Vol 7 No. 19 - January 31, 2007


Agreement close on LBK trolley extension

RoseBay to sell GSR properties

New bridge schedule begins Feb. 21

End is near for mystery boat

Tax relief next on agenda

FISH seeks to land property

Roser Cottage OK to become real estate office

Other rates ordered lower




Agreement close on LBK trolley extension

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus that now comes as far north as the Coquina Beach turnaround is a new sight to the Island, but it may soon be replaced by a sight that will be new to Sarasota County.

According to Manatee County Community Affairs Director Fred Loveland, the transit agencies of both counties have agreed on a formula to finance an extension of the trolleys south to Sarasota and are under the gun to proceed with a grant application.

"There is a state grant available for $370,000 and they have until Feb. 15 to apply," he said. "SCAT officials are going to their county commission (this) week to ask if they want to apply for the grant and MCAT (Manatee County Area Transit) officials will do the same with their county commission. If both commissions agree, they will go ahead with the application."

The transit agencies reportedly agreed on a formula for financing the extended service, estimated to cost $1,270,000. The grant would pay $370,000 of that and Loveland said Manatee County would pay 38 percent of the rest with Sarasota picking up the remainder.

"It will run 30-minute headway from Coquina to Lemon Avenue (in Sarasota) with service to Bay Isles and City Isle (on Longboat Key)," he said. "There would be three trolleys in service at any time."

Loveland said if the county commissions approve the extension, the grant would be available for three years.

Both transit agencies have been talking about extending the service for two years, since Longboat Key elected officials told members of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency that their constituents expressed a desire to have trolley service. That’s a turnaround from 14 years ago when former Longboat Key Councilman Ray Metz was pulled from a committee asking for trolley service because the Longboat Key Commission decided it did not want the service on the island. After Metz, the committee’s chairman, left, former Holmes Beach City Commissioner Carol Whitmore assumed the chairmanship. She took a proposal to the Manatee County Commission, which rejected it unless the three Island cities paid a share. The trolley issue died, but a private service began operating. It lasted a few years until it lost sponsorship.

Five years ago, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash brought it back and after MCAT worked out a financing proposal, the county got grants to purchase the trolleys and operated them from its budget. It has been termed a huge success with an average daily ridership of around 1,000.

RoseBay to sell GSR properties

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – RoseBay Real Estate is opening a new Island office this week to handle sales of properties owned by GSR Development LLC, AMI Development LLC, and their principals.

The new branch at 5508 Marina Drive in the Nica Rose bead shop is staffed by three sales associates, said Lynn Parker, broker for RoseBay’s Manatee office, who will manage the Island office. Hours will be Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A Tampa bankruptcy court approved RoseBay last week as the exclusive sales broker for 11 Anna Maria Island properties that the court values at nearly $9.3 million, whose proceeds are slated to repay creditors. GSR, AMI and their principals, Robert Byrne and Steven Noriega, owe more than 20 creditors more than $30 million, according to court records.

GSR’s other Island properties, the vacant Rosa del Mar property in Bradenton Beach and nearly-vacant Villa Rosa in Anna Maria Island, are being marketed separately under the supervision of William Maloney, GSR’s chief restructuring manager in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding, she said.

The court has set "buy it now" prices for the properties, but lower offers will be accepted as sealed bids, Parker said, adding that Maloney will open the bids on March 15 and negotiate sales subject to court approval.

Parker said that the properties, which range from $499,000 to nearly $1.5 million, are good values if Island real estate prices increase even modestly each year.

"It will be driven by the market," she said, adding if they do not sell by March 15, the court will consider another marketing plan.

RoseBay will 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 court.

Founded in 1983, RoseBay has 65 realtors in three offices in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

New bridge schedule begins Feb. 21

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

At long last, the change to half-hour openings for the three Island bridges is set to begin on Wednesday, Feb. 21, announced Mike Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency last week.

The bridges will open for boats every half-hour instead of every 20 minutes between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. from now until May 15. After May 15, the bridge schedule will revert to 20-minute openings. After this year, the half-hour schedule will be in place every year between Jan. 15 and May 15.

Boaters can receive notice of the change on line, Michael Lieberum, Coast Guard spokesman said. The information can be accessed at www.navcen.uscg.gov. Once there, click on Local Notice to Mariners on the left side and then click on the Seventh Coast Guard District on the map.

The process has taken two years to complete. In 2004 the Island mayors began lobbying for the rule change. After going through the process with publication in the Federal Register and a public meeting for comment in April, the Coast Guard agreed to the change for five months each year.

However, in November, officials learned that the proposed rule change was different than the notice of proposed rule change that led to the public hearing. Coast Guard officials said this necessitated a new notice of proposed rule change prior to publication of a final rule.

That process began in November and the rule was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 21. The process is complete 30 days after the publication, or Feb. 21.

End is near for mystery boat

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – The orphaned riverboat that sits on the shallow bottom of Sarasota Bay off Cortez will be dismantled and hauled to the county landfill this week, unless Cortez historians can act fast to save it.

In its prime, the Henry M. Flagler was powered by paddlewheels on both sides and carried passengers who sat on barstools once owned by Chicago mobster "Machine Gun" Kelly. Built from antique wood, it served as a houseboat until it was abandoned to the elements and left to rust and decay.

It’s sad to see the once-grand vessel meet such a fate, especially within sight of the historic fishing village of Cortez, which loves nothing better than to preserve maritime artifacts.

But it seems that one arm of the county – the clerk’s office, in charge of historic preservation – didn’t know what another arm of the county – the conservation lands management department – was planning, until the latter sent a press release to The Sun.

Roger Allen, site coordinator for the Florida Maritime Museum, a cooperative venture of the county clerk’s office and the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, was surprised to hear of the demolition plans on Friday, and immediately began investigating.

The Manatee County Conservation Lands Management team says the 30-by-60-foot vessel, whose metal hull is dangerously rusted, is a hazard to navigation and is killing seagrass beds every time it shifts on the shallow bottom. But they weren’t able to find the owner to force him to remove it.

They’re not the only ones. Other agencies have tried and failed to tackle the mystery of the Flagler’s ownership, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Sun discovered in 2004 that local mariner Bob Pillsbury once owned the riverboat and traced sales to "Cowboy" of Cowboy’s Party Bus and Limos on Anna Maria Island, who told The Sun that he had sold it in 2002 to someone who worked for John Deere.

And the trail ended there.

Even the clues on a sign posted on the boat didn’t help:

The Henry M. Flagler was built in 1977 primarily from antique woods and fittings from Northern Florida. Three Flagler Beach artists purchased the steel hull from a sightseeing company and commenced construction. Among elements are external tongue and groove siding, front doors, internal ceilings and floors and a medicine cabinet, all from the Glenwood Hospital, razed from its 100-year-old site in Palatka, Florida; sliding doors and four barstools from the Ortega, Florida home of Chicago’s "Machine Gun" Kelly, and various doors, windows and hardware from buildings in and around Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. Today it serves as the administrative offices for Brandy Marine of Sarasota Inc., the marine concession at the Harbourside Moorings.

Harbourside Moorings is now Longboat Key Moorings, but no one there seems to know anything about the boat’s ownership, either.

Why all the fuss about the owner?

Because without one, we taxpayers have to pay $26,000 for the boat’s removal.

While other agencies have no funds to remove derelict vessels, Manatee County does, under its Lost and Abandoned Vessels ordinance.

And while it’s good news that one of the many agencies involved is finally moving the Flagler off the seagrass beds, it’s sad news that no one called the cavalry of Cortez maritime preservationists until the eleventh hour.



Tax relief next on agenda

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

With the ink still wet on the new property insurance reform law, Gov. Charlie Crist already is working on his next agenda item - support of a statewide special election later this year on property taxes.

Crist announced last week that he supports the Legislature’s plan to put a constitutional amendment before voters to double the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 and make the Save Our Homes annual 3 percent tax limit portable. Both issues were key components of his gubernatorial campaign.

In addition to expanding the laws to benefit homeowners, new statewide property tax legislation could extend those protections to non-homesteaded homeowners, landlords and business owners.

Legislators plan to begin drafting tax legislation after getting citizen input from eight town hall meetings in January and February. The Tampa Bay hearing is scheduled on Feb. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. Comments are also accepted at the property tax section of the Florida Senate's website, www.flsenate.gov.

Manatee County commissioners passed a local tax relief bill last fall aimed at helping tourist accommodations owners. It allows owners of certain properties, including public lodging establishments on Anna Maria Island and the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key, to defer paying the county portion of their property taxes until they sell their property or change its use.

Critics, including Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr., said the new law offers only limited assistance for a limited number of taxpayers.

FISH seeks to land property

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage is seeking to land a piece of property that will help make its FISH Preserve complete.

The FISH board voted last week to begin negotiations to buy the property at 4435 114th St. W., the last interior parcel in the preserve that the not-for-profit preservation group does not own.

FISH has been acquiring property for the 95-acre preserve for several years using proceeds from its main fundraiser, the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, which will host its 25th "silver mullet" anniversary festival the weekend of Feb. 17-18. So far, it has spent about $530,000 on land purchases, according to Roger Allen, site coordinator for the Florida Maritime Museum, located on the western edge of the preserve.

Owner Iris LeMasters is listed on the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office website as having purchased the half-acre property in 1997 for $3,000. The appraised value is listed as $22,620. The parcel was advertised for sale during the 2005 real estate boom at $1.2 million.

Duncan Real Estate advertised the lot as follows: Build your Florida dream home on this one-of-a-kind, half-acre bayfront lot completely surrounded by preserve.

But according to Allen, the dream is not likely to come true. The property has no road, water, sewer, electric or cable lines leading to it, which could cost a half million dollars to build, he said.

In addition, because of the land’s low elevation, most of the property would likely be required to be a retention pond, leaving little room for a home, he said, adding that the property owner has no access to Sarasota Bay, since the preserve’s bay frontage is lined with a protected mangrove fringe.

FISH is clearing non-native vegetation on the preserve and installing walkways to make the park more accessible to the public.

The preserve is the largest project of the group, established in 1991 to acquire a museum site in Cortez. The FISH mission also includes collecting, researching, interpreting and conserving the historic resources of Florida commercial fisheries and the material culture and folklife of traditional fishing communities, and enhancing public awareness and support for the protection of Florida’s marine resources and the fisheries industry.


Roser Cottage OK to become real estate office

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — With a unanimous vote, the city commission gave the go ahead to turn Roser Cottage into a real estate office.

"I’m so relieved," said Barbara Sato, who plans to open the office. "I’ve never seen so many people rush forward to try to help me. Everyone in the city administration has just been so helpful, especially the new mayor and Diane Sacca in the building department.”

The cottage, located at 519 Pine Ave., is the oldest existing house on the Island. Jake Martin purchased it last fall. Barbara Sato was set to open Sato Real Estate there, when she discovered that she would have to go through a months-long major site plan process. The development plan was required because of a change in use from residential to office.

A major site plan review is a lengthy and expensive process. The Island Community Center and The Sandbar restaurant plans were held up for months going through the hoops required to gain approval to begin construction. Those were major construction projects.

Roser Cottage is in the ROR (residential/office/retail) district, and all Sato needed to do to the property physically was to add a handicapped access ramp and a handicapped parking space. But because of an oversight in drafting the site plan ordinance, the project had to jump through all the hoops required of a major construction project.

In record time, the city led Sato and her project through the complicated steps required to clear the preliminary and final site plan approval process.

On Jan. 22, the planning and zoning board gave unanimous approval to the preliminary site plan.

On Jan. 24, the city commission approved the preliminary and final site plans and granted a variance to allow the handicapped access ramp to intrude 2.9 feet into the setback.

"This construction is consistent with your comprehensive plan which encourages the city to support adaptive re-use of buildings like this," Scott Rudicille, Sato’s attorney, said to commissioners.

Sato said as soon as her building permit is approved, she expects the actual construction to just take a day.

The city is working to make changes to the site plan ordinance so that people embarking on minor projects, such as the one at Roser Cottage, don’t have to spend the time and money to make a few changes.



Other rates ordered lower

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Some customers of Florida Peninsula Insurance Company are entitled to rebate checks or credits toward future premiums, according to the Florida Insurance Commission.

Commissioner Kevin McCarty ordered the company to reduce its rates because it began imposing higher rates prior to obtaining approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation for its April, 2006 rate increase request. The request would have raised Peninsula’s rates statewide by an average of 91 percent, effectively doubling its policyholders’ current rates, according to the Florida Insurance Commission.

Florida Peninsula offers wind-only property insurance policies that originally were written by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

"I am ordering Florida Peninsula to reduce its rates to no more than 25 percent above Citizens rates," McCarty said in the order. "The dramatic price hikes in the global reinsurance markets have hit Floridians very hard, but to expect policyholders to shoulder this type of an increase is unsustainable."

Florida Peninsula must pay policyholders the difference, if any, between the amount paid by each policyholder since June 15, 2006, and the rate mandated by the order, plus interest, on the policy renewal date. The payments can consist of a credit toward the renewal premium for any policyholder whose policy renewed after Oct. 11, 2006, but for policyholders who cancel or fail to renew their policy after that date, the refund must be made by check.

McCarty also issued an order allowing all Floridians who were being charged unapproved rates, including Florida Peninsula policyholders, to seek coverage from Citizens. Under the order, any Florida Peninsula customers who pursued this option between Oct. 11 and 31 may reinstate their coverage with Florida Peninsula.


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