Vol 7 No. 18 - January 24, 2007


Insurance laws revamped

North Shore trolley route idea revived

Dollhouse raffle to aid search for cancer cure

RoseBay may sell GSR property

Fire commission OKs impact fee expenditures

Fence, dog odors prompt ruling

Students find �gold� in aluminum cans

Take it or leave it?




Insurance laws revamped

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

A seven-day marathon in the Florida House and Senate ended Monday night with near-unanimous joint legislation designed to reduce property insurance premiums, make insurance more widely available and create a uniform statewide building code.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who repeatedly insisted that the special legislative session result in a "meaningful" rate reduction for policyholders, has indicated that he will sign the legislation.

Legislators quoted widely varying savings from 5 to 30 percent, but averaging around 20 percent for most homeowners, much of it attributed to the expansion of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Changes in the fund will allow insurers to buy additional reinsurance of up to $12 billion above the fund’s limit of $16 billion, which is cheaper than private reinsurance. Insurers are then required to pass their savings on to policyholders.

The Legislature also focused on improving construction standards as a long-term solution to the insurance problem, creating a uniform, statewide building code as recommended by the Governor’s Property and Casualty Insurance Reform Committee, which called Florida "the highest-risk state in the country for catastrophe."

Lawmakers recognized that the legislation shifts much risk to the state. If a catastrophic hurricane like Katrina hits Florida, all policyholders and taxpayers statewide would likely be called on to make up the deficit. Consequently, more changes to the law are likely during the regular session, which begins in March.

Meanwhile, some provisions of the legislation will assist homeowners and business owners who have been unable to get insurance, or have been required to pay escalating premiums for existing policies. For example:

- Policyholders can lower their rates by choosing a higher deductible or excluding coverage of their household contents.

- Policyholders can lower their rates by declining wind coverage if they submit a written statement along with the written permission of any mortgage or lien holders on their property.

- Insurance companies are prohibited from denying coverage based solely on the age of a structure.

- A grant program will be created during the 2007 legislative session to help low-income homeowners buy insurance.

- Residential and commercial policyholders can make quarterly or semi-annual payments on their insurance premiums.

Citizens changes
Other changes affect policyholders of Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort, now poised to compete with private insurers.

- The legislation repeals the approved Jan. 1 rate increase for Citizens’ policyholders and requires the refund of premiums already paid.

- Citizens rates are frozen at Dec. 31, 2006 levels.

- Citizens will no longer be required to have the highest rates in the state.

- Citizens will not be required to purchase reinsurance, and must pass on savings to policyholders.

- Non-homestead property owners can buy Citizens insurance without proving rejection by private insurers.

- Property owners can get Citizens coverage if a private insurer quotes a premium at least 26 percent greater than the comparable Citizens premium.

- Existing Citizens policyholders can stay with Citizens even if they’re offered private insurance.

- Citizens is required to provide commercial insurance coverage, and the Office of Insurance Regulation is directed to transfer policyholders from the Property and Casualty Joint Underwriters Association to Citizens.

- Citizens can write multi-peril policies in addition to wind policies.

Other changes
- Insurers must write property insurance policies in Florida if they sell it in other states and sell automobile insurance in Florida, eliminating "cherry-picking."

- Insurers can offer discounts for policyholders with multiple policies.

- Insurers must send non-renewal notices at least 100 days before the June 1 hurricane season begins.

- Insurers are required to provide coverage for sinkholes.

North Shore trolley route idea revived

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — A request for the Island trolley to travel over the humpback bridge and along North Bay Boulevard and North Shore Drive was back in the hands of the Island Transportation Planning Organization (ITPO) last week.

Fred Loveland, director of Manatee County Community Services, said the county had investigated the original request and pointed out, "We run the county transit system and are happy to provide service, but I work for the board of county commissioners.

"My knowledge is that the trolley can more than likely go up there. Typically we try and stay out of residential areas. As far as I know, the bridge would take the traffic. The roads are somewhat narrow, but we could drive safely and slowly."

"It is totally residential," Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford stressed. "The streets are narrow and there’s quit a bit of negative resident concern about that trolley going up there. It will be a big issue with our residents."

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said he would defer to the wishes of the citizens of Anna Maria. He asked if the trolley could traverse Bridge Street.

Barford said she would support Chappie’s request because Bridge Street is a business community.

Mike Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, said there are three options:

• Barford could poll her commission and if the response is favorable, she could bring the request to the ITPO for approval, then make the request to the MPO, which would approach the county commission.

• The Anna Maria Commission could take the request directly to the county commission.

• The Anna Maria commission could make the request to the ITPO, which would make the request to the county.

He said the second option would get the most direct result but noted, "There could be some operational impacts to the other communities on the Island."

Loveland said the trolley costs $66 per hour to run and if it takes 10 minutes to go around the north end, it could generate six trips and hour with 20-minute service.

"You can do the math," Loveland said. "The other factor is the logistics of it all. Once you throw that off, you lose efficiency."

Chappie asked Loveland to calculate the cost of the additional service and bring it to the next ITPO meeting.

Barford said she would take the request to the city commission’s Feb. 8 work session for discussion, and then come back to the ITPO with the city’s recommendation.

Bridge openings
Howe reported on the status of the change in the bridge opening schedule from 20 minutes to 30 minutes during season. The change was approved following public comment and a public hearing and is in the process of being implemented.

"It is being reviewed by legal counsel for the Coast Guard in Washington," Howe explained. "As soon as they approve the final rule, they will transmit that for publication in the Federal Register. That will then trigger a 30-day waiting period before the schedule would become effective."

Howe said Coast Guard officials are hopeful that the publication would occur this week.

Members also agreed to amend the bylaws to change the requirement for each city to have two representatives on the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). Howe said the cities have never been able to find two people each to serve on the CAC, and at the last ITPO meeting, members agreed to one representative per city.

Currently, Holmes Beach has two people who are willing to serve; former commissioner Don Maloney and Rob Engle.

"We are blessed to have two from Holmes Beach that are interested and competent to do a good job," Barford said. "We’re all about the same transportation issues. I would like both members to serve."

She suggested having three members from the Island, but not specify which city. Bohnenberger suggested having three alternates also. Chappie agreed. MPO Planner Bob Herrington said he would write an amendment for consideration at the next meeting, Feb. 20.

Dollhouse raffle to aid search for cancer cure

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – A golf tournament at the Key Royale Club to raise money for breast cancer research has provided an inspiration to a Holmes Beach woman to give something to the cause.

Margaret Schuller, who spends half the year on the Island and the rest of her time in Vancouver, Wash., has donated a large, homemade dollhouse to raffle to coincide with the golf tournament.

Raffle tickets are $1 apiece or you can buy six for $5 at the clubhouse. Anyone can purchase a ticket and a winner will be chosen on Tuesday, Jan. 30, the day of the "Fore the Cure" tournament.

Schuller said she built three previous dollhouses, a log cabin and three 1930s-style stores before this current one, which she started three years ago. They come in kits, but every piece is glued together making it very time-consuming.

"I always wanted a dollhouse when I was a child, but my family didn’t have enough money," she said. "I guess I decided to build myself one and then I just kept going."

The house being raffled is a two-story model with a large front porch. There is access to each of the furnished rooms from the rear of the house and each room has its own working light fixture or lamp.

"We’re calling it the House of Hope," tournament chairwoman Mary Pat Swamy said.

Schuller said she was compelled to make the dollhouse available to raffle after her sister, Lyla, died of cancer last year.

The tournament, which begins at 9 a.m., is open to club members and guests. There is no set fee to play, but Swamy said everyone who enters gets an envelope and is asked to write a check for any amount they want to donate. Lunch is available following the nine-hole, shotgun start contest.

Swamy noted that more than 60 people had already signed up for the event as of last Thursday, and she said she was hoping to raise a lot of money. She said the club would probably do something every year to help the cause.

For information on the dollhouse raffle, call the clubhouse at 778-3055.

RoseBay may sell GSR property

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

RoseBay Real Estate is poised to become the exclusive sales broker for 11 Anna Maria Island properties whose proceeds are slated to partially repay creditors of GSR Development.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge K. Rodney May is scheduled to decide a motion this week to appoint RoseBay to sell the properties, owned by GSR Development LLC and AMI Development LLC, whose common principal is Robert Byrne.

Bradenton-based land development company GSR, whose other principal is Steve Noriega, filed for relief from creditors under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code last year.

The total asking price is $9,279,000 for the 11 properties, which do not include most of the lots in GSR’s two unfinished developments, Villa Rosa in Anna Maria and Rosa del Mar in Bradenton Beach.

According to federal bankruptcy court records, GSR owes more than $30 million to more than 20 creditors.

"Given the complete absence of liquidity and cash in general, the challenges presented by this case have been substantial," the motion states.

According to the motion, William Maloney, acting as GSR’s chief restructuring manager, recommended RoseBay to liquidate GSR’s properties after interviewing several Island Realtors and consulting with creditors.

If approved, RoseBay would establish an office on the Island solely to handle GSR marketing and sales, according to the motion.

The company would advertise the properties locally and on the Internet, place them on the Multiple Listing Service, provide market analyses for prospective buyers, produce signs "to capitalize on GSR publicity," arrange open houses and produce press releases.

RoseBay would earn a 6 percent commission on sales, with the possibility of a 1 percent bonus for sales contracts submitted before March 15.

According to the motion, the sale is timed to maximize the potential number of prospective buyers arriving for the peak tourist season, with a target date of July to complete all sales.



Fire commission OKs impact fee expenditures

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Fire commissioners last week approved impact fees expenditures of $36,600 for a fire extinguisher simulator and communications devices.

"The fire extinguisher simulator is a good public education tool," Fire Chief Andy Price explained. "This is an item that Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop has been trying to get a grant for, but has been unsuccessful. It’s something that we really need. We can take it to businesses and train the lay person how to use a fire extinguisher."

Lathrop said there are props that come with the simulator and the district plans to order a trash can, a stove and a flammable liquid cabinet.

"I felt those three would cover what we’re trying to do," Lathrop said. "Our codes require these things to be put in, but we fail to take the step further and teach people how to use them."

The communication devices include voice amplifiers that mount on the outside of firefighters’ masks, which "will take our voice from inside the mask and amplify it outside, so you can hear it clearly," Price said.

"The other device is an interface that goes to the radio. It’s a lapel mike that hooks to the radio and has two contacts on it. The voice amplifier has two contacts and when you touch them together, they link. Anytime you’re talking on the radio, it’s coming through inside your mask."

Price also reported on the district’s focus statement for the year.

"I felt it was important for our department to have some sort of focus for the year aside from our mission statement and our vision," Price told the board. "Last year we used safety as or focus. This year it will be ‘Tuning the Engine,’ and there’s four competencies that we want to concentrate on."

The four competencies are:

• Physical — to become as physically fit as possible;

• Mental — to develop brain power to go along with the brawn;

• Professional —to hone professional skills;

• Emotional — to become involved in family functions and other civic- oriented pursuits to broaden their lives.

Fence, dog odors prompt ruling

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — The Code Enforcement Board last week found Mohamad Waliagha, of 515 57th Street, in violation for having an illegal structure and a nuisance and ordered him to correct the violations by Feb. 14 or face a fine.

Code Enforcement Officer Nancy Hall told the board that Waliagha built a dog run with a six-foot fence and a roof without a permit and the odor of dog feces is a nuisance and impairs the value of the neighbor’s property.

Waliagha’s neighbor, Chuck Potter, said he has tried to resolve the problem in a friendly manner over the past five or six years, but has been unsuccessful. He said he was reluctant file a formal complaint.

"I spent the money to erect a PVC fence out of my own pocket to see if that would buffer the noise," Potter explained. “I did everything I could. I talked to him 30 to 40 times over the years. The fecal odor will make you sick to your stomach."

In questioning Hall and Potter, Waliagha’s attorney, Jack Hawkins, asked both, "You don’t like Mr. Waliagha do you?"

This prompted City Attorney Jim Dye to point out, "Whether you like each other or not is not an element of this case. The city’s case stands on the facts presented to you (the board). What is before the board is what exists on the property and whether that violates the city’s code. It’s irrelevant to the board’s deliberation and if it is allowed to continue, it will contaminate the record."

Waliagha said that he had only spoken to his neighbor eight or 10 times over the years and that he agreed to put the dogs in at night and his children were told to keep the area clean of feces.

"I’ll take the cover down (from the fence), I’ll wash it more often and move the container (of feces) away from Mr. Potter’s property," Waliagha said. I’ll do my best."

The fence was built when the house was constructed 10 years ago and was considered part of the original permit, Waliagha told the board. He also said building officials had been to the home recently.

Assistant Public Works Supervisor Bill Saunders said that a fence permit is separate from a construction permit except in the case of commercial construction where there is a site plan. He also noted that he had been to the home about three months ago to respond to a question about elevation, but had not seen the dog run or the back of the building.

Hawkins asked if the fence could be allowed to remain as a non-conformity. However, Dye said it would have to have been legal when it was constructed and because there is no permit, the city considers it illegal.

"I don’t think from what I heard that there’s anything to show that the fence is legally constructed," Chairman Chuck Stealey said. "The nuisance of the odor is a serious problem. He needs to get a permit and take care of the odor."

The other board members agreed.


Students find �gold� in aluminum cans

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island’s Grandparents Program with third graders at Anna Maria Elementary School isn’t all about fun.

Sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned, as the students found out last week.

The theme of the monthly luncheon and meeting at the Church of the Annunciation was the environment, and the grandparents had a treat for the kids.

After enjoying a spaghetti lunch with some savory garlic bread that most everyone came back for more, the grandparents went out on the beach just west of the church as the students stayed behind and listened to a talk about the environment by Bob LoPicollo. Finally, he told them to get in line and go out to the beach also.

Their assignment was to pick up aluminum cans that the grandparents had left on the beach and around the beach grasses and put them into large plastic bags.

While that type of an assignment is something that might produce yawns from youngsters, they were also told that there was money in the cans.

When they got to the beach, the grandparents had them get on their marks, get set and go, and they were off to the races searching around the dune areas and pulling cans from underneath plants. They were forewarned not to try to take the money out of the cans until everyone was finished.
his year’s crew of third graders is a good one and they generally toe the line when given orders and the aluminum can hunt was no exception. When they got off the beach, they stopped in a shaded area and started shaking the cans to get the change to fall out.

Ralph Bassett, who is a long standing grandparent in the program, said the cans had a new design and that prompted him to make some changes. He said the pop-up slots were smaller than before so instead of putting quarters into the cans, he had to go to the bank and trade them in on dimes and nickels.

Of course, that didn’t slow down the kids, some of whom earned a tidy sum while learning about keeping the beaches clean.



Take it or leave it?

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The family was snorkeling in waist-deep water on a sandbar, the children popping up with sand dollars in each hand, as if they had just unlocked a pirate’s treasure chest and found gold doubloons inside.

One by one they started piling them onto a raft, until dozens of sand dollars, brown, fuzzy and very much alive, were baking in the sun. They hauled their trove into shore and laid them out on the sand to dry, perhaps with the thought of filling a glass lamp base with souvenirs.

But the stench of dead sea life soon discouraged them from taking the sand dollars back to the motel room.

Occasionally, uninformed visitors decimate living creatures in the waters off Anna Maria Island, not knowing the rules that are meant to maintain the delicate balance between vacation fun and seashell survival.

Here are the rules, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to help shellers decide whether to "take it or leave it."

• In Manatee County, a sheller may not take or possess more than two live shells (those containing living organisms) per species, per day. Although sand dollars are not scientifically classified as shells, the rules apply to them, too. The exceptions to the rule are oysters, hard clams, sunray venus clams and coquinas, the tiny, colorful, clam-like animals for which Coquina Beach is named.

• A Florida recreational saltwater fishing license (resident or non-resident, whichever is applicable) is required in order to harvest a seashell containing a living organism.

• Selling seashells by the seashore, or anywhere else for that matter, requires a valid commercial saltwater products license if the shells contain living organisms.

• All harvest is prohibited of live rock, Bahama starfish (Oreaster reticulatis), longspine urchin (Diadema antillarum), Venus sea fan (Gorgonia flabellum), common sea fan (Gorgonia ventalina), any hard or stony coral (Order Scleractinia), fire coral (Genus Millepora) or live queen conch (Strombus gigas). Possession of queen conch shells is permitted if the shells do not contain any living queen conch at the time of collection.

• More stringent rules may apply in certain state or federal parks, national wildlife refuges and portions of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.


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