Vol 8 No. 7 - November 7, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper 45-day closure for bridge

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper CART: Tax reform package falls short

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper FDOT meeting clears air for audience

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Property sales report finds closings on rise

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Community Center grand opening features fun family events

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Fireworks task force continues work

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Future playwrights get their call

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Commission says $28,000 code violation fine stands




45-day closure for bridge

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

The people have spoken and it appears they want to gulp down the medicine in one swallow instead of in small sips over a longer period of time.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced the results of an e-mail poll offering three scenarios to rehabilitate the Manatee Avenue drawbridge, and the response was overwhelmingly for closing the bridge completely for up to 45 days while crews work on it. The closure will be in October and November, 2008.

The other two choices limited the bridge to one lane of traffic while the work continues over a period of 105 days plus 15 days of total shutdown and three closures of three hours in length. In those two scenarios, one would have had flaggers alternate the lanes of closure and the other would have allowed one lane of east bound traffic and no west bound traffic on the bridge for the entire 105 days.

FDOT District One Director of Transportation Operations Debbie Hunt delivered the message to the Manatee County Board of County The decision came after a week-long, angst-filled drama over FDOT’s initial proposal, a 75-day full bridge closure starting after Easter next year and running for 10 weeks through early summer.

After announcing that plan and hearing protests from elected officials and the business community on Anna Maria Island, FDOT initially responded by saying it was a "done deal." That was the same expression FDOT project manager David May used back in 1993 when he told the Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting in Anna Maria City Hall that the highway department was going to replace the drawbridge with a fixed-span structure that would peak at 65 feet above the mean waterline.

At that time, FDOT never backed down, but ended up scrapping its plan when a band of citizens and elected officials convinced a state hearing officer that the agency never gave notice to adjacent residents of the project as required by law.

This time, FDOT reacted differently. They started talking with officials on the Island and within county government, they went back to the contractor and got a verbal agreement to reduce the closure and they came up with the three scenarios.

Hunt summarized the reaction to their initial proposal that brought cries of "Not again!" from many veterans of the earlier battle.

"A lot of people have asked if we followed our process and I would have to say yes and no," she told the commissioners. "As far as environmental revues, these are not necessary when rehabilitating a bridge, so I would say yes to that, but I would say no because we failed to communicate with the people affected before deciding."

Hunt said that the next step is to renegotiate with the contractor, Quinn Contracting, of Palmetto, under the new terms of the project. She said that they would start talking with the Coast Guard about allowing fewer bridge closures during the project.

County Commission Carol Whitmore thanked Hunt for listening to the concerns of the people, but said she still had reservations about the contractor.

"Will they have a contact person to keep everything on track?" she asked. Hunt said they would appoint one.

Commissioner Joe McClash said he wanted to review the new contract before it is signed.

"I would like a commitment from FDOT that it (the contract) would come back to us for review," he said, adding he would also like to see the state hold further talks with the contractor about shortening that 45-day closure.
Following the presentation, Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie called the decision a better option.

"I’m pleased that we could all work together on this," he said. "I also look forward to a new bridge someday."

Longboat Key Mayor Jeremy Whatmough said that FDOT had come a long way from the old days when they tried to replace the bridge.

"They were really cooperative and they did a good job," he said. "I think more traffic will come through Longboat Key than a lot of people do. They will get tired of the traffic trying to get off the Island at Cortez Road and decide to go south and use the Ringling bridge."

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ann Brockman said there are two affects the closure could have on Island businesses.

"Either the businesses will have to shut down for lack of customers or the Island residents, faced with delays getting on and off the Island, will stay here and shop at the local businesses," she said. "But what concerns me more is the effects on bringing tourists onto the Island. We’re seeing a surge in European tourists because of the weak dollar and we don’t want to discourage them from coming here."

CART: Tax reform package falls short

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

xation (CART) are displeased with the proposed property tax Constitutional amendment passed last week by the Florida Legislature.

"It’s only a half job," CART President Don Schroder said. "We’re very disappointed that they did not consider working waterfronts for hotels and motels, and ‘highest and best use’ was not addressed."

The Anna Maria Island-based group had hoped that the legislation might redefine the way that non-homesteaded property is assessed, using an income-based standard instead of valuing property based on its potential "highest and best use," typically, condominiums.

CART is also unimpressed with one of the legislation’s four major components, which limits tax assessment increases for non-homesteaded property owners to 10 percent a year.

"There’s no benefit, or very little, to commercial and second home property owners with a 10 percent cap," Schroder said, adding that before the recent real estate explosion, the normal annual appreciation factor was about 5 percent. "It will be years before these properties appreciate over 10 percent."

The legislation will appear on the Jan. 29, 2008 ballot for statewide approval or rejection by voters. If it’s approved on Jan. 29, the 10 percent limitation on annual assessment increases will apply to the 2009 tax roll. If it’s approved in the November, 2008 general election, it will apply to the 2010 tax roll.

The legislation also doubles the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 for homeowners whose property is worth more than $50,000. This exemption does not apply to school district taxes.

Portability also made it into the legislation, allowing homesteaded property owners to transfer up to $500,000 of their Save Our Homes exemption benefits to their next homestead within one year and not more than two years after selling their previous homestead.

The assessment would be based on the difference between the new home’s just value and the assessed value of the last homestead. If the new homestead has a higher just value than the previous homestead, the added benefit can be transferred. If the new homestead has a lower just value than the previous one, the amount of the benefit transferred will be reduced.

The portability provision applies to all taxes, including school district taxes.

If the legislation passes on Jan. 29, 2008, the portability provision will take effect retroactively to Jan. 1, 2008. If the legislation is approved in the general election in November, 2008, it will take effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

The legislation also provides a $25,000 exemption for tangible personal property, applicable to all taxes, including school district taxes.

Proposals that did not make it into the final legislation include limits on assessments for working waterfront properties such as commercial fishing operations. Also gone are plans to eliminate taxes for seniors over 65 who earn under $23,604 a year, a $25,000 exemption for new-home buyers and a minimum homestead exemption equal to 40 percent of the median homestead price in each county.

FDOT meeting clears air for audience

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – If you remember when Save Anna Maria (SAM) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) butted heads over the Anna Maria Bridge 14 years ago, you’ll remember it sometimes resembled the Jerry Springer Show.

They met again last Saturday over the same subject, but this time it more closely resembled the détente of the Cold War years.

Several veterans of the old days attended including former Bradenton Beach Mayor Katie Pierola, former Bradenton Beach City Councilman Jim Kissick and former Holmes Beach Councilwoman Billie Martini.

There were no FDOT veterans of the original tussle present, although they were well aware of SAM’s accomplishments that forced the highway department to put up the white flag when it tried to replace the drawbridge with a high-rise, fixed-span structure in 1993.

By the time the meeting ended, about half of the 40 or so people who attended had cast their votes for one of three construction scenarios that will take place when the state performs a $9.14 million rehabilitation on the 50-year-old structure, a project that will add 10 to 15 years to the bridge’s life.

In a near repeat of its original public relations gaffs during its attempt to replace the bridge, FDOT announced three weeks ago that it was going to have to shut down the bridge for 75 days while it repaired mechanical portions of the moveable bascule and replaced worn and corroded rebar-laden concrete. Not only that, the department said that the closure would come right after Easter and run into the summer season.

The reactions from Island businesses, residents and their elected officials were nearly unanimous. The closure would put an untenable stress on local business and shame on the highway department for waiting to tell us until after the contract for the project had been awarded.

FDOT scrambled engineers and public information officials and began listening. They got an earful from the 400 people who attended a public meeting at St. Bernard Church a week earlier. At that meeting, however, they announced that the closure would be shortened and it would come in October and December when business on the Island is at its slowest. They also gave three possible construction scenarios:

A. Close the bridge for 45 consecutive days and get the job done.

B. Allow traffic to alternately use one lane of the bridge over a period of 120 days with a complete closure for 15 days.

C. Allow one lane of traffic to use the bridge one way, either entering or leaving the Island, for the entire 120 days with a complete closure for 15 days.

When asked why they did not come to the public earlier asking for input, instead of telling people after the contractor had been chosen, public information officer Debbie Hunt said they were wrong.

"You are correct," she said. "That’s not how we operate and the right thing to do is to make sure we keep lines of communication open now."

Martini asked the engineers about using carbon composite to cover everything that was being replaced to shield it from the salt air and other elements for up to 60 years. Bridge engineer Pepe Garcia said that it would significantly raise the price of the project and that this was not the kind of project where it would work.

After the meeting, SAM secretary Nancy Deal said that they would pursue the possibility of using the carbon composite.

"Why should they not use it?" she asked. "If it preserves the bridge for 40 years instead of 10 to 15, they would save money and wouldn’t have to replace the bridge for a long time."

Property sales report finds closings on rise

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

It’s starting to look like Anna Maria Island real estate has become a true bargain.

At least that’s what a report compiled by local real estate professionals Dantia and Barry Gould seems to indicate.

The report, called the Anna Maria Island Property Sales Report, showed that there were 27.2 percent more property sales on the Island in the third quarter of 2007 than in the same period last year.

Based on information from the Multiple Listing Service and other sources, the report found that the number of single-family residences sold in July through September rose from 21 in 2006 to 39 in 2007. The number of condominium units sold in those time periods dropped from 19 to 14, the number of duplexes or triplexes dropped from three to one and the number of lots rose from one to two.

According to Gould, the third quarter 27.2 percent increase is consistent with the volume of sales in the first three quarters of 2007, which saw an average 32.5 percent increase in property sales.

And while the sales figures jumped impressively, the median sales price dropped dramatically in the first nine months of the year. In the first nine months of 2006, 64 single-family homes were sold on the Island at a median price of $783,000. That compares with 105 homes sold in 2007 at a median price of $550,000. Forty-seven condominium units sold in the first nine months of 2006 at a median price of $475,000 compared to 54 units in 2007 at a median price of $425,000. Meanwhile, the number of duplex/triplex unit sales dropped from 15 to nine and the median price dropped from $654,000 to $425,000. The number of lots sold in those periods rose from four, at a median price of $925,000, to seven with a median price of $500,000.

"No one knows if we have passed the bottom of the cycle," Gould wrote. "A surprising number of the sales in the third quarter were below $500,000, which was unheard of two years ago. One of the reasons is most of the sales were from sellers who needed to sell and accepted an offer much lower than they ever dreamed they would."

The report said that another sign of the times is the startling increase in bank-owned property due to foreclosures and subsequent repossession. These deeply discounted properties are selling fast but are making it nearly impossible to sell a property at a reasonable price, according to the report. When all of these and other distressed properties sell, then we should see some normalcy return to the market, Gould wrote.

Meanwhile, this report gives more credence to the mantra of real estate professionals area-wide – “Now is the best time to buy."



Community Center grand opening features fun family events

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The community is invited to a grand opening at the Anna Maria Island Community Center at 407 Magnolia Ave. on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at the rear entrance at 12:30 p.m. The Manatee High School Marching Band will play on the field at 12:45 p.m. Hot dogs and hamburgers, donated by Mr. Bones and Rotten Ralph’s, will be available in the concession stand.

Demonstrations in the Learning Center include adult ballet and stretching at 1:30 p.m., Zumba at 1:45 p.m., cardio dance at 2 p.m., Tai Chi, at 2:15 p.m., Muscles & More at 2:30 p.m. and yoga at 2:45 p.m.

Demonstrations on the performing arts stage in the gym include youth chorus at 1 p.m., musical theatre featuring Kristen Stiff from TV’s "American Princess" at 1:15p.m., circus juggling at 1:30 p.m., jazz at 1:40 p.m., hula hoop at 1:50 p.m., country line dancing at 2 p.m., circus roping and whip cracking at 2:10 p.m., dance solos at 2:20 and 2:30 p.m. and a circus aerial display at 2:40 p.m.

All day demonstrations in the gym will feature the following classes offered at the Center: digital photography, watercolor, fly tying, floral arranging, stepping stones, scrap booking, beading and preparing quick and healthy food for families.

There will be information booths on adult programs, volunteering and memberships and membership and volunteer drives with chances to win a free family membership. Tours of the new Center will be available.

Due to limited parking space at the Center, participants are encouraged to use the trolley.


Fireworks task force continues work

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

Island safety officials met for a third time Oct. 29 to explore ways to keep illegal Independence Day fireworks off the beaches.

Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key fire, rescue and law enforcement officials are working out the details of a plan for controlling the crowds that traditionally come to the beach to set off illegal fireworks, a situation that caused serious injury to a construction worker’s hand last year and that blasted off a man’s ear the year before, according to Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford.

In Manatee County, anything that explodes or becomes air borne is illegal. It’s the illegal fireworks the task force is trying to get a grip on.

"People feel strongly about fireworks," Barford said. "They either love them or they hate them, but we have to get things under control for the health and safety of our residents."

Traditionally, there are two legal fireworks exhibitions on the Island by restaurateur Ed Chiles — one at the BeachHouse on July 3 and the other at the Sandbar July 4. Chiles informed the task force earlier that he would do whatever wanted to help curtail the problem with illegal ordnance.

At the Oct. 29 meeting, the task force members authorized Barford to send a letter to Chiles recommending that he only hold one professional display and that it be at the BeachHouse on July 4.

It was felt that the traffic and parking situation at the north end of the Island made the situation with the Sandbar much more dangerous than the display at the BeachHouse.

The task force also will ask Tourist Development Council Director Larry White if his organization is willing to help subsidize some of the estimated $14,000 cost to finance an advertising campaign aimed at educating the public on the hazards of illegal fireworks.

"That would cover the two weeks leading up to the 4th of July," said Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson. "We’d get six spots every day.

“We need to reach people in Polk and other surrounding counties that traditionally come here for the 4th."

The task force is going to concentrate on education as the best way to approach the problems.

Stephenson is targeting rental agents and asking them to place information in all their units, and the task force is looking for help from area newspapers.

They will also ask for a posting on the Island Chamber of Commerce web sites.

Another possibility is to ask FPL and Waste Management about the possibility of putting an insert in customers’ bills.

The group will meet again on Jan. 9 with plans to continue to work on finding solutions to the problem.



Future playwrights get their call

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Members of the Florida Studio Theatre visited Anna Maria Elementary School to try to recruit students for their annual playwrights’ contest.

Two actresses, Andrea Kinal and Patti DeMatteo, and two actors, Andrew Danish and Stephen Siano, set up a stage in the auditorium where they performed three plays previously written by students before taking the kids on a tour of the writing process.

They pointed out the necessary elements in a play – a setting, characters, conflict and dialogue – before the creating process began. Then DeMatteo went into the audience asking them what they wanted for a setting, characters, a storyline and a conflict. Two of the other Florida Studio Theatre performers stood in the background and acted out the dialogue as the students put it together.

The first play was located in a desert, where a 1,000-year-old mummy named Bob began to feel sick during a sandstorm. He was sick because he was worried that the storm was eroding his pyramid. Then, he met Sally, a talking camel.

He asked her for some medicine, which she did not have, and then some Pepto Bismol blew into the pyramid. Sally then volunteered to help fix the pyramid, offering some extra gauze she had. Bob ended the play by suggesting that he and his newly-made friend go have some chicken soup.

It was a good start that was long on originality, so they had the fourth- and fifth-graders make up another play. It included a one-eyed Chihuahua and a bunny on their way to the store.

The students have until March to turn in their plays and students from AME have placed well in previous competition, so if parents of students there find that their children are doing a little more day dreaming than normal, it could be just their way of dreaming up the next winning play.


Commission says $28,000 code violation fine stands

By Pat Copeland
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.


"Write a letter to the editor about a story."


<< Go back to Index November 7

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper