Who owns the boats currently being stored on Bayside Drive?
It’s a question that some residents are beginning to ask, and have brought to the attention of town commissioners and staff.
The small strip of beach next to the town’s public dock and pier has been long designated as public boat parking for small vessels like kayaks and inflatable watercraft.
But at the Nov. 6 Town Commission meeting, north end resident Rusty Chinnis brought the issue to the town meeting to spark conversation.
“It’s gotten so crowded with abandoned boats now,” he said.
A couple days prior to the meeting, he said he counted 13 boats docked on the beach, and, as far as he could find out, only three belonged to nearby residents. Most, he said, are owned by people who live aboard boats anchored offshore.
Chinnis doesn’t live next to the dock, but he frequently enjoys sitting on the bench that looks over the water and toward Sister Keys. Sometimes, though, the beach is crowded with the small boats that spill out of the designated area.
He added that he doesn’t necessarily want this to become a town problem, and tried being friendly with some of the live-aboards who he thinks leave their boats there.
“We’ll see if that works,” he said. “I’m trying every angle.”
Chinnis also said he’s been in contact with the local resident group. Though not a true homeowners association, Mayor Ken Schneier said the group still has some pull in the area.
After some previous discussions with Chinnis, Schneier suggested he present the issue to the Town Commission on Nov. 6 to make staff and commissioners more aware.
“(Town Manager Howard Tipton) is aware of it, staff is aware of it, and we’ll give it some thought as to what can be done,” Schneier said.
Informal 'storage unit'
Mark McBride has lived down the street from the beach for 25 years. Recently, he’s seen the issue escalate.
McBride claimed the area is being used more as a “storage unit” than its intended use which, according to him, is for short-term parking.
“We’ve gotten to the point where it’s overnight storage,” McBride said.
In the area, he noted there’s usually a consistent number of at least 10 boats. One of the green boats, he said, hasn’t moved in over a year. Another boat he’s seen sitting longer than two years, he said.
McBride has had many conversations about the issue with neighbors, and said about two years ago he offered to build a kayak rack for the few who he knows store their kayaks in the area. But no consensus was reached.
When the area is filled with mostly abandoned boats, McBride said he wonders, “what are the rest of the people supposed to do?”
From his perspective, the boats that are abandoned began setting a negative precedent that allowed the issue to evolve recently.
“It’s so much deeper than the junk on the beach,” he said.
In McBride’s opinion, the town should be doing something to keep the area more controlled. And at this point, he thinks prohibiting parking altogether may be the way to go.
“It’s an eyesore,” he said. “It’s really something the town should go after.”
What can the town do?
Director of the Planning, Zoning & Building Department Allen Parsons said the parking and storage of boats in the area has long been allowed.
“It's a town right of way so it's not a town property, but it's part of the right of way,” Parsons said. “And it's an activity that had been allowed as part of the village ambiance there for a few decades.”
In 2019, the department installed signs to delineate the specific area in which people were allowed to park their small boats.
Parsons said code enforcement has generally seen boats stored within the designated area, but added that a second look would be taken.
“There may be some boats in there that might be abandoned, but it's a little bit difficult to be able to tell because you can’t necessarily tell just by looking at a boat,” he said. “The town will be looking into ownership of some of those vessels that appear to be abandoned, and may be pursuing the means to be able to have them removed.”
Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.