Vol. 8 No. 26 - March 19, 2008

headlines


Elephant adds to St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Manatee High School fiddlers concentrate on their music.
SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT

The leprechauns were out in force last Saturday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, sponsored by Beach Bistro restaurant.

Dozens of vehicles entered the parade, which featured an elephant. Bradenton Herald columnist Vin Mannix and Lanny Frattare, voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, followed Judy, the 39-year-old Asian elephant, with shovels, just in case she had an accident. She didn’t.

“Judy was a well-mannered lady,” Beach Bistro owner and parade organizer Sean Murphy said. “It looks like Judy will be returning for next year’s parade.”

The parade appeared to be one of the longer ones the Island has seen lately. Murphy said it appeared to take up about half the distance of the parade route, from Holmes Beach City Hall to 79th Street.

Murphy said the parade probably wouldn’t work anywhere else but Anna Maria Island.

“It was a great little parade in a great little community,” he added. “I want to thank everyone who came out and made it happen.”

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Changes to ease traffic during bridge closing

BRADENTON BEACH – The Cortez Bridge will be available for more traffic during the rehabilitation of the Anna Maria Island Bridge this fall.

That’s the word from U.S. Coast Guard Bridge Specialist and Project Manager Michael Lieberum speaking at the Island Transportation Planning Organization meeting Monday.

Mayors of the Island Cities put together a list of recommendations for the Coast Guard to consider at an earlier ITPO meeting. They addressed minimizing the times that the Cortez Bridge is closed to automobile traffic during high traffic periods while the Anna Maria Island Bridge is closed for up to 45 days to traffic starting Sept. 29. The recommendations also touched on the 75th Street corridor between Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road, where a lot of traffic that would normally use the Anna Maria Island Bridge would travel south to Cortez to use that bridge.

Lieberum said they would open one leaf of the drawbridge to allow boats to pass 24 hours a day. Both leaves could be opened with a one-hour notice to the bridge tender for ships too wide to pass under one leaf.

From Sept. 29 to Nov. 13, the Anna Maria Island Bridge will remain closed to navigation from 6 to 9 a.m., 2 to 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. each evening. At other times, the bridge will be open to boat traffic once an hour at the top of the hour.

The Cortez Bridge will open once an hour on the bottom of the hour and will be allowed to remain closed to navigation from 5:35 to 9:25 a.m., 1:35 to 4:25 p.m. and 8 to 4:25 a.m. during rush hour and when school buses will be using it.

Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Michael Howe said that the Coast Guard’s new regulations to have both bridges open on the half hour are something the Island cities, especially Bradenton Beach, had been seeking to alleviate traffic jams on the Cortez Bridge. The cities did manage to get the Coast Guard to change the openings of the Cortez Bridge from every 20 minutes to twice an hour during season.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has approved changes to the traffic on the loop from Palma Sola Causeway to 75th Street to Cortez Road. FDOT engineer Don Cashdollar said that double left turn lanes would be instituted from northbound 75th to westbound Cortez and from westbound Manatee to southbound 75th.

Another FDOT engineer, George Patton, told the mayors that there were steps that they could take to extend the left turn lane from northbound Gulf Drive to eastbound Cortez Road. He said extending the lane would change stormwater drainage and they would never get a new permit from the state in time to extend it during the Anna Maria Island Bridge construction project. He also cited increased danger to businesses along Gulf Drive because the turn lane would bring traffic closer to them.

Owner seeks relief from $104,700 code fine

HOLMES BEACH – Caught in a classic Catch-22, property owner Joe Hieronimus asked commissioners for relief from a code fine that has reached $104,700.

"I became aware of this situation the first week of February 2008, when I received a letter from Code Enforcement Officer Nancy Hall," Hieronimus explained. "It took me by surprise. The fine has been occurring since March 3, 2006. I thought it was a mistake.

"I met with Nancy to get an overview of the situation and get the background and piece together the history. She recommended that I come here today and talk to you."

Hieronimus, who lives in Pennsylvania, said he and two other partners purchased the property at 4605 Gulf Drive in 2001 as an investment. One of the partners, George Ellin, was to manage the duplex and contracted with a rental company to rent it.

"We had limited success in renting it and in late 2003, George called and proposed that he move some of his employees in and assume all the costs. In 2003 through 2005, that happened.

"At the end 2005, George’s construction business took a turn for the worse and he got into a dispute with one of his employees, who was also staying in the duplex. At the end of 2005, he moved out."

Hieronimus said due to Ellin’s financial difficulties, he agreed to purchase Ellin’s third, which he did in April 2006. He fixed up the property and put it on the market, but could not sell it. After 18 months he contacted a rental company, which rented it in September 2007.

"All along, I was unaware of the code violation," he stressed. "Nancy said to come here and beg, so I’m begging. I’m not here to dispute the facts."

Hieronimus said he also is representing the other property owner, Richard Santia, who lives in Atlanta.

Board debates issue

"The city doesn’t have anything to do with it," Commissioner Pat Morton said. "Your problem is with George. He told the code board what he was going to do (get the rental license) and he didn’t do it."

"George threw you under the bus and sent you here to plead the case," Commissioner John Monetti agreed.

"I appreciate that position," Hieronimus replied. "I’m here on my own. "George is my friend and I took certain things for granted. I don’t want to disparage George.

"This has escalated to the point where I would have no choice but to turn the property over. At one time this was a $200-300 issue. Who in their right mind would let it go to $105,000?"

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said Hieronimus should have done a title search, which would have revealed that the city had a lien on the property. However, Hieronimus said he bought the property before the lien was filed.

She also questioned how the property got back in the rental market without a license, given its history. Hieronimus said Hall called the agent who said she didn’t need one.

"It seems to me that a $150 per day fine for lack of a rental license is pretty steep," Mayor Rich Bohnenberger observed.

"If you want to offer mercy, find out the rationale behind the fine," Petruff advised commissioners. "If you are inclined to reduce the fine, it needs to be an amount that does not harm the integrity of your code board system."

Hieronimus said the county has his address because he is paying the taxes and questioned why the city did not have his address. He said Hall sent all the notices to Ellin, which were all returned.

"If we would reduce it would you pay it?" Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked.

"I’d have to talk to Rick, but I’m assuming there’s going to be some pound of flesh to pay," Hieronimus responded.

Commissioners agreed to stop the fine the day Hieronimus talked to Hall, move the issue to the March 25 work session and find out why the code enforcement board levied the excessive fine. They also asked Hieronimus to get a letter from Santia authorizing him to speak on Santia’s behalf.

Pole boxes to enhance cell service
The technology is used in locations where cell towers are not practical.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED
An antenna on a street light pole is unobtrusive and
enhances cell service without a cell tower. NextG hopes
to install these in selected locations on the Island.

HOLMES BEACH – Chris Sinclair, representing NextG Networks, told commissioners the company has applied to install a series of antennas and optical repeater boxes on existing power poles in the three Island cities.

"We have received operator interest to improve coverage on the Island," Sinclair explained. "The second component is fiber optic cable, which will link each of the pole locations.

"Distributed antenna systems are designed to supplement in areas where macro sites, such as towers and monopoles, cannot serve. We serve all the major operators and are in the process of engineering a network to do that."

He said there would be eight to 10 pole locations in the city and construction would occur in the fourth quarter of the year. Benefits include better coverage, a small number of antennas or boxes, use of existing poles, low visibility and easy installation.

"We have made formal application to Holmes Beach and the neighboring municipalities," Sinclair continued. "This will be an engineered network and we’re trying to ascertain the municipal approval process."

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said the process is for a special exception permit, which includes a site plan. The site plan would be the engineered grid plan. She said there are advertising challenges because those within 500 feet of the construction are supposed to be notified.

"What we thought we would do was put ads in the newspaper and once they tell us exactly where these poles are, we can put up some signs," she explained.

Commissioner John Monetti asked about financial considerations, and Petruff said there is the permit fee, but the city is not allowed to charge a franchise fee.

Signs might be ready for holiday weekend

A trouble-plagued sign project may be ready to aid Island law enforcement officers and beachgoers during the season’s biggest beach weekend.

Manatee County Assistant Director of Transportation Harry Mendenhall said that the four variable message signs on the Island and two on the mainland might be ready to use by the end of the week, but it’s up to the contractor.

"They had their final inspection walkthrough (last week) and they developed a punch list, which doesn’t have anything major on it," he said. "The contractor is in the liquidated portion of the contract, so they might be anxious to finish."

If the signs are not usable by then, Mendenhall said they would have a backup plan.

"We have contracted with public safety to use trailer-mounted signs," he said.

The project dates back to the 1990s when Holmes Beach City Councilwoman Billie Martini suggested they erect signs that could tell people that the beaches were full or a bridge was malfunctioning before they drove out to the Island. It took many years to secure grant money to pay for the signs and after the funding was approved by the county, there were delays and communications problems between the county and the engineers.

Everything was approved and signs were erected last year. They underwent testing for a month and just before the county was to put them into use, a double-sided sign that sat above Gulf Drive at 31st Street broke loose from its mast and fell onto the roadway on Nov. 14.

The county took down an identical sign over Gulf Drive near Coquina Beach and inspected all of them, determining that the masts and arms that held them were not strong enough.

The problem added to the time it took for the contractor, Traffic Control Devices, Inc., to finish the job. It is now past deadline, so the sooner it addresses the punch list, the more money it will get, according to Mendenhall.

When the permanent signs go into operation, they will show standard messages chosen by the county, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach. When there is a problem that requires a message, such as Coquina Beach’s parking lot is full, the operator will punch in a number to bring that message up.

Mendenhall said the county’s on-duty traffic signal control person would be able to change messages by computer. Island police departments also can contact that person.

Police to be out in force at Coquina on Easter

BRADENTON BEACH – With a reconfigured parking area at Coquina Beach and a new ordinance to help police prevent loitering in that area, everyone is hopeful that the violence that has plagued previous Easters at the beach won’t happen again.

Just in case, there won’t be any shortage of patrol officers.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said that he met with Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and county officials and they have a plan for Easter Sunday.

"We’ll be activating the Anti-Gang Task Force," he said. "We’ll have between 40 and 50 officers from the sheriff’s office, Palmetto, Bradenton and Bradenton Beach."

Last year, three people were shot in a gang-related incident at Coquina Beach parking lot even though the county activated the Regional Anti-Gang Task Force and brought in around 80 officers from as far away as Plant City.

"We felt that with the new parking lot configuration this year, we wouldn’t need that many officers," Speciale said.

The parking area, which runs from Longboat Pass to the bus turnaround next to Cortez Beach, was split into five separate lots connected only by one road to the east. Each lot has a gate so that police can open and close certain lots depending on the number of people at the beach and whether there is violence occurring. Speciale said they would use them if the need arises.

"Mainly we’ll have a large police presence on Easter," he said. "They’ll be on horseback, on ATVs and on foot."

Speciale said he hoped that people would not hesitate to come to Coquina Beach for the holiday.

"I would hope that what happened in the past would not prevent people from coming out here because the county and the city have done a lot to make sure Coquina Beach is safe for families," he said.

Where the breakers are
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE
Several Wake Forest University students spent their spring break lounging
on Anna Maria Island beaches last week. From left to right are Will Machmer,
Caroline Gilligan, Jane Hammond, Lydia Harter, Mallory Boutin, Chris Perez
and Brittany Bowman. Spring break lasts from late February through April,
depending on the school.

Spring breakers are here, but they’re not the ones who guzzle beer directly from the keg, then jump off the balcony into the swimming pool.

"We googled ‘family beach vacation,’ said Chris Perez, a student at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., who spent his 22nd birthday here last week with 15 friends in a house and condo an affordable block or two from Bradenton Beach.

College students going online to find spring break destinations are not likely to find Anna Maria Island among them. The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau does not market the Island as a spring break destination, nor track the number of breakers who visit, Marketing Assistant Michelle Stewart said. "Spring break" doesn’t even show up in a search of the local tourism Web site.

And students would be hard pressed to find organized spring break activities on the Island, unlike in Daytona Beach, Panama City Beach, Miami and Key West, the top four spring break destinations in the state according to Visit Florida, the state’s travel marketing agency.

But that’s just fine with Anna Maria’s breakers, who don’t need a lot of promotional events to enjoy themselves.

"We just like hanging out with each other," Caroline Gilligan said.

The Wake Forest gang spent the week lazing around on the sand, reading, playing four square and bocci ball, renting bicycles, catching a couple of Pittsburgh Pirates spring training games and traveling to Tampa to celebrate Perez’ birthday at Busch Gardens.

What do they like best about the Island?

"The beach isn’t too full," said Mallory Boutin. "People are friendly. And the water’s not cold," added Will Machmer, at least not compared to his home in New York. Others said the Island is closer than South Florida, a big plus when you’re driving with a dozen of your closest friends. "You can walk to dinner," Boutin said, adding that the group didn’t know about the trolley system. "They need to put the information in the hotel rooms," she said.

"We wanted the west coast," said Lydia Harter, who had heard that Florida’s west coast is the quieter one.

Oddly enough, her sister, Gracie, a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, had the same idea, and also found Anna Maria Island online, without discussing Lydia’s plans for spring break. Gracie plans to arrive with friends this week.

The Wake Forest gang won’t be returning to Anna Maria Island for spring break – they’re seniors. But a few years from now, one of them may go online and look up "family beach vacation" again and find themselves back on the Island, for auld lang syne.

Churches celebrate with Easter services

Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, the Island’s churches offer services to celebrate the Easter holiday. However, one way to celebrate is on the beach as the sun rises from the east.

Once again, the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island has teamed up with Island churches to hold the 45th Annual Easter Sunrise Service at Manatee County Beach, 6000 Gulf Drive at Manatee Ave.

The service begins at 6:30 a.m. and everyone is invited to bring a beach blanket or chair to participate. The parking lot fills up early and there are a lot of people who attend from the mainland, so if you live here, you would be wise to use the free trolley to get there.

Father Harry I. Parsell, of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, will deliver the invocation. Rev. Rosemary Backer, of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, and Rev. Gary Batey, from Roser Memorial Community Church, will read from the Scriptures. Rev. Dale Lawson, of CrossPointe Fellowship, will give the sermon entitled "Easter: A Crisis of Belief."

Rev. Stephen King, of Harvey Memorial Community Church, will give the offertory prayer and the benediction. Bob Raisch, of the Kiwanis Club, will give a special prayer for our military personnel around the world.

The offering from the service goes to the six churches on the Island to spend on various charitable projects. According to Kiwanis Club Spiritual Aims Chairman Larry Fowler, the services have raised more than $130,000 for the churches over the years.

For those of you who want to sleep later, the following is a list of Island church services.

• CrossPointe Fellowship Baptist, 8605 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, 778-0719, Rev. Dale Lawson. March 23, Easter Sunday, service at 9 a.m. and coffee and Bible study at 10 a.m. The church will host an Easter egg hunt at Virgil Mills Elementary School, 7200 69th St. E., Palmetto.

• Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, 4408 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-1638, Rev. Harry Parsell. March 20, Maundy Thursday service, 7 p.m. March 21, Good Friday service at noon and Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m. Easter Sunday services at 7:30, 9 and 11 a.m.

• Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-1813, Rev. Rosemary Backer. Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. Friday, March 21, Tenebrae Service of Darkness at 5 p.m. Easter Sunday service at 8 and 10:30 a.m.

• Roser Memorial Community Church, 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, 778-0414, Rev. Gary Batey. Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. in the Sanctuary. Good Friday service at noon in the chapel. Easter Sunday services at 9 and 11 a.m. in the chapel.

• St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach, 778-4769, Rev. Robert J. Mongiello. Holy Thursday Mass at 7 p.m. Good Friday Mass at noon and 3 p.m. Holy Saturday Traditional Blessing of the Food at 11 a.m. and Easter Vigil at 8 p.m. Easter Sunday Mass at 8 and 10 a.m. and at noon.

Scam suspect arrested
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Richard Wright

A 44-year-old man has been arrested and charged with scheming to defraud several restaurants in Manatee and Sarasota counties, including one in Holmes Beach, in a series of crimes involving large food orders and fake cashier’s checks.

A Florida State Patrol trooper stopped a vehicle driven by Richard Wright, address unknown, on Feb. 27 on I-75 near Ft. Myers, according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow. The trooper arrested Wright after a computer check showed an active warrant for his arrest from Texas.

"He also found cashier’s checks in the car with AFLAC written on them," Bristow said. "The trooper called AFLAC and they referred him to our office."

Bristow said that Wright was cooperative with officials and confessed to scamming two restaurants in Manatee County, plus two in Sarasota County.

Jackie Estes, owner of Paradise Café and Catering in Holmes Beach, told The Sun the suspect came in and ordered $1,833 worth of food for what he said was a party for a local real estate office. He paid her with a $2,000 cashier’s check. Estes gave him change in cash.

Later, she had some questions about the order and tried to phone him, but the number he gave her was bogus. That’s when she took the check to the bank and found out it also was bogus.

Estes came to the police department and asked the detective to file a report on Wednesday, March 12, after she heard that Wright had been arrested. Estes later identified Wright from a photo.

Bristow said Wright’s MO made it easy for him to pull a number of these scams.

"He only got a little money each time, but the restaurants were usually stuck with a lot of food they had prepared," Bristow said. "He kept moving, which made it harder to find him.

"It was good work by the trooper, who kept following up," Bristow added. "We were closing in on the guy."

Bristow said the trooper also found some fake IDs in Wright’s automobile during the stop.


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