Vol 8 No. 6 - October 31, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper FDOT hears calls for new bridge

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Walk the beach for Erik

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper City celebrates accomplishments

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Fire, police officials weigh in on bridge plan

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper The pros and cons of Hometown Democracy

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Bradenton Beach candidates differ on style

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Decision on comp plan awaits meeting with DCA

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper William Bennett new Coast Guard chief




FDOT hears calls for new bridge

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Florida Department of Transportation representatives met the public Monday night at St. Bernard Catholic Church to talk about the plans for the Anna Maria Bridge.

They revealed for the first time that they had shortened the length of time they expected for a total closure of the bridge from 75 to 45 days as requested by local fire, police and safety officials.

After nearly 30 people in the crowd of more than 400 spoke on the project, it appeared the many favored closing the bridge entirely instead of one lane at a time, an option offered by FDOT at the meeting. Officials said keeping one lane open would add two months to the project. Most appeared to want FDOT to require that more work be done 24 hours a day and seven days per week to shorten the disruption andto start the process for replacing the 50-year-old drawbridge with a new structure.

Monday’s meeting came after FDOT revealed nearly three weeks ago that it would begin a rehabilitation project on the bridge in January that would closure of the structure for up to 75 days. This was an option most business and elected leaders said would spell doom for businesses on the Island, which has already been hit hard by out-of-control taxes and insurance costs.

For the past three weeks, the FDOT contingency has met with mayors of the three cities, business leaders and safety officials getting their input. What they learned was that response time to an emergency in Anna Maria City would be increased to 19-35 minutes and that traffic jams at the Cortez Bridge, the sole remaining direct access to the mainland, would discourage people from vacationing or shopping on the Island. Repeat vacationers, most reasoned, would try someplace else if they thought it would mean spending more time in cars waiting for traffic to clear.

FDOT originally planned to close the bridge for April, May and part of June next year. That proposal drew fire from business leaders who, led by restaurant owner Ed Chiles, felt that it would cut short their busiest season.
The latest proposal calls for closing the bridge in a window between September 1 and December 31, with reopenings for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

One speaker said she was ready to help with an alternative to using the Cortez Bridge. Rondi Guerin said that she had recently moved back to the Island to start a boat charter business, but had been talking with The St. Joe Co., owners of the old marina at Perico, about possibley running a water taxi between there and the Island. She said she got some interest from the St. Joe people, who said "the land is just sitting there" after a condominium project stalled due to a slow housing market. She said she is scheduled to talk with them again in the near future.

Walk the beach for Erik

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Join the Beachwalk for Erik Stahr Nov. 18 and you’ll be doing more than exercising the weekend before Thanksgiving.

You’ll be helping Erik’s parents celebrate what they have to be thankful for – his new heart.

The fund-raiser will start at Manatee County Public Beach with sign-ups at 2:30 p.m. and the walk at 3 p.m. The Beach Bistro will have a refreshment station and the walk will end at the Sandbar restaurant, although walkers can start anywhere along the route. Walkers are asked to wear red T-shirts to signify the heart,

After learning of Erik’s story, AME Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison put together a fund-raising effort in conjunction with the Beach Bash skim contest, sponsored by West Coast Surf Shop and the Anna Maria Island Sun, on Aug. 26 to help his parents, Michael and Mary Ellen, with the bills. She also spread the word among parents at the school, some of whom have children who had also been born with heart defects.

Several people then picked up the effort and took it to a new level with this beach walk. They are Susan Timmons, wife of Sean Murphy and mother of Lexa, who was born with a heart defect; Kay Kay Hardy, whose son, Chandler, had heart surgery as an infant; and Nancy Boltwood, mother of twins who experienced heart problems.

Erik, 19, was born without a pulmonary valve and he received a valve from a pig as an infant. He flourished with the new valve, which was replaced when he was 12 with a larger one taken from a calf. He played baseball, basketball and soccer at the Anna Maria Island Community Center and was a skimboarder out on the beach.

In May, Erik started feeling constipated and after three days with little food or water, he went to the walk-in clinic where they gave the diagnosis nobody wanted to hear – his heart function was deteriorating.

Doctors at All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete installed a new heart into Erik’s chest on June 9, a culmination of a relatively short search for a heart donor. It was a new chance at life for the Holmes Beach teenager who lives just two blocks from where he attended Anna Maria Elementary School.

Now it’s time to help this Island couple, who have devoted their time and money to their son’s recovery.

If you would like to donate but don’t want to walk, you may do so at the Sandbar restaurant pavilion the day of the event or by calling Hardy at 778-3057 or Cindi Harrison at the school, 708-5525, ext. 237.

City celebrates accomplishments

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – After spending two years and more than $2 million to refurbish the city’s pier to meet the need of today and the future, city officials decided it was time to celebrate their accomplishments last Friday.

Elected officials, including three former mayors of Bradenton Beach, gathered at the east end of Bridge Street for an Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting. The U.S. Coast Guard was to have made an appearance, but was called away on an emergency at the last minute.

Mayor John Chappie spoke about the project that gave the city a larger restaurant, modern public restrooms, a dock for day sailors and space for an eventual water taxi and mooring field dockmaster.

"I just happened to be mayor while this project came along, but this is the result of efforts of all those who came before me and our current city commission," he said. "It all began when the city formed a CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) that set up an incremental tax fund that we could use for this and other projects in the business district." Chappie said the project cost a lot of money, of which the city got a portion from grants, and that the CRA fund would help pay off the debt incurred when the city took out a line of credit to pay for the work.

Chappie credited Manatee County for working with the city to annex 500 feet into the water along its shoreline so that Bradenton Beach could develop and enforce a mooring field south of the pier. He praised the spirit of unity between the two governments, saying anything is possible when you work together. He also had good words for local business owners like Mike Norman, Barbara Rodocker, David Teitelbaum, Mike Bartizol and Ed Chiles.

"They invested a lot of money because the saw what we were doing here," he said.

Chappie said the city’s accomplishments are the result of grass roots effort.
"It’s what people can do when they become involved in their community by joining committees or voting," he said. "You become the conscience of the community when you become involved."

Chappie talked about Berneitta Kays who served on the city commission for a term and lives next to the pier, which she frequents almost nightly.

"Berneitta was always there to remind us that this pier is mainly a fishing pier," he said to the applause of the crowd. "We never lost track of that."

Finally, he praised Southern Cross Contractors, which did the rehabilitation. He said they did an excellent job.

After the speech, former mayor Katie Pierola, who was in office when the city got its CRA designation, said it’s like a dream come true.

"I’m so happy to see the revetment is holding," she said, talking about the rocks that were put down under the southern portion of the pier and the parking lot. "Without the revetment, we wouldn’t have a pier."

Fire, police officials weigh in on bridge plan

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Firefighters and law enforcement officers gave the Florida Department of Transportation their recommendations for the planned Manatee Avenue bridge repairs on Friday, suggestions they would have liked to have been asked about months ago.

The group requested that the work requiring bridge closure be rescheduled from April, May and June, 2008 to October, November and December, 2008, which are less crowded months on Anna Maria Island, they said.

"We were all in awe that you would even think of this in season," Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said, adding that his city increases in population from 1,300 to 30,000 during tourist season, which peaks in March and April. "That’s insane."

In contrast, September and October are dead months, with several Island businesses closing, the group agreed.

Spokesman Jose "Pepe" Garcia told the group that FDOT would prefer to avoid October, the last month of hurricane season, because rain could drag out repairs that already are anticipated to take 400 days.

But first responders said the possibility of bad weather in October is outweighed by the absolute certainty of crowds in April.

Changing the schedule would require opening the bridge for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which could delay the repairs into January or February, Garcia said.

"If we need to get to somebody to save their life and we can’t get to them, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is," said Capt. Larry Leinhauser of the Manatee County Public Safety Department.

The group also asked that one lane of the bridge remain open eastbound to facilitate ambulance and EMS vehicles on their way to mainland hospitals. The one-way eastbound lane could be briefly closed when necessary to allow the emergency vehicles to travel westbound to get back on the Island, they suggested.

They also requested a 45-day closure instead of 75 days, as announced earlier this month to the surprise of police chiefs, firefighters, tourism business owners, residents and city and county officials.

FDOT already has increased an incentive to the contractor to complete the bridge early, from $10,000 a day to $15,000 a day, Garcia said, adding that a $10,000 daily fine will be imposed for not meeting the contract schedule, with the exception of an emergency such as a hurricane.

A new bridge is out of the question for at least five years due to the need for a preliminary study and time for design and construction, Garcia said, adding that FDOT expects budget cuts of $200 million a year for the next five years, and a new bridge could cost between $50 million and $75 million.

Firefighters have budget constraints too, said Fire Chief Andy Price of West Manatee Fire Rescue.

"We have one fire truck and three guys on this Island," he said, which will have to be increased, and since the department’s fiscal year began Oct. 1, the money is not in this year’s budget.

"It doesn’t make any difference if we have more staff," Speciale said. "We’re not going to be able to move."



The pros and cons of Hometown Democracy

By Duke Miller
guest editorial

Why all the fuss over allowing citizens a say in future changes to comprehensive plans? Because these state-mandated documents, by law, prevail over all future legislation. Any law passed by any community must be in compliance. Any that conflict with the plan are simply not law.

Hometown Democracy mandates that all future change to comprehensive plans be on par with changes to city charters or the state constitution, requiring voter ratification. I am a fan of Hometown Democracy, especially as it relates to us here in Anna Maria City. It is a way for you to have direct control over how your community grows.

I first came to Anna Maria 50 years ago, and as a life-long resident of Florida, I have seen a lot of changes. In my 64 years, vast parts of this state evolved from verdant and quaint, to developed, crowded and paved over. In that time, our population increased a staggering nine-fold, from 2 to 18 million.

Fortunately, the city of Anna Maria defies, against all odds, the laws of development gravity. That is attributable to a number of factors, but locals agree the seminal event occurred in 1972. Following construction of a condominium at the end of Pine Avenue, the city commission changed the land use designation of all our non-commercial shoreline from 100 percent multi-family to single-family residential. Development interests sued. Our city prevailed, but it took a very smart, lengthy, courageous battle. Lacking that effort, today's pristine Gulf beaches and Tampa Bay shoreline would be a veritable wall of motels and condominiums.

The challenge that continues to face Anna Marians is what can we do right now to preserve our beloved city with its unique character and appeal?

Recently, St. Petersburg Beach adopted a form of Hometown Democracy after a rogue commission voted to increase building heights and density. A successful citizen initiative overturned that action and further stipulated referenda on all future comp plan changes. It subsequently survived two court challenges by developers.

That success, along with the statewide Hometown Democracy drive, inspired me to propose that Anna Maria take a similar course. My proposal to incorporate in our comp plan the stipulation that land use changes go before the voters is now up for vote by your city commission.

Why not wait for the statewide amendment to pass? Like a lot of things in Florida, there are just too many ifs, too many special-interest hurdles. My proposal is our opportunity to implement our own brand of Hometown Democracy on our own terms now.

Most of Florida got where it is today because developers have a way of getting their way. As this is being written, under the euphemism Floridians for Smarter Growth, development interests are pushing to derail Hometown Democracy. One needs only to consider the source of the opposition to grasp why anyone would oppose giving you the right to determine your community's future.

For more on Hometown Democracy and what you can do, go to www.hometowndemocracy.com.

Duke Miller is an Anna Maria city commissioner.

By Rich Bohnenberger
guest editorial

At some point, voters will be asked to vote on two constitutional amendments designed to require referendums on comprehensive plan changes. In order to determine which proposal is worthy of your support it is important to know how the current process works.

Your city, county, School Boards and other government entities are required by law to have an approved comprehensive plan. These plans were first developed and adopted after much planning and public input. They were then submitted to the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for approval. Changes to these plans follow the same guidelines established by law – no less than two public hearings by the planning commission and two public hearings by the city commission. In most cases far more meetings are held. With the exception of minor changes, cities can only submit changes twice a year.

The comprehensive plan is the guideline for the future of your community; the plan is implemented by the land development code. Changes to the LDC also require planning commission and city commission hearings. Changes to these documents are adopted only after considerable public input and legal counsel with consideration for property rights law.

Currently comprehensive plan changes can be challenged by other government entities or by a single citizen. Plans are required by law to be compatible with neighboring plans. Plans that are not are usually challenged or rejected by the DCA.

The Hometown Democracy amendment would require all comprehensive plan changes to be subject to a referendum. Voters would be asked to vote on complex issues described in 75 words or less without benefit of public debate or legal counsel. Your city may find its self defending property rights issues in court based on a misinformed vote. State law requires your city’s five-year capital improvement plan to be included in the comprehensive plan. Each year your city would be required to hold a referendum just to add a new fifth year.

Hometown Democracy is attempting to sell it’s self as a grassroots effort. It is not. It is a self-serving extremist organization started by two attorneys – Lesley Blackner, of Palm Beach, and Ross Burnaman, of Tallahassee. Blackner put up $500,000 to purchase petition signatures. Other supporters include Joe Redner, a Tampa area strip club owner, who contributed $25,000. Redner is well known to be anti-government and has sued each time government tried to regulate his clubs.

Hometown claims to be an environmentally-based movement. It’s interesting that it is not supported by most mainstream environmental groups. In fact, members fought the preservation of Babcock Ranch and opposed the Everglades restoration.

Floridians for Smarter Growth offers an alternative amendment that would require a referendum on certain issues. It will also require 10 percent of the voters to petition for the change to be on the ballot. This proposal will cost local government less and be less of a negative impact than the vote-for- everything Hometown amendment.

Legislation by Constitutional amendment is never good. The founding fathers knew pure democracy would create chaos, and that’s why we have representative government and it works well. While I support open competition between these two groups when these amendments appear on the ballot I urge you to vote no on both.

Rich Bohnenberger is mayor of Holmes Beach.


Bradenton Beach candidates differ on style

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – Voters in this resort city will decide on Tuesday, Nov. 6, who will take over as mayor following six years under John Chappie that saw the city get grants for numerous capital improvement projects and completely rebuild the city’s pier after it was damaged by a tropical storm.

The Sun recently spoke with both candidates. Commissioner Bill Shearon, who is quitting halfway through his second term to run, wants to be a full time mayor, and he wants to make sure everything the city commission approves gets done. One of his buzz words during his campaign is timelines.

“You need timelines for unfinished projects and you need funding for them,” he said from his home at Linger Longer, the beachfront resort he built south of Bridge Street on Gulf Drive with his partner, Tjet Martin. “If you have a timeline from start to finish, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Shearon, who often raises questions about projects and procedure at meetings, says he wants to make sure the city is run efficiently. One way, he said, is to prioritize the city’s capital improvement projects.

“You have to have a game plan and follow through with it,” he said.

He also wants to be recognized as being fiscally conservative and responsive to residents’ ideas and concerns.

Legally blind, Shearon walks the city with his Seeing Eye dog Levet and says he hears what’s being discussed on the streets.

Mike Pierce is resigning his first term as a city commissioner to run for mayor because he wants to continue the work begun during the Chappie years.

“I want to make our city a walkable and green community,” he said. “I want Bradenton Beach to be a city where people can feel safe at night, whether they are tourists or residents.”

A former efficiency expert, Pierce wants to institute a rewards system for city employees who find ways to improve or make their jobs more efficient.

“Everyone who works for this city is a vital link, and I want them to know we appreciate what they do.” He said.

Pierce has been involved in a number of groups both in and out of the city since moving here fulltime. He has chaired Anne Maria Elementary’s School Advisory Council, the school’s building committee, the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board and the city’s water taxi exploratory group. He is also a board member of the Annie Silver Community Center.

“Community involvement is very important,” he said. “It’s key to the success of the city.”



Decision on comp plan awaits meeting with DCA

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – City commissioners have continued the second reading of their comprehensive plan amendments until Nov. 15. That will give planner Tony Arrant time to meet with officials from the Florida Department of Community Affairs to address several objections the agency raised about the changes to the plan that evolved during the course of four years of work by the city.

Commissioners did entertain brief public comment on matters that had not previously been discussed.

Michael Coleman again asked commissioners to consider designating the six lots to the north and east of the city pier as residential/office/retail on the Future Land Use Map. Those six lots are commercial now.

In 3-2 straw vote, commissioners decided to leave the lots as they are now.

Former city commissioner Linda Cramer spoke in favor of Coleman’s request, noting that she supported it because it’s the same situation as her lot at 9702 Gulf Drive.

Cramer has been requesting that her lot be shown as ROR. rather than residential.

Michael Connolly, Cramer’s attorney, sent a letter to the city on Oct. 17 giving notification of Cramer’s objection to any comp plan amendment that does not designate the property either ROR or commercial.

"If the city continues to ignore Ms. Cramer’s request, Ms. Cramer will have no other alternative but to pursue appropriate legal recourse through administrative and legal challenges to the comprehensive plan amendment," Connolly wrote in his letter.

Arrant said he expects to be able to meet with DCA officials prior to the No. 15 meeting.


William Bennett new Coast Guard chief

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – Death and danger, daily.

That’s life in the Coast Guard, says a calm William Bennett, the new officer in charge of the Cortez Coast Guard station.

Bennett will serve a four-year tour of duty in Cortez before retiring from a career that has taken him from a historic 1800s-era Coast Guard station in Ludington, Mich. to one of the best-known postings in the country for illegal immigrant interdiction – Miami.

"It was fun," said Bennett, adding that due to the net that the Coast Guard has woven around Miami, smugglers are now choosing points north – including Longboat Key last December – to drop their human cargo, primarily Cuban refugees.

With a staff of 30 plus 20 reservists and 380 auxiliary members, the Cortez station covers a large area from Boca Grande Pass north to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Bennett’s biggest challenge is the two hours it can take to get to Boca Grande by water, and the 20-minute commute to the Skyway, time that is of the essence during a crisis.

His first order of business is to establish good relationships with local law enforcement officials up and down the coast, who have fast boats that can respond more quickly in their areas than the three boats stationed in Cortez.

The crew members live a fireman’s life – 48 hours on duty and 48 hours off, he said, and they perform several functions, including search and rescue, law enforcement tasks such as inspections and acting as first responders for medical emergencies like shark attacks.

His advice to boaters is to take a safe boating class, available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Anna Maria Island Power Squadron.

"Anyone with enough money can buy a boat," he said, but with no licensing requirements, it can be more dangerous than driving a car.

And unlike a trip down the Interstate, there’s no overpass in the Gulf of Mexico to park under when the driving rain starts pouring down, so always keep an eye on the weather, he advised.

The next auxiliary class, the two-day America's Boating Course, will be offered Nov. 10 and 17 at 5801 33rd Ave. Court Drive W. near G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton. The cost is $30. For more information, contact Ray Votava at 761-4847.

For information on the Anna Maria Island Power Squadron boating classes, call 792-0394.


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