Island officials unite to preserve home rule

HOLMES BEACH – Anna Maria Island’s elected officials are uniting to preserve home rule in the face of recent attempts by state legislators to circumvent local parking ordinances and fund a study to determine if the Island’s three cities should be dissolved.

Not only the central city on the Island, but also the one central to a debate at the state level, Holmes Beach has a prohibition against parking garages that state legislators have threatened to overturn. City leaders took a few moments during a Jan. 24 city commission meeting to address that issue and that of dissolving the Island cities.

It was standing room only in city hall chambers as residents, property owners and other stakeholders came out to show their support to Mayor Judy Titsworth and city commissioners. More joined the meeting online through Zoom.

Titsworth thanked everyone in attendance for their “outpouring of support” and vowed to do everything possible to fight back against the state’s encroachment into home rule of the Island, the ability of local governments to govern themselves.

While she said she and the two mayors from Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria would be meeting on Jan. 30 to discuss options and strategy, she wouldn’t be discussing those things publicly so as to not give state legislators the upper hand.

During a January legislative delegation meeting, Rep. Will Robinson Jr. proposed putting a bill forth in the upcoming state legislative session to install a four-story parking garage at Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach. Installation of a parking garage would undermine city ordinances that prohibit parking garages in the city and would break the city’s three-story building height limitation, which is written into the municipality’s charter. While parking garages were never an approved use in Holmes Beach, the ordinance officially stating that was not passed until 2022, after a meeting with Manatee County commissioners to discuss beach parking issues.

Titsworth said that Robinson, Rep. Jim Boyd and Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge were informed prior to the discussion that parking garages were not an allowable use in the city but that they could submit for a change of use. She said no one from the county, which owns the Manatee Beach property, ever did.

“There’s lots of misinformation from the county,” she said. “I’m over this. We’re not trying to privatize the Island. We’re a far cry from a private island.”

Robinson also proposed having a state-funded agency do a feasibility study to determine if the three Island city governments should be dissolved, putting the Island under the control of Manatee County commissioners. Consolidation of the three cities also has been discussed.

Florida Statutes 165.061(3)(b) requires that if a municipal government is dissolved by a special act of the state Legislature, a neighboring municipality would have to demonstrate that it is willing and able, including financially, to “provide necessary services to the municipal area proposed for dissolution.” Other statutory requirements prohibit the municipality to be dissolved from being “substantially surrounded by other municipalities.”

Data from the Florida League of Cities shows that only 11 municipalities have been dissolved since 1977 and only two of those were by special act of the state Legislature.

Commissioner Terry Schaefer, who attended the legislative delegation meeting, said that no one in the three Island city governments received prior notification about the parking garage proposal or the state-funded study.

“I think it showed a great deal of disrespect to everyone who lives on and loves this Island,” he said, noting that the dissolution study is “a stark warning to every community in Florida.”

“It’ll be really sad if there comes a time when all of our little coastal cities are gone,” Titsworth said.

“We’re not going to get into a fight,” Commissioner Carol Soustek said. “We want to move forward carefully and legally.”

Though the city’s elected officials committed to doing everything they can to halt both the parking garage and the attempt to dissolve the Island cities, they also encouraged all residents, property owners, visitors and stakeholders to lend their voices to the fight by reaching out to local and state representatives with their opinions on the two issues.

Schaefer also appeared on Jan. 26 at a ManaSota League of Cities meeting in Longboat Key on behalf of Holmes Beach. He was joined by Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and representatives from several other local municipalities. The group agreed to draft and send a letter to the state Legislature and local delegation in support of the three Anna Maria Island cities remaining as-is and decrying the state’s potential intrusion into home rule.