Vol 6 No. 31 - April 26, 2006


More renourishment woes

Turtle nesting season nears

Parking debate escalates

Cortez RV park to become multi-family residences

Winter tourism occupancy rates down, room rates up

School dedication scheduled Monday

Sign recommendations revised ...

... while contractors air concerns




More renourishment woes

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH - State officials have scaled back the Island's beleaguered beach renourshiment project, lopping off the final 3,000 feet and ending it at Bridge Street.

If it even gets that far.

The project, which must be finished by June 1, has been stalled most of April due to weather and breakdowns.

Tuesday morning, news of the cutback was discussed in a meeting between officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project contractor and a representative of Manatee County.

Information on the reduction was contained within the permit extension issued by the Florida Department of Environment Protection.

The original permit had called for the beaches to be renourished all the way down to 12th Street South.

But repeated delays due to weather and equipment breakdowns forced project officials to reassess what they could hope to get done.

Since April 1, when Goodloe Marine Inc. was supposed to resume pumping sand, high wind and waves delayed the startup for more than a week. When work did resume, the contractor was forced to quit early in the day.

After just four days of pumping, a gasket in the underwater pipeline blew out last week and the operation was halted over the weekend. Project manager Ben Goodloe told Corps officials Tuesday that he replaced the flexible gasket, but had to re-bury about a mile of of underwater line and hopes to be finished Wednesday and back in operation Thursday of this week. However, the weather forecast called for another cold front to move through the area, which may bring high waves that would make it impossible for them to work.

Goodloe is under the gun to finish by the June 1 deadline, which is when the permit extension expires, and with sea turtle mating season starting in May, it is unlikely that another extension would be granted.

Goodloe asked Anna Maria Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox if they could get a few extra days to remove the pipeline from the beach, allowing them to finish more of the project. She said that was possible, but she could not see allowing more pumping of sand after that date.

The Corps is asking Manatee County if they can use the north end of the parking lot at Manatee County Beach as a staging area, much like they did four years ago, the last time the beach was renourished. If so, that would allow them to work closer to the June 1 deadline.

The project began last July, a month later than expected, and was plagued all summer by hurricanes and all winter by cold fronts. Goodloe shut down the operation in November, leaving the pipeline on the beach after the Corps declined to order them to remove it.


Turtle nesting season nears

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

Turtle nesting season officially opens on May 1. That's about the time the threatened and endangered loggerhead and green sea turtles will come lumbering ashore during the overnight hours to deposit their clutches of eggs on Anna Maria's beaches.

Friends of sea turtles turned out in good numbers last week to attend the annual volunteer training put on by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch.

AMITW Chief Suzi Fox put on a power point presentation at Holmes Beach city hall on April 18 for the volunteers who will walk the Island beaches at dawn searching for signs of nesting activity.

"Once you see that the girls has come ashore, call your coordinator and leave a stake," Fox told her new and returning volunteers. "The signs will be clear, you just have to look for them."

Fox said when volunteers walk the beach at first light; the lighting makes it easier to spot the signs of nesting.

"And it's before people get on the beach and walk over the tracks making them hard to spot," she said. "We have to be on the beach by first light and you have to call the coordinator of your section by no later than 7:30."

Each year, between May and October, sea turtles, mostly loggerheads on Anna Maria Island, return to their natal beaches - the beaches where they were born - and nest. Only the females - or "the girls" - as turtle people call them - ever come ashore, and that's to nest. The rest of their lives, the marine turtles spend at sea, roaming all over the globe.

Their numbers are dwindling, and state and federal programs like our local AMI Turtle Watch are considered to be vital for their survival.

Fox is permitted by the state of Florida to monitor the Island's beaches with the help of her volunteers. The group keeps detailed records of the nesting activity and forwards it to the Florida Wildlife Commission where it is put with data from the rest of the state so that a picture of the health and numbers of the sea turtle population can be compiled.

The volunteer group also marks off the nests so that they don't get accidentally trampled or destroyed by human activity on the beach. Where necessary, the nests are relocated.

This year, for the second season in a row, there is renourishment activity on our beaches, so many nests in the project area will have to be moved.

"That's not a good thing," Fox told her volunteers. "Last year, we lost almost every nest we relocated, because raccoons got into them."

On other parts of the beach, the nests are left in place, unless they are so close to the water line that they will become imperiled by high tide.

"You really matter to the continued existence in our world of these turtles," Fox told her volunteers. "We have one of the best programs in the state, and we are really making a difference."

Island residents and visitors will see the volunteers on the beaches each morning at dawn. They wear their distinctive white shirts with a turtle logo and the words "Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch."

There are still some openings for walkers. The beach has been divided into sections of about a half-mile. Volunteers walk an assigned section one or more mornings a week.

Anyone interested in volunteering or in finding out more about sea turtles can call the AMITW phone at 778-5638.

Parking debate escalates

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - Just when it appeared that the divisive debate on who should park where was laid to rest with a workable compromise in force, city commissioners are making changes to their plan.

Plan C (for compromise) was first proposed by Commissioner Duke Miller, who has long been a proponent of resident-only parking. Commissioner Dale Woodland, a champion of open parking, quickly signed on to the compromise plan, and it was signed into law in September of last year. Commissioner Linda Cramer remained opposed to the compromise. She said she will support nothing but resident-only parking.

On December 1, Plan C went into effect. It's basically an alternate side of the street parking plan. One year, there is parking for resident and visitor alike on one side of the street. The following year, the other side of the street is to be the parking side.

Now, five months into the plan, commissioners are making some changes.

"These are just adjustments," said Commission Chair John Quam. "These are minor changes for safety and because one street wanted open parking. We've always allowed open parking on a street when 100 percent of the residents sign on."

The commission agreed by consensus at their April 13 work session to change Cedar Avenue to open parking and to close Tuna, Cypress and Spruce to all parking for safety reasons.

"That area up there (Tuna Cypress and Spruce) is so narrow, it looks like someone just dug it out with a shovel and then threw some asphalt on it," Miller said. "There really isn't anywhere to park and still allow room for even a pedestrian to walk there."

Tuna, Cypress and Spruce form a horseshoe off North Shore Drive several blocks north of Pine Avenue. During the latest chapter in the 30-year parking debate - the chapter that ended with Plan C - residents there first asked the city to make their streets one-way headed north. The city did that. The residents decided that didn't work, so they asked the city to make their streets one-way headed south. They thought that didn't work either, so they asked commissioners to close their streets to all parking.

"It's really narrow up there," said Tuna resident Jennifer Cascardo. "Someone's going to get hurt. The children up there play in the street. It isn't safe."

Commissioners agreed by consensus to go along with that request for safety reasons.

Some residents of other streets that are narrow are now asking commissioners to close their streets as well.

"I have heard from some constituents," Quam said. "I told them it was just a minor adjustment. We always said we'd adjust the plan from time to time and especially for safety reasons. If we get other requests, we'll just have to consider them. Each situation's different."

Miller said he's also heard a thing or two.

"I guess we'll have to see," he said. "I've always said we have a double standard here. When I proposed the plan, it was alternate side of the street parking throughout the city. Then we allowed streets to opt out of the plan if they wanted open parking and 100 percent of the residents on that street agreed. That's a double standard. Why can't all the residents of all the streets get what they want? Closed or open?"

But Miller said that the commission had passed the plan and he was willing to live with it and try it even with what he perceives to be a double standard.

Commissioner Dale Woodland doesn't think the Tuna, Spruce, Cypress closure to parking is going to open the door to another round of endless parking debate.

"My gut tells me no. I think it's just these streets," he said. "But I can tell you this: If the whole can of worms gets re-opened, and we have to go through the whole process again, I'm ready to go through the whole process again."

All three commissioners pointed out that the plan seems to be working. They noted that law enforcement officers have said illegal parking is down, residents are complaining less and everyone seems to be willing to give Plan C a year's trial.

The commission will not be re-visiting the parking discussion until its May 25 regular city commission meeting, when the changes will be part of the second reading of the changes to the traffic ordinance. The second reading of an ordinance is the final step before the ordinance becomes law.

The commission will discuss installing some crosswalks and stop signs at their May 11 work session, according to Quam, but they won't discuss parking - or no parking - or resident-only parking.

Cortez RV park to become multi-family residences

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA - Stanley Riggs, owner of Holiday Cove RV Park, told officials at the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials of his plans to redevelop the park into 78 multi-family units.

"I wanted you to get the information before you read about it in the newspaper," he said. "The development is going on a major evacuation route for the Island."

He said the park, which currently has 112 RV sites and 22 boat docks, is approximately nine acres and is zoned commercial. It is 1/4 mile east of the Cortez Bridge.

"It's not a trailer park or a mobile home park. It's a vacation place; nobody lives there," he pointed out. "The park is faced with the same challenges as other businesses on the barrier islands - increased property taxes and difficulty obtaining insurance. We're faced with the need to find a different use for it."

Kevin Button, Holiday Cove operations manager, said the redevelopment would reduce density and traffic, and units would be built to hurricane standards. He said people needing shelter in a hurricane would be reduced by 30 percent.

Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked what is the occupancy rate of the park during hurricane season.

Riggs said the park is 40 to 50 percent occupied in the summer and fall, but on holiday weekends it jumps to 100 percent.

Citing the Arvida/Perico issue, Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore asked Riggs to keep the units as low as possible.

"We're still working on that," Riggs replied. "We'll be having a meeting with people in the neighborhood in a couple of weeks and we're looking for community input. Our goal is to come up with a project that everybody can look at and say, 'That turned out really nice.'"

Holmes Beach Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens asked if he would be selling to investors.

"We're interested in selling to people who want a primary or secondary residence," Riggs replied. "We envision having a two-year lockout for sales to avoid people flipping properties."


Winter tourism occupancy rates down, room rates up

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Anna Maria Island accommodations occupancy in January, February and March has hit a four-year low, while room rates have hit a four-year high, according to statistics just released by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

January occupancy on the Island was 29.3 percent, down from 37.5 percent last year, 46.8 percent in 2004 and 37.1 percent in 2003. February occupancy was 59.6 percent, down from 77.9 percent last year, 82.1 percent in 2004 and 76.6 percent in 2003. March occupancy was 77.3 percent, down from 94.3 percent last year, 92.1 percent in 2004 and 89 percent in 2003.

The story in the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key is similar, with an exception in January.

January occupancy was 56.2 percent, down from 58.4 percent last year, but up from 52.8 percent in 2004 and 51.9 percent in 2003. February occupancy was 71.5 percent, down from 78.7 percent last year, 82 percent in 2004 and 72.3 percent in 2003. March occupancy was 80.2 percent, down from 87.4 percent last year, 97.7 percent in 2004 and 87.3 percent in 2003.

Average daily room rates on Anna Maria Island were consistently up in all three months from the previous three years.

January rates were $163.42, up from $153.13 last year, $155.40 in 2004 and $149.47 in 2003. February rates were $176.63, up from $171.39 last year, $159.59 in 2004 and $162.92 in 2003. March rates were $186.21, up from $172.28 last year, $173.91 in 2004 and $173.57 in 2003.

On Longboat Key, average daily room rates also were consistently higher with one exception. January's $151.95 was up from $151.61 last year, $129.14 in 2004 and $133.02 in 2003. February's $187.48 was up from last year's $184.41, $172.53 in 2004 and $170.03 in 2003. March's $205.40 was down from $216.98 last year, but up from $182.79 in 2004 and $178.58 in 2003.


School dedication scheduled Monday

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - It's been more than three years in the planning and it's time to celebrate the results.

Anna Maria Elementary School opens its doors Monday, May 1, at 5:30 p.m. to dignitaries, educators and Island residents for the official dedication of the new school.

The event begins with a short program inside the refurbished auditorium followed by a raising of the colors at their new location. Manatee County School Superintendent Dr. Roger Dearing and school board members Harry Kinnan and Frank Brunner will speak and some students will make a musical presentation. Also on hand will be principal Kathy Hayes and representatives from the contractor, W. G. Mills.

Fifth-graders will take audience member for tours of the new classroom building after the ceremony, and they will congregate at the shaded area under the old oak trees after that.

The $8.6 million project replaced the 55-year-old courtyard classrooms with a new two-story building that puts the first three grades on the ground floor and the older student classrooms on the upper floor.

The auditorium and the art and music building, located on the northern section of the site, were refurbished.

The project increases the school's size by 42,000 square feet and puts all the classrooms together under one roof, as opposed to the old design in which each classroom opened to the outdoors.

Landscaping changes were massive. The elevation of the ground was raised and water retention areas were designed to make sure storm water did not affect adjacent properties.

The project had its ups and downs. When parents found out that a stand of oak trees had been cut down over a weekend with little or no warning being given, they angrily protested the move.

The outcry then prompted the school construction team to hold a series of informational sessions for the public. After receiving input for several months, the team was told its changes in the plans would push the project over budget and it was pared back.

The auditorium and the art and music room were to be replaced initially, but were refurbished to help bring the project under budget.

The school board allowed for Island architectural touches such as a metal-look roof and shuttered windows and the new landscape includes nearly 100 palm trees.

For information about the dedication, call the school at 708-5525.


Sign recommendations revised ...

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - True to their word, planning commissioners discussed changes to their proposed sign ordinance that were suggested by real estate agents and business owners recently.

Although they did not agree with any of the suggestions, they did make some changes to their original recommendations. Planners said they would send a revised version to city commissioners.

Regarding a suggestion to allow ground signs of up to four square feet with two pendants and a tube, planners said that would make signs too large.

"I believe that the pendants should be a part of the overall size of the sign," planner John Monetti said. "Pendants are just a way of making the sign bigger."

Chairman Sue Normand suggested a choice of a 2 1/2-square-foot sign with two pendants or a 4-square-foot sign with no pendants.

"The issue is how much total stuff they're going to put out there," planner Mike McCaleb said. "The pendants serve a purpose. I think they're OK, but don't exceed 4 square feet."

They agreed on signs of 4 square feet including any pendants and/or tubes.

Regarding for sale signs on waterfront property, planners had recommended one, but realtors had asked for two, so they could put one on the waterfront side.

"It's probably not so bad because you don't see both of them at once." Brisson pointed out, and the others agreed.

"What about for sale signs on beachfront property?" City Commissioner Pat Morton, the board's liaison, asked. "People are putting them on the beach."

Planners then agreed to stick to their original recommendation in order to avoid a problem with beachfront versus canal front.

Another area of discussion was about removing rental signs once a property in rented, which is in the current code. Realtors had asked that they only require removal when the property is rented annually.

Brisson said he understood the problem of removing a sign each time a property is rented, but the other alternative is to have a large sign in the yard at all times. He said he had observed one real estate agent's rental signs affixed to the house, making them less obtrusive.

"My thought was to allow one vacation rental sign on a house that can remain there, but if it's a ground sign, it must be taken down," Brisson said.

The others agreed and established the size of the house sign at 18 by 18 inches.

Their recommendation on ground signs in the vision triangle remained the same as before, as did the height of signs at 4 feet, the number of open house signs at two and length of time to display an open house sign at one hour before and one hour after. They agreed that signs must be 10 feet back from the street pavement.


... while contractors air concerns

By Pat Copeland

HOLMES BEACH - In the on-going debate over sign regulations, contractor Hugh Holmes, Jr. has brought up concerns expressed by those in the construction industry.

"During construction projects, we typically install a sign with our name, phone number and, per DPR (Department of Professional Regulation) regulations, our contractor's license number," he explained in a letter to the mayor and commission. "We also, at times, feel the need to display a warning no trespassing sign to keep people away from the dangers commonly found on construction sites."

In addition, there would be a building permit sign and possibly an architect's identification sign. On a waterfront lot, he said signs are displayed on both street and waterfront sides. He said he is not opposed to smaller signs on residential projects, but he feels that larger signs should be permitted on larger commercial projects.

"I feel charging a fee for each temporary construction sign is absurd," he continued. "The price of building permits are going up and up. By paying this fee, I feel we should be able to have the identification signs outlined above and especially the warning sign included in the permit charge."

He also said he is not in favor of a two-color limit on signs, as imposed by the town of Longboat Key because it makes signs look washed out.

"One area of signs I see which seems to be growing out of control are the street signs," he noted. "These may be requirements of different levels of government, but there are street, caution, information, walkways warnings, walkway fine signs, no littering, no parking signs and on and on through the Island."

He suggested that the city do something to reduce those types of signs.


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