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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Public input continues on Holmes Beach turtle ordinance

Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore hosted a second community workshop to gather additional input from Island residents and property managers on the city's proposed draft of a new turtle-protection ordinance.

Also in attendance at the Feb. 6 community work session were Holmes Beach Commissioners Sandy Haas-Marten and Don Maloney, who came to listen to the community's concerns, and Dean Gallagher, an environmental specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Bureau of Protected Species Management.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff opened the meeting with a presentation of the changes made to the proposed draft since the first community meeting in November. Petruff said the changes reflected community input and concerns voiced at the previous meeting.

The ordinance was written by Petruff using state and federal guidelines as well as a compilation of ordinances already in use in other Gulffront communities.

The purpose of the ordinance is to protect threatened and endangered marine turtles and safeguard nesting female turtles and hatchlings from injury or harassment while present on the city's shoreline.

The present city ordinance has amounted to problems for the turtles and for the local organization entrusted to see to their care. According to Whitmore, the ordinance has not provided a clear guide for code enforcement.

The proposed draft includes standard definitions and after receiving complaints that the use of the word "beach" was "too ambiguous" in the first draft, Petruff added the state definition of beach to the ordinance.

In the revised draft, Petruff also took into consideration property owners concerns regarding the proposed wattage requirement for outdoor light fixtures. The first draft restricted wattage to 25 watts or less. The revised draft requires 50 watts or less.

Jeff Gerry of White Sands Motel expressed concern that 50 watts may still be insufficient lighting for public safety.

Gallagher clarified that a 25-watt bug light on the porch of a single-family home is sufficient, although it would not be for a public parking lot. Lighting suggestions provided by the FWC do work with state building code requirements and the selection depends on where the light will be used.

FWC recommends yellow light bulbs, incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, in the following fixtures:

  • Low profile bollards with louvers for walkway or path lighting.
  • Full cutoff streetlight or fully shielded light fixtures for street or parking lot lighting.
  • Recessed can with baffles, "eyelid" step light, canister downlight, 180-degree shielded jelly jar, downlight or louvered step light, as architectural lighting.

Gallagher also addressed community concerns that alternative lighting might increase crime, reduce public safety and diminish tourism.

He said they have found a way to share the beach with turtles while ensuring human safety and turtle safety during nesting season. "It's a matter of using the proper light source and directing adequate light where it is needed," he said.

In the coastal communities that have adopted stricter ordinances, Gallagher said there has been no increase in crime and there are still loads of tourists and new residents coming in. In addition, areas that previously had seen poor turtle hatching results have seen a greater turtle survival rate.

Gallagher said information he has received from law enforcement agencies indicate that crime does not occur in greater frequency if an area is darker. That bright light only decreases fear of crime - not crime.

Using a low, even light eliminates shadow zones where criminals might hide and it also helps a person's eyes adjust as they move out onto the beach.

Some residents expressed dissatisfaction with tinting windows on new construction since it would leave windows dark all year 'round, not just during nesting season.

Gallagher said tinted windows actually enhance the beach view.

Petruff also added a provision for existing property owners to apply for a variance from the city commission if conforming to the new lighting provisions causes a unique hardship. The variance would allow for more time to come into compliance and the commission should specify a plan and schedule for the property owner to come into compliance.

Petruff said the variance provision is not found in state guidelines but will provide some relief for Holmes Beach property owners.

Petruff said she also added a new section, which takes into account the event there is an actual or perceived conflict between the city's requirements and state building codes pertaining to lighting. She said she spoke to state building representatives and was assured there should be no conflict, but a method for dealing with inconsistencies has been provided anyway.

Some residents questioned whether it is mandatory for the city to have its own ordinance for artificial lighting.

Gallagher said that although it is not mandatory, the FWC has found that it's the best way to put the power in the local community's hands and supports local ordinances.

Resident and restaurant owner Sean Murphy asked how terrible a job Holmes Beach was doing compared to other cities, since the ordinance being written is one of the strictest.

Gallagher admitted that as a coastal community familiar with sea turtles, Holmes Beach is not doing that poorly, but overall Florida is not doing well. The real reason to address the issue with an ordinance, Gallagher advised, is due to the statewide trend in urbanization and construction, making it time to put a local ordinance in place that works in conjunction with state requirements.

Petruff said the proposed ordinance follows Florida Department of Environmental Protection guidelines. Gallagher said the DEP guide is the best model to use for a light ordinance and it does meet human safety standards.

Gallagher applauded the community in its efforts and assured concerned property owners that FWC does not promote a lights on-lights off policy, and has found there is a working compromise for sharing the beach with turtles.

Whitmore said the next step will be for the proposed ordinance to be scheduled for a city commission work session.

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