance, Parsons said a formal proposal changes to the dock code would appear for future consideration.

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