Crystal Beach pier leads only to dissension The homeowners association has bids to repair the aging pier, but some
residents disagree with the decision and want change.

Article Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times
Published August 16, 2003

CRYSTAL BEACH - This quaint waterfront village has the look and feel of small-town Florida in the 1950s.

It's a place where neighbors pick up their mail at a tiny post office and actually know each other's names. They ride golf carts on lazy summer afternoons, hold a pancake breakfast on the Fourth of July and gather in the evenings to watch stunning gulf sunsets.

Some residents are upset at the Crystal Beach Community Association's decision to close the beach's pier until it has been renovated. 
Lately though, Crystal Beach has become a community divided with people speaking harshly about each other.

At the center of the dispute is an old craggy pier. It's the one thing everyone loves and treasures.

The narrow, warped pier stretches 265 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. It was built in 1941 and hasn't been renovated since the 1990s. Lately it has taken a beating at the hands of vandals and careless residents.

Anne Allen, the 51-year-old president of the Crystal Beach Community Association, has documented about 20 acts of vandalism since March of this year. Handrails have been ripped off and planks pushed up from below.

The worst damage, she says, comes from people riding golf carts on the aging pier.

Allen had an insurance agent and sheriff's deputy look at the pier. Both called it an "attractive nuisance and liability," she said. When she tried to prevent golf cart access to the pier by having a 3-foot boulder placed at the entrance, someone removed it in the middle of the night.

Now the community association plans to repair the pier. Allen said five different contractors bid on projects to tear down and rebuild the pier. The highest bid was $67,000; the lowest, $22,000.

Pinellas County's Neighborhood Enhancement Grant program agreed to kick $10,000 into the project.

Recently the pier committee negotiated a contract with Gulfside Docks for $13,000.

But some residents remain unhappy with the plans. They learned Thursday night that you can't fight city hall, and sometimes you can't even get in.

About 60 residents gathered in the parking lot of the locked and empty Crystal Beach Community Association Town Hall Thursday evening to air their feelings about the restoration of the pier to the association's board, which did not show up.

Some were mad because the pier is closed. Some want the pier repaired by volunteers. Others wanted to know why a contract was signed without a vote of the general membership. Tensions ran high, and at one point, it looked like two men were about to fight.

"I don't understand why a group of people is forced to assemble outside of their locked town hall in the heat, with the threat of the rain, with bugs and declining light," said Robin Bleier outside the hall.

Bleier said she was told that the association building could be rented out for $100. She said she offered to pay but was refused by the board.

Ray Cannon offered to build a Web site for the community for free where residents could voice their opinions. He got a huge round of applause. Virginia Paulk Gardener is a retired teacher who has lived in Crystal Beach since 1956.

"There's never been this kind of rift before," she said. "I think we are seeing a lack of communication and common sense. I think we've got to work together and have an agenda. We need to meet with the board members."

Lindsay Ames said serving on the board was such a negative experience, she resigned on July 6.

"If you have a dissenting opinion you are hung up on the phone or talked about behind your back," she said. She urged association members to become more involved.

Rick Barasso, the town's honorary mayor, an honor won by raising money for the community association, also resigned from the board.

"They don't follow protocol and if you asked a question you were treated like crap," he said. He said Allen works hard but "the problem is she has a vision, but it's her vision."

Tony Leotta was one of the few who appeared to support the present leadership.

"As far as the pier goes, I've been to meetings and it's all on the up and up," Leotta said. "It was handled properly and the committee has been fair."

In the end, the organizers decided that there would be an attempt to contact all the members of the association and hold a meeting in September. The board would be invited to answer questions and address concerns.

Allen said she and the board members decided not to attend the meeting because they were forewarned that they would be facing an angry mob.

"I was told that this is a very angry group and if you don't allow them to use the hall then they were going to cut off heads and put them on spikes," she said. She also said they decided it was not a good idea to open the hall for the meeting because they were worried about liability. Allen said she called the Sheriff's Office this week after the community hall was found unlocked and open.

Allen's daughter Samantha, 21, remembers a confrontation at the post office: "A lady said, "Are you the president? When are you leaving the presidency?' When my mom told her her term was up in January, she said: "Oh honey, we're going to get you out sooner than that. We're going to get rid of you.' When my mom asked if she was threatening her, she said, "Take it as you see it.' "