PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – Two tiny towns on the Gulf of Mexico – the 12th richest communities in Florida who share a zip code – are entangled in a lawsuit over none other than food and umbrellas.
The story began in March 1944 when Kirkeby Hotels granted perpetual rights by deed and license to Arnold Kirkeby, his heirs, and assignees to permanently enjoy access to the Gulf of Mexico beach areas located at lots 21, 43, and 66 in what is now called Belleair Shore.
Included to receive such perpetual rights were future residents located east of Gulf Boulevard called the City of Belleair Beach. Currently, about 1,000 of the town’s 1,669 residents have perpetual beach access through the 76-year-old deed. Other deeds and State of Florida laws were involved in the matter, which gave Belleair Shore the right to regulate and serve as trustee to the lots.
At issue is a new ordinance passed in June by the Commissioners of Belleair Shore, a town of 106 people who live directly on the Gulf of Mexico. It bans “food and shading” on the beach areas that Belleair Beach residents can access through the deeds and licenses.
Filing a lawsuit pro se and as a private citizen, Joseph Manzo is an attorney who has lived in Belleair Beach for six years and has served as its mayor since 2019. His Complaint is not associated with his official capacity. He said, “I want enforcement of the law on this matter, which has been going on intermittently. They banned food a few years ago – now they’ve banned shading, including umbrellas. Nobody bans food around here, and shading is needed. There are health matters to consider.” Manzo’s lawsuit indicates fines for violating the new ordinance run up to $500. It also references Florida Constitution Article I, SS 9, which states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
Trespassers haven’t helped the situation as people dropped off by Uber, Lyft, taxis and buses have run the gamut of urinating on the beach to spreading beach paraphernalia across the back of homes. But the lots deeded to give beach access to Belleair Beach residents don’t block homeowners’ views of the Gulf, and homes or other structures cannot be built on the lots.
Manzo’s lawsuit states Belleair Shore is legally responsible to prevent trespassing activity or other situations that impede upon Belleair Beach residents’ rights to enjoy beach access. He also said the Belleair Shore homeowners could ask for more help from the Sheriff, hire private security or use access control cards to prevent trespassers, but they haven’t done so. Their only action, according to him, has been to ignore friendly requests by the Belleair Beach City Manager and Manzo to sit down and reason to a solution.
The situation is seen as a “me-me-me” ordeal because of comments and actions that have transpired by Belleair Shore officials through the years. Manzo’s lawsuit states that in 1995, they attempted to prosecute a Belleair Beach mother and daughter for drinking iced coffees on the beach at sunset. They were cited, but the State Attorney dumped the case. This year, a commissioner at a May 19, 2020 hearing said of the new ordinance, “Make it as strong as you can. If they can’t put up umbrellas or tents, maybe they’ll go someplace else.” These remarks are assumed to be meant regarding Belleair Beach residents legally allowed to access the beach as well as trespassers since all are affected by the ordinance.
On July 21, Belleair Shore Mayor Robert Schmidt, Jr. warned Commissioners they could get sued over the new ordinance, but it appears that warning fell on deaf ears.