The 2nd District Court of Appeals (DCA) for Florida today denied the City of Treasure Island’s appeal in the so-called “beach lawsuit” brought by three beach-front hoteliers. The City had been allowing parking on beach during special events in front of three hotels. Efforts by the hoteliers to convince the city to stop failed, after which the hoteliers sued.
The hoteliers won a summary judgment in circuit court in November, 2014. Under the guidance of then city attorney Maura Kiefer and then city manager Reid Silverboard, the city appealed. Oral arguments before the appeals court were held in November, 2015.
The case involved Florida Statute 161.58 and its ban on “vehicular traffic” on “coastal beaches.” The city argued that the term “vehicular traffic” had a particular meaning that did not include parking.
The unanimous three-judge appeals court didn’t buy the city’s argument, saying that to accept the city’s definition of “vehicular traffic” would mean that the state’s “authority to permit construction seaward of the control line will be substantially eliminated. Established principles of statutory construction counsel strongly against that result.”
In circuit court, the city also argued that the land seaward of the coastal control line (CCL) was not a “coastal beach” under the meaning of the statute. However, the city did not advance that argument on appeal.
“I have not read the decision, so I can’t comment yet” said mayor Robert Minning. City commissioner Larry Lunn, a retired attorney, said “I’m saddened because it is going to be expensive for the city as a result of its loss of the appeal.”
“We are happy with the court’s decision, but it’s unfortunate that we needed a court to decide the obvious,” said Arthur Czyszczon, one of the three hoteliers and owner of Page Terrace Motel. “But they did, and we are happy with the outcome.”
The lawsuit may end up costing the city over $1 million, depending on how the DCA rules on legal fees. Plaintiffs are entitled to legal fees when they seek to enforce environmental laws. Their legal fees were reportedly $570,000 before the appeals process began.
The Guardian will publish a follow-up article on what this lawsuit cost the city, both financially and in terms of goodwill with its residents and business owners.
This appeals court decision looks like a win for the citizens, but as always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.