Tierra Verde condo owners fear dock sticker shock

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By Sheila Mullane Estrada

Published April 12, 2009

TIERRA VERDE A statewide controversy over how much the state charges condominiums for submerged land leases beneath existing docks appears poised to erupt again.

A group of Tierra Verde condo owners is again organizing, this time to fight a proposed Senate bill that, if passed, could raise their annual lease fees more than fourfold.

"This bill could ultimately ruin some condominium associations by forcing them to take out their docks. With the number of foreclosures affecting associations, and increased taxes and insurances, this could be the nail in the coffin," said Terri Pentek, president of the Anchor Cove Condominium Association in Tierra Verde.

For her condominium complex alone, she said the proposed bill would raise the annual submerged land lease from about $16,000 to more than $70,000.

All condo owners, whether or not they own docks at Anchor Cove, would have to pay part of that increased cost in their maintenance fees.

In Florida, anyone who has a dock extending into state-controlled submerged lands must get permission to install the dock and pay a lease fee to the state.

Most single-family homes are exempted from that lease fee requirement, but condos and commercial marinas are not.

The pending bill would raise fees for the latter group from the current 14.5 cents per square foot to as much as 60 cents per square foot, depending on their use classification and whether the docks are in specially protected waters.

Last year, the state Department of Environmental Protection held a series of hearings on similar rule changes that would have significantly increased the fees charged to waterfront condos with docks, and to marinas and other public-use dock facilities.

That plan was tabled after Pentek and other local condo owners organized a statewide campaign that resulted in more than 1,000 protest letters flooded the DEP office in Tallahassee.

The DEP then said it would rewrite its proposal and hold new public hearings. That never happened.

In January, Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, chairman of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, filed a bill to significantly raise lease fees for docks built on state-controlled submerged lands.

Most single-family-home owners with docks would not be affected by the bill, according to Marguerite Jordan, public information officer for the DEP. She said the way the bill is worded, the submerged lease fee for "most condominiums" would double to 30 cents a square foot.

The bill also provides, however, for a 60-cent-per-square-foot lease fee for docks "located within an aquatic preserve" as are most condo docks bordering Boca Ciega Bay.

"We are just trying to get the costs of public and private marina slips more organized. The state is undercollecting up to $2 million a year for these leases," Constantine said Friday.

But when asked how the new fees would affect condo docks which are technically not marinas Constantine checked with his staff and then said his committee will "re-evaluate" the fee structure next week.

"We meant this to apply to public marinas and private (yacht) clubs. How this would affect condominiums did not occur to me," he said.

The full Senate is scheduled to debate the bill (Sen. 1012) Thursday.

Meanwhile, public and private marinas are also fighting the bill.