TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — When the Spartans fought against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae, the Greek forces were told that they faced so many soldiers that their arrows could block out the sun. According to Herodotus’ account of the battle, Dienekes, a Spartan, said it was good news, for now the soldiers could fight in the shade.
In a small beach town in Pinellas County, residents aren’t fighting in the shade, but rather for it.
A court fight over using umbrellas at Belleair Shore Beach has been on its course through the Florida legal system since the end of 2020. At issue? The Belleair Shore ordinance banning temporary umbrellas on its public beaches. Multiple Floridians have faced fines and citations over bringing their shade with them while enjoying one of Florida’s natural resources.
In Pinellas court, those contesting the 2020 ordinance include a former mayor, visitors, and local residents who were cited for violating the beach rules. The town of Belleair Shore remains split on the issue, according to court records. Those suing are seeking not only a removal of the ordinance on constitutional grounds, but damages too.
According to the ordinance for the town, a number of activities are prohibited on beaches. As of 2020, “It shall be prohibited and no person shall”:
- Conduct himself in a rough, boisterous or offensive manner upon the town beach areas and access areas.
- Appear in a state of nudity, nor shall any person make any indecent exposure of his person on any beach access lot or beach area within the town or in any water adjacent to any such beach access lot or beach area.
- Set a fire of any kind upon any beach access lot or the beach areas within the jurisdiction of the town.
- Deposit, dump, throw, cast, lay or place any glass, metal, coal, ashes, rubbish, paper, garbage, refuse or obstructions or debris of any kind in or upon the beach access lots or any beach area within the town or in the waters adjoining the same except in special trash receptacles provided by the town at each beach access lot.
- Conduct or engage in a barbecue or any other type of cooking; nor shall food or food containers of any type be allowed on the beach access lots or any beach areas of the town.
- Have in their possession any alcoholic beverage.
- Have in their possession any glass container or metal beverage container.
- Launch any type of motorized watercraft upon the Gulf of Mexico, by using, as means of access to such gulf, any of the beach access lots of the town.
- Park at times other than the posted parking hours specifically indicated on the signs posted at the entrance of each beach access lots.
- Erect, possess, or cause to be erected any tent, canopy, umbrella, temporary shade structure or recreation structure on the beach within the incorporated limits of the town.
The 2020 ordinance bans, among other things, food on the beach, littering, having any alcoholic beverages with you, and putting up temporary umbrellas to shelter from the sun. Joseph Manzo, an attorney and former mayor of Belleair Shore, filed the lawsuit after the ordinance passed.
The year he filed the suit, Manzo told WFLA.com that it was the only beach in the area that banned food on the beach, saying the intent of the ordinance was to stop people using the public area.
“They passed an ordinance in Belleair Shore that bans all of the citizens of Belleair Beach that have the exclusive rights to use these lots for beach and bathing purposes, they stopped us from putting up umbrellas or any shade devices,” Manzo said in 2020. “What they’ve really said though was that it’s because of our view and we don’t want the people on the beach.”
Manzo’s court files show he was still the mayor of Belleair Shore at the time he submitted his lawsuit. In the time since, his lawsuit persists against the town’s leadership, a five-person commission that including Mayor Robert B. Schmidt, Jr.
His court documents say the town has had continuous access to the beach for deed-holders and residents since the mid-1940s, and for more than 75 years, until the ordinance passed in June 2020, “There has been no legal proscription on the use of umbrellas, shade devices, canopies and the like” for those using three private lots specified in court.
Manzo alleges his constitutional rights have been violated by the ordinance, and negatively impacted by the Town of Belleair Shore’s actions. Due to the umbrella ban, and its impact on Manzo’s enjoyment of the beach, he filed suit. The “shade ordinance” nets a fine of up to $500, depending on repeated violations.
His court filing says, “Based upon the available information on the Internet, as of this date, there appears to be no other beach community in the State of Florida where all shade coverings are similarly totally proscribed.”
In response to Manzo’s suit, the Town of Belleair Shore moved to dismiss his claim for punitive damages and removal of the ordinance.
“The Initial Complaint should be dismissed because the Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this action; fails to allege a constitutional violation; and alleges no connection between an adjacent property and the challenged ordinance,” the Town responded in their own court filing. They call Manzo’s allegations as lacking standing and “arbitrary and capricious.”
The most recent action in court for the case was Aug. 11. Another plaintiff, Christopher Hollands, joined the suit against Belleair Shore, alleging the town has infringed upon his rights through violation of the Public Trust Doctrine and saying the town had intruded into his private life outside of the bounds of their governmental powers.
Hollands, like Manzo and other plaintiffs in the case, asks for declaratory judgment and seeks relief and damages from the town due to the umbrella ban ordinance.
In response to a WFLA.com request for citation data on the ordinance, an attorney for Belleair Shore said, to their knowledge, few citations had actually been issued, though many warnings had been given.
“My understanding is that only two citations have been issued after warnings, and multiple warnings have been issued,” attorney Regina Kardash told WFLA.com. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has more detailed information on tracking the warnings and citations for the ordinance, according to Kardash.