Vol 7 No. 38 - June 20, 2007

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper GSR hit with $3 million lawsuit

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Easterling bought out of Tidemark

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper County asks state to lower bridge speed limit

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Tax reform law offers some choice

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Outdoor fest returns this weekend

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Tourist council sinks offshore race request

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Ruling favors city in Nally lawsuit

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper County approves new beach and parks ordinance




GSR hit with $3 million lawsuit

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

A $3 million claim has been filed in Tampa bankruptcy court against GSR Development’s principals Robert Byrne and Steven Noriega, along with their former law firm.

The official committee of general unsecured creditors has accused Byrne and Noriega, along with the former law firm of Filcoff and Hunt, formerly known as The Real Estate Law Firm, and its principals Derek Filcoff, Christopher Hunt and Thomas Coelho, with criminal usury, fraudulent inducement, civil conspiracy, intentionally fraudulent transfers, constructively fraudulent transfers, breach of fiduciary duty and professional negligence.

A month into GSR’s 60-day deadline to sell the Villa Rosa property in Anna Maria, the Tampa law firm of Gray Robinson filed the 44-page complaint with hundreds of pages of attached exhibits, detailing a long list of both intentional and negligent mistakes in GSR’s handling of Villa Rosa.

The complaint blames the defendants for letting the opportunity slip away to realize a return on the sale of Villa Rosa, which it states had a value of between $8,400,000 and $10,000,000 in 2005-06.

Instead, the committee claims, Byrne and Noriega used the former law firm of Filcoff and Hunt to make a $6,500,000 loan against the property, heavily encumbering the property.

When the loan looked as though it would fall through, Filcoff and Hunt advised Byrne and Noriega to seek financing from Illinois attorney Randall R. Bono of Bon Eau Enterprises, the complaint continues.

The committee claims that the lawyers should have disclosed a potential conflict of interest to GSR – that Filcoff is the son of a long-time friend of Bono, who was appointed to replace Filcoff’s father when he left the bench.
It also claims that Filcoff and Hunt were negligent in introducing Coelho to Byrne and Noriega as a licensed attorney. Bono later discovered that Coelho was a felon with a history of fraud and an outstanding warrant for his arrest, causing Bono to terminate his involvement with GSR, according to the complaint.

In addition, the complaint accuses the lawyers and Bono of improperly trying to "bankruptcy proof" the Bon Eau Enterprises loan, giving Bono the ability to foreclose on Villa Rosa if GSR filed for bankruptcy.

GSR’s Tampa attorney, Richard Prosser, did not return a call seeking comment.

Easterling bought out of Tidemark

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Nick Easterling, who introduced the Tidemark project to Holmes Beach in 2001, has been bought out by Reliance Realty Partners, Lance McNeill, of Reliance, announced last week.

"We always wanted him to have a part of it because he created it, but he approached us," McNeill explained. "He had other opportunities in North Carolina — real estate projects that he is pursuing. He made an offer that was beneficial for him and us."

The city commission approved Easterling’s plans for the project in June 2001, but the project hit a snag when Easterling filed for bankruptcy in 2004. The following year, Reliance joined the project and the bankruptcy was resolved.

In 2006, Reliance brought in the Beach Inn as the beach component to complement Tidemark and began moving ahead with plans for the joint project. Its most recent addition is a fleet of club boats.

"We will have a fleet of boats that the owners can use at no cost," McNeill explained, "We’ll probably have 25 to 30 boats that are part of the membership club. We want to have enough so they are always available to those that want them."

There will be a variety of types of boats for owners to choose from, and the first one the company has purchased is a 24-foot Everglades. It is located at Captain’s Marina until Tidemark’s docks are completed.

"The docks are going in now," McNeill said. "The front section should be done by next week and the back row in two to three weeks. They will be totally completed in 30 days."

Local fishing guide Justin Moore will manage the guide program. Moore and five other guides will move into the basin as soon as the 62 docks are completed and will also be part of the project’s reservation system.

After the July 4 holiday week, the company plans to begin renovating the Beach Inn at Gulf Drive and 66th Street. There will be 17 units in three buildings. Construction on the Tidemark project is slated to begin later this summer.

"We’re in pre-sales now," McNeill said. "We have a new marketing company, DCP International, which has 32 successful fractional projects."

All units in both projects will be sold as fractional ownership, a form of real estate in which the buyer purchases a fraction of ownership.

"We have re-worked our use plan," McNeill explained. "It’s a simple flexible program. It’s all designed for the owner to use as a second home."

Other plans include a new Web site this week and a mailing to names on the founder’s list.

County asks state to lower bridge speed limit

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Manatee County commissioners have asked the state to lower the speed limit on the Anna Maria Island Bridge following two fatal accidents in two years.

At the request of the commission, the county has sent a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation to look into lowering the 50 mph speed limit. They did not specify a lower limit, leaving it up to the state.

Although alcohol was ruled a factor in both accidents, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore felt that the speed limit is too high for the 50-year-old drawbridge. She said the state tried to replace the bridge with a tall, fixed span more than a dozen years ago, but the Island residents opposed that and settled for a rehabilitation of the old structure. She said after the second accident on May 13, in which one person was killed when the vehicle he was riding in went over the side into the bay, that she would seek a lower speed limit.

The driver of the May 13 accident, Gregorio Lopez-Chavarria, faces charges of vehicular manslaughter after testing for alcohol at .29. The legal limit is .08. Eudiel Gonzales-Otiz, 21, of Wimauma, was riding in the back seat of the Ford Expedition when it landed in the bay and a coroner’s report indicated he drowned. A second passenger, Florentino Gonzalez-Doran, tested for alcohol at .32.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Lopez-Chavarria was doing about 65 mph when the accident occurred.

On April 20, 2006, a Toyota sport utility vehicle being driven by Zane Zavadil went over the side of the bridge and into the water. Bradenton Beach Police officer Charles Sloan and Holmes Beach officer Mike Pilato pulled Zavadil and his passenger, Ryan Costello, out of the vehicle and onto shore, but Zavadil died at the scene. Costello is still trying to recover from the accident. It was determined by authorities that Zavadil had been drinking.

Following the accident last month, an FDOT spokesman said the department did not consider the bridge unsafe and would not install safety lane or stronger guardrails when it performs a rehabilitation of the mechanical and electronic mechanisms on the bridge within the next year or so. He said that alcohol played a factor in the last the two fatal accidents on the bridge and any safety improvements would likely not have been a factor in preventing the deaths.


Tax reform law offers some choice

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

A two-part property tax reform law passed last week by the Florida Legislature contains both immediate, statutory tax reductions and potential cuts that will be decided by Florida voters in a constitutional amendment referendum in January.

Calling it the largest tax cut in Florida's history, lawmakers voted for immediate relief that will provide a 7 percent tax cut, which will show up on the average property owner’s November tax bill, plus a future cap on the growth of local government spending.

The law also includes a provision to place an alternative to the Save Our Homes amendment on the Jan. 29, 2008, ballot, which would require 60 percent voter approval. The provision also would affect low-income senior citizen exemptions, working waterfront assessments, affordable housing assessments and tangible personal property taxes.

"It could have been a lot worse," Holmes Beach Treasurer Rick Ashley said. "We were expecting to come in with a rollback budget. Now we have to reduce it an additional 9 percent of the property tax revenue.

“The real question is if the referendum passes, what will happen? This year, at least we know where we’re headed."

Immediate relief

The new law put to rest a controversial proposal to eliminate property taxes on homesteaded homes and recover the revenue by raising the sales tax.

Instead, all cities and counties will be required to roll back taxes in the upcoming 2007-2008 fiscal year to 2006-2007 revenue levels.

Local governments that spent more than average over the past five years compared to other municipalities will then be required to make additional cuts of between 3 and 9 percent. Financially distressed cities and counties and special taxing districts will be limited to additional cuts of 3 percent.

Manatee County is in the 9 percent range, according to Legislative estimates.

The rollback does not apply to property taxes assessed by school districts.

The law also mandates a tax cap on future property tax revenues based on the rates of personal income growth and new construction.

The law allows local governments to override the cut and the cap with a two-thirds vote or a unanimous vote, depending on the amount of the override. Some overrides would require voter approval.

Municipalities can also choose to provide more relief that the state tax law.

Potential future relief

Under the new law, voters will decide on future relief in January, when a constitutional amendment will be placed on the ballot to replace the 1992 Save Our Homes constitutional amendment with a new plan.

Save Our Homes provides a $25,000 exemption for homesteaded property, and caps increases in the taxable value of a home at 3 percent.

The new "super exemption" plan would exempt 75 percent of the first $200,000 of a home's taxable value from taxes, with a minimum exemption of $50,000. Values between $200,000 and $500,000 would be reduced by an additional 15 percent exemption. Homes valued at $500,000 or more would get maximum exemptions of $195,000.

Low-income seniors would be guaranteed a minimum exemption of $100,000 instead of the current $50,000.

The new amendment also would allow the Legislature to assess working waterfront properties – defined as land used exclusively for commercial fishing purposes, land open to the public that is used predominantly for water-dependent activities, or land used for public access to the water – and affordable housing properties at less than fair market value.

The Legislature also would be allowed to grant small business owners a minimum exemption of $25,000 on tangible personal property.

Lawmakers acknowledge that the super exemption plan would mean a reduction in school funding, which is predicted to create voter opposition.

But if the plan passes, homesteaded property owners will have to decide whether to take the new exemption or keep the Save Our Homes exemption.

Property owners who receive more tax benefits under the Save Our Homes exemption would be allowed to keep them, but then would not be allowed to take advantage of the new plan until they buy a new homesteaded property.

Homebuyers who purchase on or after Jan. 1, 2008, would not have the option of taking the Save Our Homes exemption. Save Our Homes would eventually vanish as homeowners buy new homes or die.

If the constitutional amendment passes, the Legislature estimates the average savings for a homesteaded property owner, including the statutory cuts, will be $1,300 in 2008-2009.


Outdoor fest returns this weekend

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – It’s a celebration of everything we love about Manatee County in the summer, and it’s bigger and better at Coquina Park Bayside following a successful initial run.

The Florida Gulf Coast Outdoor Festival is back on Saturday, June 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Last year’s festival was a hit with those who enjoy the outdoors, whether on the land or in the water. Many people got their first opportunity to take a kayak around the bay waters and many were exposed to other outdoor activities as well as environmental and ecological groups and movements.

This year’s festival features kayak seminars and clinics for beginners. Learn the right type of kayak for your body size and type and how to pack for a kayak camping trip. Those who have never tried kayaking will be given a chance free of charge in the bay waters. New this year is a kayak fashion show featuring clothes and gear.

Vendors range from outdoor equipment and destinations to local cuisine and arts and crafts. There will be a range of live music from Manatee County’s huge portable stage. Environmental groups with booths include Mote Marine Aquarium, Island Turtle Watch, the South Florida Museum, the Bradenton Beach Waterfronts Florida WAVES Committee and Around the Bend Nature Tours.

The Gulf Coast Outdoor Festival is organized by the Florida Gulf Coast sports Commission, Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City of Bradenton Beach.

For more information on the Florida Gulf Coast Outdoor Festival, visit www.fgcsc.com.


Tourist council sinks offshore race request

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The Manatee County Tourist Development Council declined a request on Monday for $10,000 in tourism funds to promote the Offshore Super Boat Race Series on June 8, 2008, off Bradenton Beach.

Council members cited concerns about traffic gridlock, timing and whether tourism funds should be tapped for the race.

"I think it’s a great concept, but I’m not so sure you should start with government," TDC Chairman Joe McClash said, recommending that the Florida Gulf Coast Sports Commission approach private contributors first and also obtain approval from the three Anna Maria Island cities.

The event would require blocking traffic near Coquina Beach to offload race boats to their floating berths off the new Bradenton Beach pier. The boats would leave for the Gulf of Mexico through Longboat Pass for the race, which consists of a six-mile straightaway with 13 laps per boat class just off Bradenton Beach.

Since Gulf Drive is the only road on and off the Island, mass transportation would have to be provided from the mainland, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Larry White said.

Commissioners also said that June is already a crowded month on the Island, and suggested a date later in the summer, preferably in September.
A total of $95,000 would be required for insurance, security, medical and safety support, cranes for offloading boats, helicopters, hotel rooms and vehicles for staff and other expenses, according to Joe Pickett, President of the Florida Gulf Coast Sports Commission, who requested the $10,000 in tourism funds as a deposit on booking the event.

Negotiations are in progress with a national cable sports television network to cover the race.

In other business, the council approved $16,000 in tourism funds for travel expenses for several tourism representatives from Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S. to attend Jazz on the Islands during August.

The month-long event will feature live jazz musicians playing in restaurants and bars on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, as well as other venues in Manatee County, including Sarasota International Airport and the Manatee County beach trolleys.

$2,000 was approved for a German radio disc jockey to broadcast live from Anna Maria Island for a week during the event.

The headliner for a concert on Aug. 10 at the Crosley Estate will be German smooth jazz artist Nils. Plans are in the works to provide a water taxi from the Island to the Crosley for the event.



Ruling favors city in Nally lawsuit

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — The city acted properly in granting The Sandbar restaurant a site plan to expand and remodel.

Circuit Court Judge Paul Logan ruled June 14 that the city had followed all the rules in granting WELD Corporation a preliminary and final site plan to renovate it’s restaurant on the beach in the Island’s northernmost city.

"I was so pleased with the ruling," said Mayor Fran Barford. "I’ve always felt that the city was on solid ground with this. It’s great to have that confirmed."

William and Barbara Nally who own property in the city’s commercial zone adjacent to the Sandbar property, brought the suit. In their lawsuit, the Nally’s claimed that the city had acted improperly in approving the restaurant’s plans, which included ADA-approved restroom facilities, ADA-approved parking and a public walkway through the middle of the parking area.

The plan also allowed the construction of a permanent pavilion on the property where special events and weddings are held. The pavilion construction includes special sound baffles that help keep the noise of the events on the Sandbar property.

The Nallys have another case pending against the city in Circuit Court. This one charges that the city violated its own special events ordinance in granting the Sandbar numerous permits to hold weddings in temporary tents on the restaurant property.

The Sandbar is part of a local wedding consortium that is advertising Island weddings in other areas of the state and country. The Sandbar has held over 100 weddings and/or receptions in temporary tents so far this year. That is in addition to the events that are held in the new pavilion.

The Nallys charge that the weddings are not special events because they happen with too much frequency.

The city actually agrees with the Nallys on that point and after several discussions among commissioners has decided to ask the Sandbar to amend its site plan to show the temporary tents as part of its general operations. As part of that amendment, the restaurant will have to show that it can provide adequate parking for the additional patrons events in the tents will bring to the site.

"Judge Logan seemed ready to rule on that one, too," City Attorney Jim Dye told commissioners at their June 14 work session. "But he had to declare the same potential conflict, which is that he goes to the same church as one of the managers or assistant managers at the Sandbar."

City commissioners said they had no problem with Judge Logan’s association with the restaurant in the earlier case and they had no conflict with his association with the special events case.

No date has been set for the ruling on the special events lawsuit as yet.


County approves new beach and parks ordinance

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The Manatee County Commission has approved changes to the beach and parks ordinance last week that will give police more control over situation that have led to gang violence in the past.

The new parks and beach ordinance contains two items that were crucial to what Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale wanted. One prevents people from remaining indefinitely in a parking lot, either inside or outside a vehicle after the vehicle has been parked or loaded for departure.

The other bans leaving unattended pets in, on or under a parked vehicle in the lot.

According to police, one reason gangs comes to the beaches is to hang out in the parking lot, showing their colors and sometimes taunting members of other gangs. Police are also concerned about some gang members who tie their dogs to their tricked-out cars to keep people away from them.

"It’s a great ordinance and one that will help us," Speciale said after the commission vote.

The Manatee County sheriff’s Office and Parks and Recreation Department has been working on reconfiguring the parking lot along with Bradenton Beach Police to give them more control over crowds, especially during high-traffic weekends and holidays. Parks and Recreation Department Planner Mike Sosadeeter presented a plan to the city’s Scenic Highway and WAVES committees and both groups approved it.

After a Easter Sunday shooting that left three people wounded, plans to implement the reconfiguration went into high gear and the project has been underway for about a month. Wooden bollards and concrete parking stops have been utilized to make the huge parking area into five lots, each one gated and connected to the others via a single road. The purposes of the reconfiguration include making the parking facilities inconvenient to the gang members who would hang out there and give police authority to close down parts of the lot to maintain control.

The new ordinance gives authorities the right to close down any part or the park and parking lot.

The Bradenton Beach Police Department patrols the county’s two beaches in the city, Coquina and Cortez Beaches. Through an interlocal agreement, the county pays the city to help defray the cost of patrolling the beach, and mutual aid agreements with other cities and county help boost the police presence during times of crisis or high-volume weekends and holidays.


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