TREASURE ISLAND — There’s a spit of sand on the east side of Sunset Beach, just inside Blind Pass, that surfaces at low tide. Until recently a wooden staircase led down to it from a walkway maintained by the adjacent Mansions by the Sea condominium complex.
It’s one of few places in Pinellas County where — when the water level is right — dogs and their owners legally can splash about. That’s because the sandy strip technically isn’t on the Gulf of Mexico and it abuts a seawall.
When the complex demolished its staircase, however, the area lost some of its accessibility and appeal as a small “dog beach.”
The condominium’s developer built the boardwalk and staircase in the 1980s, partly to appease some Treasure Island residents and to help win over city officials who ultimately would approve the two residential Mansions towers at the southern tip of Sunset Beach, which is a beach community within Treasure Island.
Before construction of the high-rise buildings and neighboring condominiums, Sunset Beach was a hub for surfers, hippies, retirees and beachcombers who favored the community’s off-the-beaten-path ambiance. Many of those locals preferred sea grapes and Australian pines to concrete and steel structures.
Recently, some leaders of Mansions’ homeowners group said condo dwellers had become weary of people and their dogs near — and, sometimes, on — their property. They maintained a few dogs were aggressive and some people who used the beach were destructive.
“We are in a position where we don’t have an interest in maintaining that walkway,” said Mansions association spokesman Ron Kananen at a recent Treasure Island City Council meeting. “The situation with evolving sand and beach is such that we have created basically a playground that had caused lots of difficulties for us.”
So the association had the staircase removed.
It is unclear if the association contractually is bound to maintain access to the water; neither the city nor the association can find an agreement stipulating upkeep of the stairway. City Attorney Maura Kiefer said such a document, if it existed, likely would have expired by now anyway.
Nearby residents and visitors say they miss the easy access to the popular dog beach.
“I’m a paddleboarder; I’m a kayaker and I have a dog. And I use (the stairs) for all those reasons,” said Bill Harper, who lives in Mansions by the Sea. “Their intent is to make it as difficult as possible for the public to have access.”
The city is rehabilitating its portion of the boardwalk and has removed handrails on the water side. Treasure Island officials say they will install a staircase off the city’s portion of the walkway at little added cost.
“Maybe the easiest thing would be for the city to put it in on their property,” said Alan Bildz, a Treasure Island commissioner, at a meeting last week.
Bildz said he heard from a resident of Land’s End, a condominium just south of Mansions, who worried the new staircase will bring more people and dogs to the area. Meanwhile, some residents still want Mansions to rebuild the staircase on its part of the boardwalk regardless of what the city does.