A segment of a popular boating destination on the northern tip of Longboat Key will likely be off limits to boaters, but not swimmers, by the July 4th weekend after a final vote Monday by the Town Commission.
Commissioners gave final approval in a special meeting to bathing-beach designations for two stretches of beach on the eastern-facing portion of Greer Island designed to block access to powerboats that typically anchor or beach there on weekends.
The 6-0 vote, with Commissioner Mike Haycock absent, means powerboats will be barred from a 50-foot by 180-foot rectangle that starts about 50 feet north of the dock extending from the property at 7300 Gulf of Mexico Drive, owned by real estate company CEO Michael Saunders. A second 50-foot wide zone extends 140 feet east from the Gulf-side of the Longboat Pass Bridge.
Additionally, a banana-shaped zone connecting the two bathing-beach zones will be enforced to ensure no vessels anchor or beach in the narrow stretch between the dock and the sand, using existing regulations that forbid anchored boats from blocking navigation.
Buoys and signs will be added by the town in those areas, and police will enforce the regulations, backed by first-time fines of $250 and subsequent fines of $500 for repeat offenses. State wildlife officers could also assist town police with enforcement, Town Manager Tom Harmer said.
Powerboat access to the remainder of the beach, on either side of the Longboat Pass Bridge, will be unaffected.
No residents spoke in favor of or opposed to the measure.
"The ability of staff, counsel and everybody to step up to pull this thing together before the Fourth of July has been heroic," Mayor Ken Schneier said. "It’s been a great job. I think it’s a great ordinance — I hope it works. And being able to get the buoys and the signage and all this ready on a very tight schedule has been really, really spectacular work."
Following emergency dredging work in early 2021 to push the waterline back north from the dock, the wraparound beach that forms Greer Island has reformed, and sand has once again encroached on the Land's End dock, putting boaters near and on the private property and closing the Greer Island lagoon off from tidal flow. Although an emergency action to reopen the link to the lagoon to ensure tidal flushing for water quality and wildlife access is planned for this month, a larger project to move sand near the dock will likely not get removed until late 2022.
As the sand spit grew, north-end property owners complained about noise and bad boater behavior, which led to the commission to consider consider action, but initially found navigating the issue difficult to address until landing on the bathing-beach idea, which has been reviewed by state wildlife officials without objection.
Town commissioners initially approved the measure June 6, then scheduled an out-of-sequence special meeting on Monday for a final vote to ensure enough time to install informational signs and markers, and get word out by the holiday weekend.
It’s not the first time Longboat leaders moved quickly on an issue that involved north end residents and boaters. In 2021, commissioners passed an emergency noise ordinance on the Friday before the holiday, setting civil fines and allowing police to enforce its provisions. In that case, a single vote put the emergency rules in place with a two-thirds majority. It passed 6-0.