Vol 8 No. 5 - October 24, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper New bridge now on table for AMI

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Bridge closure would affect real estate rentals

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Tourism director alarmed

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Bridge plan would be costly and split fire district

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Emergency officials to develop a plan

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Community joins to dedicate Lannon’s Way

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Adoption of comp plan amendments nears

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper City settles roof lawsuit for $75,000




New bridge now on table for AMI

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The Manatee County Commission has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to consider building a new State Road 64 bridge instead of closing the existing bridge for 75 days next spring.

DOT District Director of Transportation Operations Debbie Hunt apologized to the commission on Monday for not promptly communicating its plan to close the 50-year-old bridge, officially called the Anna Maria Island Bridge, during repairs.

But the plan is already in motion, she said.

"It’s nice that you apologize, but I find it unacceptable that you don’t communicate with an Island with a tourist industry," said Commissioner Joe McClash, also chairman of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.

"An apology isn’t going to get us out of the nightmare."

The $9 million project – pared down from $14-15 million – is scheduled to begin Jan. 7 and be completed 400 days later, with the closure set for April, May and part of June.

The repair contract includes a $10,000-a-day incentive for 18 days for early completion of the closure, or $180,000 if the bridge opens sooner than 75 days, Hunt said. Since the outcry from Island businesses and residents who learned of the closure last week, DOT has pledged to work with the contractor to increase the bonus if the bridge is closed 30 days earlier.

Tuesday morning, McClash suggested that one option might be to not close the drawbridge at all and to instead begin the process of planning for a new bridge to replace the old one. DOT officials did not rule out the idea and indicated that options such as this could be discussed in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, a host of Island representatives addressed the commission on Tuesday about the impact such a bridge closing would have.

"This could be economically disastrous to the Island communities," Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said, echoing the other two Island mayors’ concerns.

Ed Chiles of the Chiles Group, who owns three restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, agreed.

"I will survive," he said. "But we have a lot of small businesses on the Island that this will be the death knell for."

Hunt explained how the decision was reached to repair the bridge instead of replacing it, beginning with a project development and environmental study in 1988 on replacing the drawbridge with a fixed span bridge.

In 1991, engineers began designing it, she said. In 1994-95, protestors filed petitions for hearings resulting in the denial of a dredge and fill permit for the bridge in 1996, shutting down the replacement plan.

In a 2001 feasibility study, a comprehensive structural evaluation resulted in three alternatives, Hunt said – repair without widening, repair and widen, or replace the bridge.

After four public hearings in 2001-02, which McClash suggested may not have been properly noticed, a consultant recommended repair without widening in 2003. That year, $230,000 in repairs were completed, and this year, the contract was awarded for the rest of the repair, Hunt said.

The plan includes repairing the concrete pilings, resurfacing the deck concrete, repairing steel, rebalancing the span, cleaning and painting steel, renovating control valves and drive machinery and replacing electrical power and control systems.

The bridge has an average daily traffic count of 17,000 vehicles a day, Hunt said, with about 60 percent of that truck traffic. The repairs are expected to extend the service life of the bridge 10-15 years.

Traffic will be eased by traffic signal timing, transportation information signs and closing the bridge from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. whenever possible, Hunt said.

In response to suggestions of building a temporary bridge during the repairs, Hunt said the idea would cost more than the repair work itself.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who has long personally advocated replacing the bridge, suggested that the contractor could work around the clock to cut the time of the bridge closure in half and asked that DOT come back to the commission with other options.

Commissioner Jane von Hahmann suggested considering having one way traffic in the morning in one direction and one way traffic in the evening in the opposite direction, as she said the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway bridge in Tampa operates.

Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, suggested waiting another seven months until November to close the bridge during the time of year when tourism is the lightest, a request that surprised DOT officials, who erroneously thought the heaviest tourist month was January.

The discussion led to the consensus that a new bridge is worth reconsidering.

"If FDOT says we need a new bridge, then I think we can accept that," Whitmore said.

"Let’s expedite this process," Chiles said, inviting the public to a meeting on the subject on Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Holmes Beach.

"I don’t want to see us throw good money after bad,” Chiles said. “Twelve years have gone by, the Island has grown, the traffic has increased … and I guarantee the community that wants a new bridge will be the squeaky wheel."

Bridge closure would affect real estate rentals

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The proposed Manatee bridge closure in April, May and part of June couldn’t come at a worse time, according to some Anna Maria Island rental agents.

"My guess is we could lose 30 percent of our income," said Frank Davis, Island Real Estate broker and owner of Harrington House Bed and Breakfast, adding that April is his busiest month and May is close behind. "It’s pretty dramatic. They just cannot do that. It’s not possible."

April and May are when snowbirds leave and Floridians flock to the Island.

But Floridians have other alternatives, Davis said, like Sarasota or Clearwater.

The economic loss could be 35 percent for all Island businesses combined, he said.

"When you’re renting something, you’re on vacation. It’s a happy time. The last thing in the world you want is having to put up with something like this."

"I’m really disappointed," said Liz Andricks, rental agent at A Paradise Realty, 5201 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. "I thought they could close it at night like they did with the Cortez bridge. It will really be a struggle for our tenants and vendors."

If the bridge can’t be closed at night because repairs are too extensive, Andricks questions the wisdom of repairing a bridge that should probably be replaced.

"Why don’t they build a new bridge and leave the old bridge intact until then? We’re going to have the same hassle again in 10 years."

Mike Norman of Mike Norman Realty, 3101 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, was more optimistic.

"I don’t think it will affect rentals," he said. "They’re pre-booked, and they’re not going to let an additional hour stop them. It’s not the end of the world."

Tourism director alarmed

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Hurricanes have been Larry White’s worst nightmare - until now. The 75-day closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue is a storm the county’s tourism director never saw coming.

"I’m not going to say it would be a disaster, but it would be a long nightmare for everybody on the Island," said White, the director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It’s White’s job to attract tourists to Anna Maria Island, and nearly half of the $5.1 million Manatee County tourism budget for fiscal year 2007-08 is allocated for marketing.

But it’s still not going to be easy with the closure of the main bridge leading to the Island during April, May and part of June, he said.

"We can count on hundreds of letters saying, ‘We went to your Web site, and we came and it was the worst nightmare we’ve ever seen.’ " he said.

"It just can’t happen."

According to CVB occupancy rate statistics, March was the busiest tourist month on Anna Maria Island in 2006 for the fourth year in a row.

April was the second-busiest month.

This year, more tourist tax revenues were collected in April than in any other month in both Bradenton Beach ($78,362) and Holmes Beach ($203,367), according to the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office.

"That would also follow with restaurants," White said.

He suggests scheduling the closure for the first of November, 2008, when the official hurricane season ends, and finishing the work in December, 2008 and January, 2009.

The least crowded month in 2006 was January, followed by December, according to CVB statistics.

"January used to be sold out, but that stopped being the case 15 years ago," he said, as the World War II generation – the bulk of the snowbirds – grew too old to travel.

"If it has to be closed, then OK, let’s try to stay out of hurricane season but let’s try to impact to the least degree the business community," he said. "People on the Island are already dealing with crushing taxes. If you take away 30 to 40 percent of their business, people will just give up."

Bridge plan would be costly and split fire district

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Fire Chief Andy Price told fire commissioners last week that closing the Anna Maria Bridge for repairs could cost the fire district $200,000 for extra manning.

"It will split the district in half," he explained. "If we have an incident on Manatee Avenue, the second fire truck will have to come from the Cortez station when normally it would come from the Island."

Conversely, if there is an incident on the Island, firefighters from the mainland station cannot respond, which means the district will have to hire extra men for the station in Holmes Beach.

"No matter how you look at it, we’re going to have long response times." Price said. ‘We had a similar situation during the Cortez Bridge rehabilitation and what we did was double staffed.

"We did some real preliminary figures. If we had to hire two part time people, it could be $50,000. If we need three people, it would be about $75,000. If we hire back our full time guys, you’re talking about $140,000 or for three, $200,000."

He said the district would need two to three firefighters every day.

Fire Commissioner Jack Emery asked where the firefighters would be bunked. Deputy Fire Chief Brett Pollock said the fire commission chambers could be converted to a bunkroom, and commission meetings could be held at Station 4 on 67th Street in Bradenton.

Emery asked if northwest Bradenton would be affected.

"No because we have mutual aid from the city of Bradenton and Station 2 in Cortez," Pollock replied.

"However, anything coming down Cortez Road will be delayed because of the traffic," Price added. "The next closest is Longboat Key and they’ll have the same problem."

Price said other options would be to put extra equipment on one of the engines to give it ALS (advanced life support) capabilities or station a spare ambulance on the Island.

"The simplest thing would be to put a paramedic on an ALS truck," he said. ‘If it takes 15 to 20 minutes to get an ambulance to the north end of the Island, that’s going to be a problem."

"We should have been working on this for at least the past year or year-and-a-half," Pollock concluded.



Emergency officials to develop a plan

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

Manatee County’s emergency officials will hold a meeting in the next week or two to develop a plan of operations during the closing of the Anna Maria Island Bridge in the spring of 2008.

Last week, the Florida Department of Transportation took local officials by surprise when it announced it would close the bridge for 75 days during the18-month bridge rehabilitation project slated to start in January 2008.

"When we heard it, we went bananas," Bill Hutchison, the county’s public safety director, said. "We’re not ready to agree without some pretty good discussion and a contingency plan."

Hutchison said he asked EMS Chief Mark Edenfield to call a meeting fire, police and EMS officials to discuss options and develop a plan.

Bradenton Beach will most affected by the closing because all the Island’s traffic will go through that city, said Police Chief Sam Speciale.

"I can’t believe that the state would even consider doing that type of project at that time of year," Speciale declared. "We have issues with traffic right now and we’ll have all of Anna Maria’s and Holmes Beach’s traffic too. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to cope."

Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine agreed that it would create serious traffic problems and pointed out, "There’s three weeks during the season when traffic is at its worst and that’s with two bridges open and functioning. How do you think that will work out when everybody is going over the Cortez Bridge?"

Romine noted that during the heaviest traffic in season, it takes him 20 minutes to get from the police station to the intersection of Marina and Gulf drives.

"When will my employees, who live on the mainland, have to leave to come to work?" Romine asked. "We’ll be telling people, ‘Don’t leave 30 minutes early; leave the day before.’"

Longboat Key Fire Chief Julius Halas said his department developed strategies to cope with the Ringling Bridge construction and he hopes to share some of those with Island officials.


Community joins to dedicate Lannon’s Way

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Anna Maria Elementary School children and personnel, city officials, police department members, parents and former students joined the Pete Lannon family to dedicate Lannon’s Way at the school last week.

Lannon, the school’s resource officer, succumbed to cancer earlier this year and school officials decided to build the walkway to honor his life. The walkway contains symbols that represent the ideals that Lannon tried to instill in the children.

"We are here to celebrate the life of Officer Pete Lannon," Principal Tom Levengood said opening the dedication ceremony. "He has been a huge, huge influence on the students and community of Anna Maria Elementary School.

"We wanted a lasting daily remembrance of Officer Pete and the police and the things he stood for and lived everyday. We could not find anything better that the character traits we’re teaching our students."

Police Chief Jay Romine said no one could have predicted the impact Lannon would have on the school, the department and the community.

"There’s nowhere he’d rather be than at home with his family or in the halls of this school," Romine said. "In seven years, he made an impact that will go on forever and he made that impact because he believed in what he did.
"If you always remember everything that Officer Lannon taught you and make your decisions based on what he taught you, you should be just fine."

Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison told students, "We are here to honor and celebrate the lifetime of Officer Lannon. He had a magnificent lifetime because he lived the things that he believed in and through this walk you’re going to see some special symbols of those things."

Harrison then explained the meaning of the symbols students would find along Lannon’s Way.

• The brick pavers from the school crosswalk on Gulf Drive to the school symbolize the safety he offered to children crossing the road. The pavers were donated by teacher Gary Wooten and laid by resident Dave Elliot.

• A new bench by the crosswalk displayed the Superman logo because "Officer Pete believed in all the things that Superman stood for," Harrison explained. Levengood made the bench, which symbolizes strength.

• A sign marking Lannon’s Way represents making the right choices.

• A bell, which was made out of an oxygen tank used by divers, because Lannon was a diver and loved to be creative. The bell, begun by Lannon and finished by his son, Pete Jr., represents telling the truth.

• A red cedar tree, which was donated by the PTO, represents giving. J.C. Tree and Landscape donated the tree.

• A trellis was made by the Kern family with lumber donated by Island Lumber. Red, blue and yellow flowers at the base of the planter represent the colors of Superman.

• A giant Etch-A-Sketch with a heart inside, which was made by Levengood, represents having fun.



Adoption of comp plan amendments nears

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — City commissioners held the first reading of the adoption of amendments to their comprehensive plan.

Planner Tony Arrant explained some of the objections noted by the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

"None of the DCA’s objections are directed at any of our goals, objectives and policies, with the exception of the coastal high hazard area," Arrant said of the DCA review of the plan. "They are asking for a map of the coastal high hazard area, but the state hasn’t generated that map yet."

Arrant went on to explain that all of DCA’s objections simply ask for more information.

The only objection that could cause potential problems, according to Arrant, is the one dealing with low-income housing. DCA objected to the lack of provision for affordable housing in the plan. Arrant said he spoke to two different officials at DCA about that issue.

"I couldn’t get either one of them to give me an idea of about what we should do – let alone what we could do – based on the Island," he said.

There are no Wal-Mart’s planned here to generate the need for more affordable housing, he said.

"On Marco Island – which is not like Anna Maria at all, in that they have a lot of high rise condominiums and hotels – they made them run free bus service to Immokalee to bring in all the maids and cooks and people who worked in the hotels," Arrant said, but Anna Maria has no high-rise hotels or condominiums.

Arrant said he expects to meet early this week with officials from DCA to hammer out the last details of the comp plan amendments.

Commissioners also listened to public comment.

Linda Cramer continued to ask that her property at 9702 Gulf Drive be included in the Residential/Office/Retail district on the Future Land Use Map.
"If you carefully look at the zoning map from August 1992 and the FLUM from April 1992, you can see that there was a scrivener’s error that resulted in an inadvertent change in the land use," Cramer said.

She maintains that her parcel was always zoned commercial, but errors in the past took that designation away. Cramer said she acknowledges that everyone wants to protect the residential quality of life in the city, but she maintains that designating her property as ROR won’t change anything for other residents.

There has been sustained objection on the part of neighbors to Cramer’s request. All during the process, residents of the area have signed petitions and written letters urging the commission to stick to the single family housing designation of that property.

Holmes Beach resident John Adams spoke on behalf of Cramer.

Arrant pointed out that the city is working on its land use map, not its zoning map, which is a different thing.

"Why is the error made by the city of Anna Maria 15 years ago, zoning one lot differently from surrounding lots, being perpetuated by doing it again in the future land use map?" Adams asked commissioners. "I understand 25 neighbors signed a petition to do so and the commission bowed to their political pressure."

Adams outlined what he believed to have been the history of the designation for Cramer’s property. He said when the commercial zone was established in 1959, Cramer’s lot was excluded by mapmaker error. Then Mayor Ray Simches acknowledged the error in a letter to the property owner in 1992.

"Since when are a few neighbors allowed to cause the city to discriminate against another?" Adams said with some heat. "In the 60 years I’ve lived or visited here, I’ve never heard of such a thing!"

Surrounding residents spoke or wrote in favor of maintaining the residential nature of their neighborhood. They stated that they think any parking for a business on that property would spill over onto Palmetto Avenue where they live.

One other resident asked that commissioners consider a change in the FLUM.

"This is the first time I’m coming to you," said Michael Coleman who is spearheading the Pine Avenue Restoration Project. "I’m asking you to look at the six lots at the base of the city pier that are now zoned commercial."

Coleman asked to change those lots to ROR, as doing so would enhance the entire ROR character of the street.

Commissioners listened to the public comment and to Arrant and then set a list of items to be discussed at the second reading of the ordinance.

Mattick asked that Cramer’s and Coleman’s requests be looked at.

Commissioner Duke Miller asked that commissioners discuss how future changes to the plan are to be handled. He wants any changes to come through citizen referendums.

The second reading and a possible vote on adopting the comp plan amendments will come on Oct. 25 at the regular city commission meeting.


City settles roof lawsuit for $75,000

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — The city has agreed to a negotiated settlement with Roof USA, Inc. and will accept $75,000.

The suit arose after the roofing company and the city couldn’t come to terms about what damages Roof USA should pay for cleaning up a leak that occurred while a new roof was being installed on city hall in August of 2006. Extensive cleanup was needed to remove the resulting mold.

"This settlement was the result of a seven-hour negotiation," Mark Nelson, an attorney representing the city told commissioners. "The other side has asked for a jury trial if we don’t settle. That will mean expert witness and lots of depositions before trial."

Nelson said the city could incur $30,000 to $50,000 before the case even came to trial.

"We’d maybe not be able to cover those costs even if we prevail," Nelson said.

One major sticking point against the city’s case was the fact that there had been mold and asbestos mitigation in 2004 during the city hall remodeling project. There is no documentation that there were ever tests to indicate that the air quality was OK after the mitigation.

With that fact, it was difficult for the city to prove that all the mold was the result of the roof leak and not something that had been growing since the original mold was discovered years before the new roof was ever installed, according to Nelson.

City costs for the cleanup ran $113,000, not including legal expenses.

Roof USA will pay $70,000. Secure Water Damage, Inc., a company hired by Roof USA to clean up from the leak, will pay $5,000. In turn the city will pay the $6,513.80, which represented the final 10 percent of the re-roofing bill.


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