Advocates say nude beach would be a boon
By Pilar Ulibarri de Rivera Neighborhood Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Some people like to fish, others like to ride bicycles or read books. Dave Armstrong likes to lie out in the sun naked. To Armstrong, 43, sunbathing nude is a hobby. It’s something the Delray Beach resident enjoys and he doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
But city officials don’t agree. At the annual citizens’ roundtable meeting with city officials earlier this year, Armstrong proposed designating the northern end of the public beach, which is unguarded and sparse on visitors, as “clothing-optional.”
It would be designated by signs reading: “You may encounter nude sunbathers” and “You are leaving a clothing-optional area,” he proposed.
“They giggled when I brought it up,” Armstrong said.
He said he told them it wasn’t professional to laugh at one of their residents. After all, it was a public forum for people to make suggestions of things they would like their local government to consider.
Perhaps making the suggestion while others were talking about neighborhood safety and trash pickup wasn’t the best timing. But Armstrong is not going to give up, even though City Manager David Harden said the commissioners he has spoke to about the suggestion have “absolutely no interest” in it.
Armstrong is gathering signatures on a petition and has enlisted the help of Richard Mason, one of the founders of Haulover Beach in Miami-Dade County. Established 17 years ago, Haulover is Florida’s most popular clothing-optional stretch of sand.
Mason is president of South Florida Free Beach/Florida Naturist Association, a nonprofit established in 1981 that’s committed to “representing naturism and nude recreation” to government, business and civic leaders.
Mason said that 25 or 30 years ago there was so much remote beach that people could skinny-dip without notice.
“As the coastline got gobbled up by condominiums and hotels, we were driven out,” he said. “With the lack of remote areas, the only solution was to create designated areas, just like there are designated areas for tennis, baseball or golf.”
Mason said he, his wife, Shirley, and other nudists did research and found that in 1974 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that “mere nudity, with the absence of lewd and lascivious behavior, was not indecent exposure.” In other words, if there was no public sexual behavior involved, it was not unlawful, according to the court.
“Let’s face it, you can be lewd and lascivious and still fully clothed,” Mason said.
Armstrong said he didn’t realize his rights when he was arrested on the beach in Delray in 2006 for sunbathing nude. He pleaded no contest and was ordered to do 10 hours of community service cleaning
up the beach. He’s still fighting the decision.
“The truth is when you talk to people about ‘rights’ they don’t care to listen,” Mason said. “But when you talk to them about money, that’s a different story.”
The numbers at Haulover speak for themselves, Mason said. The beach has about 1.4 million visitors a year and “it grows every year,” he said. About 60 percent of the visitors are from outside Miami-Dade
County, something Mason said that his organization discovered during skin cancer screenings on the beach. Many of them are from Europe and Canada. The county’s tourism board estimates that tourists spend $245 a day on hotel rooms, restaurants and shopping when visiting the county.
“That’s an economic impact of over $200 million a year from the number of people that are attracted to Haulover,” said Mason, adding that the quarter-mile stretch of beach, which he said was a haven for criminals before it was a nude beach, is now the safest and cleanest in the county.
The Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the average tourist spends about $200 a day in Palm Beach County.
Mason said it would take only a few phone calls to police and officials in Miami-Dade County and cities such as upscale Bal Harbour, for Delray officials to see the monetary potential of a nude beach.
“If Delray Beach is seeking to bring new money to its economy, this would be a good way to attract people from all over the world,” Mason said. “And they wouldn’t even need to spend any money to do it. All they would need is two signs and the naturists would pay for that.”
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