Vol 7 No. 49 - August 29, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Drainage meeting gets rowdy

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Sex shop on Island possible

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Coquina to get holiday parking patrols

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Sister Keys mitigation begins

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Jewfish Key civil charges filed

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Compromises sought on beachfront weddings

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Tax dilemma could be averted

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Coach returns after Midwest hoops job




Drainage meeting gets rowdy

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — A neighborhood meeting called to provide information on a large drainage project and seek input from people in the affected area rapidly turned chaotic as people interrupted each other and asked one question after another without waiting for an answer.

The scene was the commission chambers at city hall on Aug. 23. The city engineer, Tom Wilcox of HDR, Public Works Director George McKay and City Commissioner Dale Woodland had called the second of a series of meetings to seek input on the plans for what they call the Phase I drainage project. There were two people at the first meeting July 10.

The chamber was packed at the second meeting, primarily by people who live on Hardin Avenue. They don’t want any part of the project.

"Swfwmd said a decade ago that you should not do anything further until we can maintain what we have," said resident and former City Commissioner Jay Hill. "The commission has not exercised its oversight whatever. I object to doing anything further until the city can find the right people to maintain what we have."

Hill expressed concerns that if the project is completed, there will be saltwater incursion onto his property at high tide.

"We don’t need it; we don’t want it," Rafe Sackett said. "Why should we do it? Why are you trying to fix something that’s not broken? Why now?"

"If Hardin Avenue doesn’t flood now, why should we have it?" asked Jeanie Murray.

Lost in the discussion were the words of Wilcox as he attempted to explain the purpose of the drainage project, how it would work and what it would accomplish.

The Phase I project design is quite similar to the one that is working successfully in the Gladiolus/North Shore basin that was completed a year ago, Wilcox attempted to explain with several people in the audience talking over him.

At that point, a sheriff’s deputy came into the chambers to quiet loud residents.

Wilcox tried again to explain that the project would not prevent all flooding, but that it would help drain stormwater a little faster and that it would clean up the water running off the streets and properties in Anna Maria before discharging it into the canals and bay.

"There has been some structural flooding in this basin and bad water quality," Wilcox said.

Resident Wayne Lewin urged Wilcox and the city to maintain what they have before attempting a new project.

One property owner attempted to be heard repeatedly without a great deal of success.

"My property floods badly," said Desiree DiSalvo. "The water comes right up to my house. We need this."

"Then fix the places it floods and leave the rest of us alone," said resident Janet Hill.

Wilcox explained that runoff from all properties contributes to the flooding in the entire basin, which runs roughly from just north of Pine Avenue to just south of Willow and Palm. The basin contains property from South Bay Boulevard to just west of Gulf Drive.

The city, Swfwmd and the state will jointly fund the $270,000 project, which the city has been discussing in open meetings for three or four years.

"It’s not cast in stone," said Woodland, who has worked on securing the grant. "That’s why we are having these neighborhood meetings – to secure input before finalizing the plans."

Opposition was loud and strong to the Hardin Avenue portion of the project, which would involve about 100 feet of underground pipe that would discharge cleaned stormwater runoff into a canal.

Residents of that street demanded to be left out of the project.

After the meeting, Wilcox said that could be done.

"We have to study what the overall impact on the project would be," he said. "Whenever you decrease the number of outfalls, you decrease the effectiveness of the project, but we’ll look at it."

Mayor Fran Barford agreed that the city would take a look at the entire project.

"We’ll take a look at it," she said. "Nothing is cast in stone."

Barford expressed disappointment with the way the meeting went.

"Bottom line, it was abusive, the way some citizens spoke at the meting," she said. "This was not necessary at a city meeting. They may have had some points to make, and we want to hear from them. We’re taking a look at what they’ve said. But things don’t need to come to the point they did here. This was just abusive and disruptive. People who wanted to hear what the engineer was saying were prevented from hearing."

Barford said the tone of this meeting is not something that will happen again in the city.

"We’ll let law enforcement handle it," she said. "They know how to deal with this kind of thing. They can remove those individuals who are abusive or we can just close the meeting, have everybody leave the building and lock up city hall."

Barford said she doesn’t expect this sort of thing to happen again.

"I heard from several people who felt they didn’t get a chance to be heard, who didn’t get to learn about the project," she said.

The next neighborhood meeting to discuss the Phase I stormwater drainage project is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Anna Maria City Hall.

People who want to learn more about the scope of the project can log onto the city’s website at cityofannamaria.com. The project is highlighted on the homepage.

Sex shop on Island possible

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – There could be one location in the city where a sexually oriented adult business could legally operate, according to a memo from the city’s planning consultant. City commissioners will discuss that memo from planning consultant Bill Brisson regarding regulating adult businesses at the Aug. 28 work session.

The memo is the result of an inquiry in July from a company that wants to rent an office to film sexual activities and put them on the Internet. The city attorney said the city cannot prohibit adult-oriented businesses, but can regulate them.

"According to the city attorney’s office, based on the population of the city, it would appear that the city’s regulation of sexually-oriented adult-use establishments would be so constructed as to result in their being at least one location within the city where the use would be permissible," Brisson said in his memo.

He said that location is in the C-3 district on the west side of East Bay Drive, either in the immediate vicinity of Publix or within the shopping center to the south, up to but not including the southernmost part of the center within 500 feet of the R-1 zoned lot behind Mike Norman’s real estate office.

"Importantly, the attorneys have stated that locations where such a use is permissible need not be vacant and the owner of the land or building need not be disposed to allow an adult use on his/her property," Brisson said.

A common requirement is that it could not be located within 1,000 feet of residential zoning, churches, schools, libraries, parks and other adult uses. However, state statute prohibits the location of an adult use within 2,500 feet of a school.

Coquina to get holiday parking patrols

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said that his city would have extra patrols and Manatee County would send more sheriff’s deputies to patrol the public beaches in the city limits during the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1 to 3.

Speciale said this would be the first weekend holiday since the county reconfigured the parking lot at Coquina Beach into several smaller ones with no space for cruising. The county did that project after a gang-related shooting on Easter this year.

Speciale said he is confident the new configuration would discourage gangs who like to cruise and taunt each other. Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department staff came up with the plan after consulting with county and city law enforcement authorities over the past year. The Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway committee was active in getting the project into the planning stage.


Sister Keys mitigation begins

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

LONGBOAT KEY – Non-native trees are being removed from the Sister Keys in Sarasota Bay as a tradeoff for environmental damage anticipated when Perico Harbor Marina in Bradenton is expanded.

Paradise Pointe LLC, a subsidiary of Jacksonville-based developer The St. Joe Co., began last week to remove Australian pines, Brazilian peppers and other non-native species from the uninhabited keys preserve, said Juan Florensa, public works director for the town of Longboat Key, which owns the keys.

Paradise Pointe is paying for the $1 million, 88-acre mitigation project, which will include native tree plantings of gumbo limbo, slash pine and others and the creation of a two-acre wetland, Florensa said.

Brazilian peppers are choking out young mangroves that are sprouting along the water’s edge, and their removal will give the mangroves a chance to grow, he said.

Australian pines are being removed because of a gopher tortoise colony that lives on the northernmost key.

"Nothing grows under Australian pines, and they are not good foraging material for gopher tortoises," Florensa said.

"So they’re getting this right from the tortoise’s mouth?" asked Marsha Lindsey, of the Anna Maria Island-based group Stop Taking Our Pines (STOP), adding that tortoises live under pines on Anna Maria Island.

"We’ve all seen things growing beneath them. All I can say is their credibility is in question," she said. "This is the first time I’ve heard that gopher tortoises are a reason to exterminate oxygen-producing, mature, healthy trees on public land."

"I’m feeling a bit desperate that they’re going ahead despite public opinion," said Susan Hatch, also of STOP. "They use any excuse to take out these trees. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Why are gumbo limbos more beautiful than what’s already there?"

The mitigation project was required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in exchange for a permit issued on July 6 allowing Paradise Pointe to expand the Perico Harbor Marina. Plans include dredging 46,000 cubic yards of uplands, 15,300 cubic yards of channel maintenance dredging and 1,200 cubic yards of new channel dredging, DEP spokeswoman Pamela Vasquez said.

Environmental damage anticipated at the marina includes "permanent impacts" to .18 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation, primarily seagrass, .65 acres of mangroves and .03 acres of oyster beds, she said.

Destroying non-native plants on the Sister Keys in exchange for destroying seagrass, mangroves and oysters at Perico is not a fair trade, said Joan Perry, board member of environmental group ManaSota-88.

"I view that as unequal mitigation," she said. "Mitigation is if you rip out four acres of seagrass, you plant four acres of seagrass. If you rip out one of the very few oyster beds in the bay, you make another one."

The Sister Keys mitigation plan does not offset impacts from previous development on the stalled Seven Shores property east of Perico Harbor Marina, Vasquez said.

Hatch called it ironic that a sign recently posted at Seven Shores says Perico Preserved.

"They’ve raped the land and taken the trees down and put a drainage lake in," she said.

Hatch likened the Sister Keys mitigation plan to the removal of Australian pines earlier this month from the Palma Sola Causeway.

"They help hold the sand together," she said, adding that the pines’ removal may result in erosion on the Causeway and the keys. "It’s not that we want to save every tree, we just don’t want indiscriminate removal."

Some native trees also may be removed from the Sister Keys - possibly with a controlled burn - if they are impeding gopher tortoise movement, Florensa said, adding that Australian pines that the town previously felled on the keys are in the way of the tortoises and also will be removed.

In Florida, the gopher tortoise is considered a species of special concern, but is being considered next month for reclassification to threatened, indicating a more serious level of imperilment (see related story).

Unlike sea turtles, gopher tortoises have claws, not flippers, and Florensa said he doesn’t know how the tortoises wound up on the keys, which were created as spoil islands when the Intracoastal Waterway was dredged.

People can access the keys by boat and are allowed to walk around the keys, but must avoid mitigation construction sites, Florensa said. No camping, dumping, fires or guns are allowed.


Jewfish Key civil charges filed

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

LONGBOAT KEY – Five people have been charged with civil administrative actions for illegally dredging two channels around the island of Jewfish Key, east of Longboat Key.

Renae Farrah, Randall Broach, Farley Blackman, Raymond L. Guthrie III and Susan Brown are charged with dredging and filling without a permit and causing pollution so as to harm or injure human health or welfare, animal, plant or aquatic life or property, according to Pamela Vasquez, of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP filed the charges nearly two years after criminal charges based on the dredging were concluded against seven people, including all of the civil defendants except Brown. At the time, DEP investigator Lt. Jim Ramer said the department was pursuing a civil action to compel the defendants to restore seagrass beds destroyed during the dredging.

Last week, Vasquez said that has changed. Instead of requiring the five to replace the seagrass beds, "DEP is negotiating fines with the civil defendants," she said, adding that monitoring that number of defendants for a seagrass recovery period that could take up to 10 years is unrealistic.

"How can we make sure those responsible parties are doing what they’re supposed to do? What are the realities of replanting it and it being a successful venture?" she asked. "We will restore it with fill and hope that those seagrass beds come back naturally."

A convenient fix was provided by the West Coast Inland Navigation District, which is currently doing maintenance dredging in the Intracoastal Waterway about 200 yards from one of the illegal channels off Jewfish Key, Longboat Key Public Works Director Juan Florensa said.

The sand from the Intracoastal Waterway is being deposited in the illegal channel, he said, adding that sand that is not clean enough or the same grain size is being deposited near the Coquina Beach bayside boat ramp.

In the criminal cases concluded two years ago, Farrah, Broach and Blackman avoided criminal prosecution by signing pretrial intervention agreements and paying fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.

Guthrie was adjudicated guilty of a misdemeanor for dredging a channel off the west side of the key in exchange for dropping a felony charge of violating the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act. He was fined $2,500, one year probation and 50 hours of community service.

Other defendants in the criminal case were Raymond L. Guthrie Jr., who was adjudicated guilty of a misdemeanor for dredging a channel off the east side of the key. He was fined $3,307 plus $193 in court costs.

Carl Mora pled to vessel registration violations for the vessel used in the dredging. He was fined $1,750 and adjudicated guilty on two misdemeanor counts.

Joan Mayers Bergstrom, who developed Jewfish Key in 1988 as La Lenaire Island, pled to misdemeanor dredging and was fined $1,065 plus court costs. Adjudication of guilt was withheld.


Compromises sought on beachfront weddings

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — The Sandbar restaurant has become a popular site for weddings. Accommodating the large number of brides and grooms who would like to exchange their vows on the restaurant’s Gulffront location is proving problematic.

"We’re trying to come up with something that doesn’t impact the neighborhood negatively, doesn’t impact the city negatively and doesn’t impact business negatively," Mayor Fran Barford told resident Anthony Manali at the Aug. 23 city commission meeting.

Manali, who lives near the Sandbar, has appeared at recent commission meetings asking how and when the city is going to address the impact large number of weddings has on neighboring property owners.

At that same meeting, city commissioners approved special event applications for weddings on 14 of the 30 days in September.

The city commission agreed in April to let the restaurant continue filing special events applications on a temporary basis while The Sandbar worked on an amended site plan.

"This has been extremely frustrating," Barford said at a commission meeting last April. "We’ve been working and working here in the best interests of the city of Anna Maria and this is not a situation that a special event application can solve."

With that, the city dropped months of work attempting to re-work its special events ordinance to address the weddings and instead advised The Sandbar to work on an amended site plan.

Now it appears that that amending the site plan won’t work either.

"We were trying to work this out, but all of a sudden we hit a glitch," Sandbar owner Ed Chiles said.

"We couldn’t’ come up with anything that met with the setbacks required there," Barford said. "The city is working with the restaurant to see if we can come up with an alternative, but we don’t have a solution yet."

When weddings are held at the Sandbar, there is not enough parking on site to accommodate the additional number of patrons, according to the city’s code requirements. When the tents are up, the tents cover some of the parking necessary to operate the restaurant. Additionally, the noise that bleeds off site and onto neighboring properties has proven problematic.

Neither Barford nor Chiles was able to predict when the issue might be solved.

"We want something that works for the neighbors, for the city and for the business," Barford said.



Tax dilemma could be averted

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The value of our homes is going down, but not in the eyes of the tax collector, according to Barry Gould, treasurer of Citizens Against Runaway Taxation (CART). This year, people are seeing higher values on their property tax statements while watching the average price of a home or condo continue to drop.

Gould talked about why.

"The property assessor uses values from the previous year," Gould told the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the BeachHouse restaurant. "The property values went up a lot over the previous year, but that gain slowed toward the second half of the year. It seems logical that the assessor evaluate the property values from the last quarter of the previous year."

Gould said when the state legislature passed the bill that mandated local governments reduce their budgets by as much as 9 percent, it helped drop property taxes some. He said CART is keeping an eye on how the cities cut their budgets.

"We’re focusing on the governments’ reserves and what’s needed to keep a government running after a disaster," he said. "We feel that some of a high reserve could be spent to stop cuts in services, such as the free trolley or library hours."

Voters will be asked to decide this winter if they want a larger cut in property taxes with an eventual whittling away of the homestead exemption. Gould said he would not endorse a vote either way at this time.

Gould, who is a real estate agent with Island Vacation Rentals in Holmes Beach, said that high property taxes, especially on non-homesteaded properties, have hindered the real estate market and the state’s economy as a whole.

"The market turned downward starting in mid-2005," he said. "Up till then, a lot of real estate speculators were flipping properties and making a lot of money. Then, the music stopped."

Gould produced charts that showed the value of property grew at a faster rate than the income level, which means a lot of property owners were feeling the tax pinch.

Gould said right now the people who are in the market for property are looking for real bargains, and they are out there. He said there are more than 700 Island properties listed on the Multi-Listing Service, but he expects conditions to turn around.

"I expect to see a healthy comeback," he said. "But people who bought homes in 2005-2006 are almost upside down because they owe more than what the property is worth."

He encouraged every property owner to go to his local government’s public budget hearings to learn or to add his input.

In addition to serving on CART and working as a real estate agent, Gould is also director of public relations for the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island. He and his wife, Dantia, produce the Anna Maria Island Property Report on a regular basis. That report compares numbers of sales, average sale prices and other market conditions on Anna Maria Island.


Coach returns after Midwest hoops job

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – The man with the whistle at Anna Maria Elementary recently moved here from the Midwest, but he already knows the territory. Seven of his nearly 15 years of teaching were spent in Manatee County.

Brett Meckley started his career in 1992 as the PE teacher, varsity volleyball coach and basketball coach at St. Stephens Academy in Bradenton. In 1995, he started a five-year stint with the Manatee County School District teaching PE at Blackburn Elementary, Johnson Middle and Wakeland Elementary schools. He was also the head coach of the Manatee Community College women’s basketball team from 1995–98.

In 2000, his career took him out of Florida when he accepted a position as basketball coach at Middle Georgia College. He followed his dream of coaching basketball to the Midwest in 2003 when he took a position at Iowa West Community College. His last position was in athletic promotions at the College of St. Mary, in Omaha, Neb.

Finally, he packed up his family and moved back to Manatee County in 2006. This year he is the coach at AME on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and at Hillsborough Community College on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Meckley lives near I-75, which makes the commute to St. Petersburg an easy one, but he is very impressed with the little school by the bay.

"It’s a beautiful setting," he said. "There aren’t too many schools that are located next to the water."

Meckley said he has two methods of teaching PE at elementary schools.

"In the primary grades (kindergarten through second grade), we teach a movement model," he said. "We call it loco-motor because involves movements such as hopping, skiing and jumping."

Meckley said the teaching becomes more targeted in grades three through five.

"They focus past the movement to specifics like games, dance and gymnastics," he said. "Where they are kicking in the earlier grades, they focus on soccer as they get older. The same with bouncing a ball, which becomes basketball later."

However, he said PE’s focus is not all on sports.

"It’s on fitness and wellness," he said. "It’s about making healthy lifestyle choices. You can have straight As, but what good is that if your lifestyle leads to health problems?"

He said the focus is also on cooperation.

"I’m different from many coaches because I don’t keep score that often," he said. "Kids should concentrate on their method of play, not the score. The focus should be on the process, not the product."

The new coach is happy to be here. His wife, Maidie, teaches fifth grade at Gullet Elementary School, where former principal Kathy Hayes now presides. He has a son, Evan, who is starting kindergarten at Gullet, and a daughter, Morgan, who is eight months old.


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