Vol 8 No. 16 - January 9, 2008


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper $28,000 fine draws lawsuit

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper City eyes beachfront property

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Bradenton man wins Football Fever grand prize

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Body found in bay next to Island

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Charges against Koenigs changed

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper No judicial decision on 504 South Bay injunction

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Phase I drainage work to begin

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Music is life for jazzman Herb Harris




$28,000 fine draws lawsuit

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – William and Diane Sorg have sued the city of Holmes Beach over a code enforcement board action taken more than three years ago.

In October 2004, the code enforcement board found the Sorgs, of 3707 Gulf Drive, in violation for making repairs on a balcony without a building permit and levied a fine of $30 per day.

When the fine was not paid within the 30-day period, it was recorded with the county, creating a lien on the property. The fine reached $28,000 before the couple came into compliance in May 2007. However, the fine still stands.

In the lawsuit, the Sorgs are asking the city to remove the lien and allow them to build a quadraplex. The city maintains that the structure is a duplex. The Sorgs further maintain that they do not owe the fine imposed by the code enforcement board.

In September 2007, city commissioners instructed the city attorney to begin the process of foreclosing on the property. In October 2007, Sorg appeared before commissioners and asked them to reduce the fine.

At that time, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said Sorg has been difficult to deal with and has changed attorneys several times, sending the case back to square one each time. She said he received notice of the hearing as well as the final administrative order finding him in violation and the order imposing the fine.

The commissioners refused to reduce the fine.

City eyes beachfront property

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – It is a perfect piece of beachfront land that’s about as valuable to developers as good old Florida swampland. To the city, it’s priceless and the commissioners are trying to come up with the money to make it recreational land for everyone.

The land in question is on the beach just west of Bermuda Bay Club, in the 1400 block of Gulf Drive South. There are sand dunes with plants in them, one reason the current owners of the land were not given permission to build a beachfront condo project there.

After ruling against their requests, the city offered to purchase the land if it could get a grant to help pay the expense. At last Thursday’s city commission meeting, Bradenton Beach City Attorney Ralf Brookes talked about the city’s effort to get a grant from the Florida Community Trust, through the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Brookes said the time for submitting grant requests is nearly here and the city wants to get its application in early.

"The problem is, we don’t know how many applications will come in from around the state, so we need to send the best application possible," he said.

Bradenton Beach Projects and Programs Manager Lisa Marie Phillips said she was meeting with Manatee County Grants Administrator Maggie Marr this week to go over the details.

"So much of the application depends on our comprehensive plan," she said. "Both of us will go over the plan to see if we have the right stuff. It has to do with the city’s commitment to preservation."

Brookes was asked if the sellers, Island, Inc. and Beach, Inc., would still sell the land to the city if it is passed over for the grant this year and has to reapply next year.

"If we come close, the land owners might give us an extra year," he said. "The cost to the city is $15,000, so we need to send in a great application."

The Florida League of Cities has offered to pay $15,000 toward the expenses, according to building official Steve Gilbert.

Bradenton man wins Football Fever grand prize

Mike Speigl, of Bradenton, won The Sun’s Football Fever contest’s grand prize of a vacation compliments of Fantasy Travel with 180 correct picks overall during the season, nine more than the second place entry. Interestingly, Speigl only won a weekly contest once, but he scored high every week to win the grand prize.

Speigl got to choose between a two-night cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau/Paradise Island Bahamas or a two-night Biloxi package, including round-trip air and ground transportation, a deluxe room and meals. Speigl, who works at Cox Chevrolet, is single, but he was planning to pop the question to a young lady last weekend.

This was the first time that entrants were tallied for the entire year in order to win a grant prize. Previous Football Fever contests pitted entries only on a weekly basis. This season, weekly winners got a breakfast from Cortez Café, two movie rentals from AMI Video, lunch for two from the Anna Maria Oyster Bar and $50 from the Anna Maria Island Sun.


Body found in bay next to Island

HOLMES BEACH – The body of a man who jumped into Tampa Bay Dec. 29 while fishing at the Skyway Bridge washed to shore at Key Royale on Wednesday, Jan. 2.

Holmes Beach police were called to the scene behind 655 Key Royale Drive shortly after 1 p.m. after a resident claimed he saw something that resembled a large plastic bag in the water. He said he went to remove it from the water when he discovered it was the body of a man.

The Holmes Beach officers called Hillsborough County detectives when they suspected the body might be that of 19-year-old Dustin Benson, of Palm Harbor, who was missing after witnesses said they saw him jump from the bridge. The detectives and Hillsborough County Medical Examiner David Winterhalter identified the body as Benson through tattoos on the backside. The body was taken to Hillsborough County for an autopsy.



Charges against Koenigs changed

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

The prosecutor in the case against Mark Koenigs has changed the charges against him in the shooting of Sue Normand.

Prosecutor Lauren Berns dropped the attempted first degree murder charge and filed an aggravated battery with a firearm charge, according to Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine. Berns said that it all had to do with the amount of evidence they had available to get a conviction on attempted first degree murder. He said the penalty would take Koenigs off the streets for a long time.

"Aggravated battery exposes him to the same penalty, which is a 25-year mandatory minimum with a possible top of 30 years," Berns said. "At his age, it would probably amount to a life sentence."

Koenigs is 53 years old.

Normand was shot once in the abdomen by an assailant that she identified as Koenigs, who left the scene and walked south along Gulf Drive, according to police reports. He went onto the beach and walked south until police caught up with him at Bradenton Beach. They shot him three times when he pointed his pistol at them.

Meanwhile, the community is responding to Normand’s needs following the shooting. She had no health insurance and Bayfront Medical Center, where she was taken after the shooting, tried to release her before she had a rehabilitation plan. Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a nurse, came to her aid and got Normand a doctor and into a rehabilitation program.

Normand uses a wheelchair and a walker and cannot climb stairs. Her house in Holmes Beach is elevated and Whitmore, through Darcie Duncan of Duncan Real Estate, got her a place to stay through January. Donna Stewart, of Holmes Beach, has offered the use of a duplex unit through February. Meanwhile, Normand is hoping to get an elevator installed in her house.

Others who have come forth include a trolley driver, who offered the use of a motorized wheelchair, and Anna Maria resident Rex Hagen, who wrote a check for $1,000.

Two funds have been set up for Normand. One is an Internet site opened by her son, Stephen, who is running her office, Island Mail and More, while she is unable to work. You can donate through PayPal to www.supportsue.com. The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce has also opened a fund at Bay of Dreams, Inc., c/o Sue Normand, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217.

The Anna Maria Island Privateers will hold a mullet smoke in the Publix parking lot at 3900 East Bay Drive, on Saturday, Jan. 19, from 7 a.m. until it is all sold. The proceeds will go toward Normand’s expenses. For more information visit www.amiprivateers.org.

Normand said she is thankful for everything that people are doing for her.


No judicial decision on 504 South Bay injunction

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — There has been no word from circuit court yet as to whether or not the city can issue a temporary certificate of occupancy for 504 South Bay Blvd., which is the subject of a recent lawsuit.

Ricinda Perry, attorney for Laura Gee, who filed for the injunction, said she hasn’t heard from the courts yet, and no date has been set for the certiorari hearing that is before the court.

When the city issued variances for 504 South Bay, Gee, who lives next door, filed her suit against the city. In the lawsuit, Gee states that the city violated its own codes and issued the variances to settle another lawsuit.

The city has not yet issued a certificate of occupancy, according to Diane Sacca, the administrative assistant in the building department. All the requirements have not been fulfilled as yet.

City Attorney Jim Dye responded to an inquiry from the building department as to how it should proceed with inspections by saying that absent a court order, the city should treat the property as it would any other and issue a c/o when and if all the requirements for the issuance are met.

The property, which is owned by Terry and Patricia Olesen, has been the subject of two lawsuits. The first, filed by the Olesens against the city, resulted in a mediated settlement. The second, which is pending, was filed by Gee.

The Olesens filed their suit after all but completing a major remodeling project that had been permitted by the city’s building department. Then a citizen complained that the wall on the north side of the Olesen property had been placed in a public beach access.

The Olesens claimed half of the access had belonged to their family for decades. The city, unable to find any evidence that the Olesens actually owned that half of the beach access, issued a stop work order on the home.
There the situation stalled for months as the Olesens hired attorneys, asked for permission to put the roof on the dwelling to prevent damage during hurricane season and ultimately filed a lawsuit against the city demanding a jury trial.

The city and the Olesens ultimately reached a mediated settlement in which the property owners agreed to deed the property in dispute to the city and the city agreed to move the wall and issue four variances for other code violations that were built into the remodeling project — with city permits and approval.

There is a disclaimer on city building permits stating that the permit is based on information provided by the applicant, and if that information is incorrect, the city will not stand behind the permit.

That’s essentially what happened here. The Olesens provided a survey that later proved to show property in the beach access that the Olesens could not ultimately prove was theirs.

At the city’s variance hearing, the city commission voted to approve the same and issued the four variances that were part of the mediated lawsuit — one dealt with the placement of some air conditioning equipment in the side setback. Gee’s master bedroom window overlooks the site of the air-conditioning equipment.

Gee argued against the variance for the air conditioning equipment at the variance hearing, stating that there were other locations for it where no variance would be required.

In the end, the commission voted to grant all four variance requests despite a recommendation against the variance request for the placement of the air conditioning equipment.

Perry said she expects to hear something on the suit sometime in the next few weeks.



Phase I drainage work to begin

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — Any day now, the work on what the city calls the Phase I drainage project should begin. Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swfwmd) engineers and legal experts are scrutinizing final plans and the city’s contract with Adkins Contracting, Inc. As soon as that agency gives the go ahead, the project will get under way.

The Phase I drainage project is designed to drain a large part of the city from Gulf Drive eastward to the bay. Pine Avenue borders it on the north with a little section north of there around Crescent. The work will sweep southward to Willow and Oak.

A few houses in that area are flooded during heavy rain events, and this project should eliminate water incursion into those houses. It should also greatly reduce the amount of time it takes stormwater to drain from flooded streets and sidewalks.

"This is a barrier Island," said City Commissioner Dale Woodland. "You’ll never eliminate flooding, but you can greatly improve it. Woodland has been instrumental in securing grants from the project, both from Swfwmd and from the states Stormwater Improvement Management (SWIM) program.

The drainage project is designed to clean the stormwater before discharging it into canals or the bay. Water will percolate down through wide, shallow grassy swales in some ares, thus cleaning it before it gets into the aquifer, which supplies our drinking water.

When the rains are heavy, the water will be directed into a series of drainage areas leading to filters that will remove heavy metals and other pollutants from the water before ultimately dumping it into the city’s canals and Tampa Bay.

Swfwmd and SWIM will pick up roughly half of the $539,000 the project was initially assessed to cost. The cost has since risen to $629,982. Both Woodland and Tom Wilcox, an engineer with HDR, are hopeful that the city can secure grants to make up the difference.

This is actually the second in a series drainage programs for which the city has secured some state funding. The first, the Gladiolus basin drainage project, was completed last year and appears to be working well.

A third project, this one designed to improve the bad flooding that occurs on South Boulevard and other smalls streets off South Bay Boulevard, is about to enter the preliminary design phase.

A neighborhood meeting has been set for Jan. 17 at city hall. People who live in the area will get a chance to meet with engineers and representatives of the city’s public works department.


Music is life for jazzman Herb Harris

By Pay Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – Retirement has an entirely different meaning to Herb Harris than most people.

After moving to Florida in 2000, Harris had an urge to return to jazz and formed the Herb Harris Jazz Trio, which has performed at Holly Hall and Michael’s on East in Sarasota, Ezra in Bradenton and the Bistro at Island’s End and Da Giorgio Ristorante on the Island. And seven years later, the 91-year-old Key Royale resident is booking gigs as fast as he can answer the phone.

Harris’ career began when he picked up a drumstick at the Westchester Military Academy. In high school, he joined the marching band and orchestra and then attended CCNY for a year before hitting the road.

"I left New York in 1935 and traveled with Tab Units, which were traveling vaudeville shows," he explained. "Eventually, I ended up in Chicago, where I got stranded and stayed for two years.

"I wound up with George Olson, a major sweet band leader, and stayed with him for three years. We played top hotels all over the country and I studied voice and tympani during that time."

While in Chicago, Harris first heard African music and developed a passion for ethnic music and instruments. His collection of ethnic percussion instruments grew to over a thousand and he eventually donated a thousand of them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After the band disbanded, Harris returned to New York and joined the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Band. Upon discharge, he played club dates, joined the New York Youth Symphony, attended Julliard School of Music for four years and got his first show, "On the Town," with Leonard Bernstein.

"I did 14 years of Broadway shows," he recalled, "and played all of Lenny’s shows.”

He also did film and television work and served as Joseph Papp’s musical administrator for his New York Shakespeare Festival for 18 years. In 1958, at the request of Bernstein, he joined the New York Philharmonic and stayed for 24 years, then returned to film and television work.

"After I moved to Florida, I had a thirst to go back to my first love – jazz," he said. "I formed a trio and began playing around the area."

Other trio members are Michael Royal on piano and John Lamb on bass. Recently, they played to a full house at The Studio at Gulf and Pine.


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