Kiteboarding

The Village Council is looking to an area where the former Sonesta Beach Resort had a vessel launch channel to create a temporary zone for kiteboarding, which would then be allowed at that location only and under some very specific rules.

Local leaders said they're looking at the area as an interim solution and hope to explore options in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park for the long-term.

Council members approved first reading of an ordinance regulating kiteboarding January 9. A final vote is set for the Council’s next meeting January 23 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

Local leaders said they wanted to at least get the process started quickly, so even though there is a lot of unsettled territory, it was important to take a vote on the 9th. Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay acknowledged there will be significant changes to the ordinance before the final hearing and the issue is a complicated one, and, “If we’re not ready, we can defer it to a date certain.”

On the 9th, Council member Brett Moss suggested prohibiting kiteboarding except in a defined area, using that area to set up a launch zone and channel, and then setting and enforcing a series of rules. He said it needs to be clear that kiteboarding is prohibited elsewhere in the Village.

Moss noted after Council members walked the beach recently, two areas emerged as the best options: in front of the Commodore Club, where the beach is wide; and near the old Sonesta channel, where the beach is relatively quiet. So, Moss asked both kiting opponents and advocates if they are OK with those locations, and only the Sonesta site met with approval from both sides.

“I think the decision is pretty much made for us,” Moss said. “For me, it’s an easy solution, and I think that’s where we should focus our attention in selecting a place.”

However, Council member Luis de la Cruz offered another suggestion: “I believe the perfect place is just south of The Towers,” he said. “As much as I walk that beach, that is the area that has the least population at any given time, and it doesn’t have any buildings around it.”

Vice Mayor Frank Caplan agreed the area is underpopulated, but warned it’s also narrow.

Council member Gary Gross indicated he also leans toward the Sonesta based on Moss’s report. He said the Village could set up a location there on an interim basis and continue working with Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park for a permanent location: “This isn’t permanent; we aren’t building anything,” he said. “We can change it at any moment if something better comes along.”

Local leaders agreed it would be ideal if that “something better” were the state park, and Council member Allison McCormick said her talks with Bill Baggs officials continue. “I’m working with them, and I’m hopeful. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time,” she said.

De la Cruz expressed concerns about the plan, however, noting officials should talk to residents who live near the Sonesta channel before simply putting the kiteboarding location there. “I want to get this done. I want kitesurfing to exist on our beach,” he said, “but I don’t think we’re doing this right.”

Other Council members stressed the location would only be temporary, and they want to move forward: “I think not taking action is unacceptable to our residents,” Pena Lindsay said.

McCormick said the only options, in her eyes, are using the Sonesta location or a temporary ban on kiteboarding altogether. “I think we can give a shot to the kiteboarders, with the rules in effect, in this location, and maybe the issues won’t arise,” she said.

Ultimately, a majority of Council members opted to designate a kiting zone in the area around the Sonesta channel. Village Manager John Gilbert will bring back an aerial image of the zone on the 23rd so the Council and community has a clear visual of the area in question.

Along with location, local leaders set about creating regulations.

The proposed ordinance defines a kiteboard as a board tethered to a kite that harnesses the power of the wind, and defines operating a kiteboard as “to navigate or otherwise use any vessel or kiteboard in, on or under the water.” It makes note of the Village’s vessel exclusion zone, and says “no owner, operator or person in command of any vessel or kiteboard shall operate a vessel or kiteboard within the area of the Atlantic Ocean 300 feet east of the beach from the southern boundary of Crandon Park to the northern boundary of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.” It states kiteboarders are required to drag their boards past the vessel exclusion zone to use them.

The proposal also states athletes must register with the Village and pay a fee, and only those who provide proof of a Level 3 designation by the International Kite Organization – the highest level – will be allowed to operate a kiteboard on Key Biscayne. Those who quality will receive a streamer that they must display while kiteboarding. Kiteboard instruction is prohibited.

It states the kiteboard’s lines may only be stretched out immediately before entering the water, and when a kiteboard is not in use, its lines must be wrapped around the kiteboard bar.

Finally, the ordinance states the rules will be enforced by police and code enforcement officers, and violators will receive a citation and penalty and may have their streamer revoked.

On the 9th, Council member Katie Petros, who proposed the original ordinance, said she’d like to add hours of operation, proof of insurance and a signed agreement of compliance to her proposal.

Caplan suggested establishing blackout periods for kiteboarding – like holiday weekends when the beaches are very busy – and establishing wind conditions, like when winds are directly onshore/offshore, that are dangerous and therefore not suitable for kiteboarding. The sport could not take place on days where those conditions are present.

He said kiteboarders also need to be banned from giving their streamers to someone else.

Finally, Caplan said, the Council needs to create an adequate definition of “operate,” because the current definition only applies to vessels when they are in the water, and with kiteboarding the biggest issue is launching the kiteboard from the shore.

De la Cruz asked how the rules will be enforced: i.e., will police and code enforcement officers be expected to make a call on sport-specific issues like wind direction, or will there be a trained beach marshal? Members of the Key Biscayne Kiteboarding Association, which is over 100 members strong, said they can provide volunteer marshals, and Council members said they will write that into the ordinance as a requirement.

Gross suggested making the ordinance more specific on enforcement prior to the final vote, and Village Attorney Chad Friedman said he’ll finetune the language and add the new rules suggested by the Council prior to the second hearing.

As has been the case throughout the kiteboarding discussion, plenty of residents spoke on both sides of the issue.

Mike O’Brien, general manager of the Key Biscayne Beach Club for 30 years, described an incident that occurred the Sunday before the Council meeting. He said well-known islander Geno Marron was swimming when “a kiteboarder almost ran across his face 20 feet from the beach. Kiteboarding is dangerous. It doesn’t belong with a passive beach.”

O’Brien said when the sport just started, the small community of kiteboarders was respectful, but that has changed as the numbers have exploded: “This group is rude, arrogant and reckless,” he said, and if the Village opens up the entire beach to the sport, “They’re just going to go crazy.”

Gregg Rosen, president of Commodore Club East, said he spoke on behalf of hundreds of unit owners who oppose using the condo’s beach for the sport. “We are adamantly opposed to kiteboarding on the Commodore Club East beaches,” he said, noting at times kiteboarders make it impossible to pass from north to south on the beach.

Rosen added kiteboarding requires a 300-foot safety zone, which would stretch into the middle of the Commodore Club East beach. “There just isn’t room for the safety zone that is recognized by the kiteboarding organizations. Please take our concerns to heart.”

Antonio Camejo suggested kiteboarders can keep using a facility at Crandon Park, and the Village should focus on finding a spot for the sport in Bill Baggs, which he said is under-utilized. “The Council should concentrate its efforts on finding a solution with the State of Florida,” he said, and any location in the Village should be temporary.

There was also plenty of support for kiteboarding.

Belkis Martinez described the sport as part of a natural, healthy lifestyle. She said her husband and her two kids, ages 13 and 15, kiteboard; and she was learning until she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo surgery and chemotherapy.

“Now, I was excited to start again – and I found all these problems in the neighborhood. I hope they can be fixed soon,” she said. “I would rather my kids be kitesurfing than at home with the PlayStation or the other problems we see with teenagers.”

Miguel Cebolla said he doesn’t think the sport poses that big a problem, because a good day for kiteboarding isn’t necessarily a good day for other beach uses: “The reality is, normally when they are there nobody else is – you need very strong wind to be able to do it,” he said.

Cebolla, who noted he doesn’t kiteboard but would like to try the sport, said with the right regulations he thinks the kiting can be done safely on the Key, even without quotas for residents.

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