Vol. 8 No. 27 - March 26, 2008


Coquina quiet, but Island is packed
Easter at Coquina Beach is calm but Island stores and restaurants are jammed with tourists and spring breakers.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Family fun From left to right seated: Billie Savage, Marge Schmidt,
Carol Miles, and Carol Hawkins enjoyed Easter playing dominos at a
Coquina Beach picnic table on Easter.

BRADENTON BEACH – A few traffic stops, a couple of warrant arrests and a few people who brought in beer being told to empty their bottles – it was like any other Sunday at the beach, except it was Coquina Beach on Easter Sunday.

Law enforcement was there in force with officers patrolling on foot, horses, ATVs and in cars. The road connecting all five parking areas was fenced off so that patrons would have to go back onto Gulf Drive to get to other areas. Nobody was loitering in the parking lots and the flashy vehicles belonging to gang members were somewhere else. The crowd of beach-goers was much smaller than usual, way under the 10,000 people who normally show up.

Some officers blamed publicity for the smaller crowds. On the downside, the publicity following last year’s shooting might have scared some people away, while publicity surrounding the reconfiguration of the county’s largest public parking area to reduce the possibility of cruising might have made the gang members find new turf.

"I think the way the beach was reconfigured played a big part in causing them to go elsewhere," said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale. "The weather was nice and there were no other reasons not to come here."

More than 40 officers were on duty as part of the Multi-Area Anti-Gang Task Force that was called out. There were officers from as far away as Plant City to reinforce the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies and officers from Bradenton Beach. There was a van marked as belonging to the Office of Homeland Security at one of the entrances to the parking lot. A federal Immigration Customs Enforcement team arrested four illegal aliens who were at the beach.

All the uniforms were not unnoticed by beach-goers.

"There are a lot of cops here," said Carol Hawkes, of Palmetto, who was playing dominos at a picnic table with friends from New York and Tampa. " We were happy to see them."

Her friend, Carol Miles, of Lockport, N.Y., said it was a sign of the times.

"When I was six, we would come to the beach and see the Easter Bunny," Miles said. "Now we come and see police officers."

The women said it was reassuring to see the officers and they like the orderliness of the parking lot now.

"It was fun watching the police," said Marge Schmidt, of Palmetto. "There were two guys who tried to get smart with some of the officers, and they ended up going to jail," she said. "It was quite a show."

While the beach scene was calm Sunday, businesses on the Island were booming.

Sun Advertising Representative Chantelle Lewin reported businesses were full Monday with no sign that everyone was packing up and going home any time soon.

It was the same way on Bridge Street, according to Barbara Rodocker, owner of Bridge Walk Resort and the Sun House restaurant.

"This week is very busy and it looks like it will stay that way for two or three more weeks," she said, referring to the Bridge Walk. "We’ve had a fabulous season at the Sun House. It was full on Easter until around 2 p.m. and then it picked back up at 5 p.m."

Justin Willis, a clerk at Island Video, said business has been hot there, as well.

"It seemed slow up until this month," he said. "Things got real busy and Saturday was our busiest day of the year."

Meanwhile, the trolleys are teeming with riders. Ron Housey, a transit planner for Manatee County Area Transit, said the trolleys continue to increase in popularity.

"Ridership is between 10 and 12 percent higher than last year," he said. "Bus ridership is also up around 8 percent and we feel it’s a combination of higher gasoline prices and maybe more spring breakers this past week."

Meanwhile, Waterfront restaurant Assistant Manager A.J. Caster said business on the north end of the Island also was brisk.

"It started a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day and it hasn’t let up," she said. "I think it will last for several weeks more."

Caster said parking is at a premium in some places, another sign that the Island is packed "I went to Publix this (Monday) morning and it took me 15 minutes to find a parking space," she said. "And that was at 10:15 in the morning."

Andrea hoping her pies repeat sweet success
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Andrea Spring tries for another good showing at the Crisco competition.

ANNA MARIA – The ads for the Sign of the Mermaid tout Andrea Spring’s title – 2007 Crisco National Pie Champion. She hopes to add 2008 to her credentials soon.

Spring, who owns the Sign of the Mermaid with her husband, Ed, will be competing again for the crown of desertdom, the Crisco National Pie Championships on April 18 to 20 in Celebration, Fla.

This year, the Food Network will film the amateur entries, so she might end up on national TV. Last year, they only televised the pros, which is too bad since Spring’s key lime pie won the citrus division and best overall. Her Chocolate Expresso Explosion won first place in the “other” competition.

With the TV cameras focused in this year, Spring will have to come up with something besides her mainstay key lime, which she said last year won her lots of acclaim even before the competition.

"They won’t let me enter my key lime pie again because it won first place last year," she said. "This year, I think I’ll try lemon, which has always been a favorite."

She’ll also have to replace the Chocolate Expresso Explosion cake for the same reason.

"I’ll try my peanut butter pie this year," she said.

Spring is a veteran of the competition this year and she’ll be getting a boost from the competition organizers.

"They sent me all the scoring sheets with the judges’ comments from last year," she said. "They scored from 0 to 32 and my key lime pie got all 32s on one sheet. By contrast, they said my coconut cream pie was too "coconutty" and the chocolate was “overwhelming."

Another thing she learned was that the pie competition wasn’t all about the filling.

"The crust is a big part of it and is hugely popular," she said. "You could have the greatest filling ever, but if the crust is so hard it bounces off the floor, you’re not going to score high."

However it turns out, Spring will be carrying the banner for the Sign of the Mermaid and, to a certain extent, the Island, as she competes with pies like the ones we eat right here on Anna Maria.

Cell firm IDs 46 sites for equipment

BRADENTON BEACH – Officials questioned Chris Sinclair, of NextG Networks, about the company’s plan to install a series of antennas and optical repeater boxes on existing power poles in the four island cities.

Sinclair spoke at last week’s meeting of Island elected officials and said he had made presentations to two of the four cities and said the company is trying to understand each city’s approval process.

"An improvement in cell coverage means you won’t have dropped calls," he explained. "The other issue is lack of capacity. We can address both. We are a carrier’s carrier. We do not cater to the public; the operators come to us."

He said the company has identified five sites in Anna Maria, 12 in Holmes Beach, six in Bradenton Beach and 25 on Longboat Key.

Longboat Key Commissioner George Spoll asked if the company had contacted the providers. Sinclair said it would outline the approval processes and costs and make a presentation to interested cell providers.

"As a utility, you have the use of the rights of way," Spoll noted. "What do you require of Longboat Key?"

"As opposed to other telecommunications providers that may deploy without the municipal approval, permission or knowledge, we take a much more proactive approach. We want to work with the municipalities."

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce asked if FPL has given its approval for placing antennas on its power poles. Sinclair said FPL has no problem with the antennas but the equipment boxes may have to be placed at the bases of the poles.

"What is the hub site?" Pierce asked.

Sinclair said it is a collection point for the information and would require several hundred square feet. He said there would be one on one or both islands and a property owner has approached the company about a prospective site.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked how many providers the company could accommodate. Sinclair said two or three per pole location.

Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked if the company has considered the possibility of hurricanes. Sinclair said equipment is engineered to local circumstances and environmental conditions.

Zaccagnino said there is no benefit to Holmes Beach because it has a cell tower. Sinclair said there are holes in the coverage and the company would not overbuild.

City seeks county OK for pets on path

BRADENTON BEACH – The signs at the entrances to Coquina Beach say, "No dogs allowed on trail, beach or in park – Manatee County Ord. Chapt. 2-24."

If the city of Bradenton Beach has its way, a new sign will replace them without the word trail.

The city commission voted Thursday to send a letter to the Manatee County Commission supporting the concept of allowing dogs on the Coquina Beach Trail.

The city has been at odds with the county over the issue since the trail was completed. The county instructed lifeguards and police to enforce a ban on dogs there and then erected the signs, but dog owners have approached city commissioners asking them why.

During debate, City Commissioner John Chappie said the city should develop guidelines for dog owners and take them to the county commission, if it reconsiders the ban. City Commissioner Janie Robertson said the city might want to allow dogs for a trial period before making a permanent decision.

The vote was 4 – 1 with Mayor Michael Pierce the lone dissenter.

"The problem I see is that people don’t always control their dogs," he said. "I’m thinking about the good of the community as a whole."

Pierce said he has owned dogs in the past and has nothing against dogs and their owners.

In other decisions, the city approved constructing a four-foot fence between the public parking lot north of BridgeWalk Resort to separate it from the resort’s private lot. The commission refused a request from BridgeWalk owner Barbara Rodocker to allow overflow parking in the empty lot across Bridge Street and east of Magnolia Apartments.

Sign still blowin’ in the wind
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Holmes Beach police closed down Gulf Drive at 31st Street for about
10 hours Monday after complaints that an FDOT sign may have posed
a danger from swaying too much in the wind.

HOLMES BEACH – Monday was supposed to be one of the last days that the variable message signs would read "FDOT Test Sign." Instead, high winds gave one of the signs a test that it could not pass.

Holmes Beach Police officers detoured traffic around the sign at 31st Street and Gulf Drive Monday around 2 p.m. after receiving a complaint that the mast arm that holds it was moving excessively up and down in the winds, which were gusting up to 25 mph. The city called Manatee County, which called the Florida Department of Transportation. Engineers from the state and the county came to the scene and appeared to be concerned also. Around 6 p.m., they decided to leave up the detour for the night, although the city took it down around 10 p.m. when the winds died down.

Manatee County Public Works Project Manager Vince Canna said he sent engineers out to video the sign and they told him it appeared to be safe, but after looking at it himself, he still isn’t sure.

"The county’s public works traffic control supervisor told me they installed a wind wing on the mast arm that a technician told me helped," he said. "But I have asked our structural engineer to look at it to reassure me."

Canna said when he saw the sign Monday, it was swaying up and down as much as three feet.

"The company engineer told me it was supposed to sway some, but this was excessive," he said. "It’s supposed to withstand gusts of up to 110 mph, but the 25 mph gusts were moving it around a lot."

A spokesperson with the Holmes Beach Police Department said they would enact the detour again if the sign starts swaying like it was. The spokesperson said they would do what they could to ensure the public’s safety.

Rain doesn’t stop sunrise service
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

The pastors who gave the Easter Sunrise Service
at Manatee County Beach huddle under umbrellas.

HOLMES BEACH – A light drizzle wasn’t enough to stop the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island’s 44th annual Easter Sunrise Service at Manatee County Beach last Sunday. It did bring out the best in people, as they huddled under umbrellas, beach towels, even programs, to keep dry.

"If this were a football game, this wouldn’t be an issue," Rev. Dale Lawson of CrossPointe Fellowship said before giving the sermon. It brought a hearty laugh from the attendees.

Despite the rain, Kiwanis Club Sunrise Service co-chairman Larry Fowler said they estimated some 1,400 people attended with around 200 of those watching from Café on the Beach.

"The offering brought in $4,058.80, which is more than last year," he said. "All six Island churches participated and each one of them will get $676.46 from the offering."

Before the service started, keyboard player and Kiwanis President Bo LoPiccolo was heard to say that they would have to cancel it because his keyboard was getting wet. That didn’t stymie the Kiwanis members who rigged a tarp over LoPiccolo and vocalist Steve Wicker.

Rev. Lawson’s sermon, "Easter: A Crisis of Belief," touched on the story of Doubting Thomas who did not have to be shown that it was really Jesus back from the dead. After the sermon, the crowd got involved affirming that "Jesus is Risen."

Others who helped deliver the service were Rev. Harry Parsell, of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, who gave the invocation; Kiwanis member Bob Raisch, who delivered the prayer for the military; Rev. Rosemary Backer, of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, who read from Corinthians 15: 12-22; Rev. Gary Batey, from Roser Memorial Community Church, who read from John 20: 24-31; Rev. Stephen King, from Harvey Memorial Community Church, who gave the offertory prayer; and Rev. Jean-Ronald Joseph, from Sr. Bernard Catholic Church, who gave the benediction.

Sue Normand set to give deposition

The defense in the shooting of Sue Normand will hear from the victim on Monday, April 28, at the public defender’s office in downtown Bradenton.

Also called to give depositions are former Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Bill Shearon, who lives on the beach near where defendant Mark Koenigs was shot by Manatee County Sheriff’s officers following a massive manhunt on the Island the morning of the shooting. Another witness, Bradley Martin, and two sheriff’s officers, deputy Angel Buxeda and Adrianne Walls, will also testify that day.

Koenigs faces charges of aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm and three counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm for the Dec. 5 shooting of Normand at her business, Island Mail and More. She suffered a bullet wound to the abdomen that has kept her from walking and forced her to build an elevator in her elevated home. Koenigs was shot three times by deputies after he pointed a pistol at them on the beach. Koenigs’ trial is tentatively set for June 2.

Normand did not have health insurance and has had to pay her medical bills from the shooting. A fund was set up to accept donations from the public to help her. You can log onto www.supportsue.com or call 941-224-9640.

Anna Maria comp plan approved

ANNA MARIA – Anna Maria’s comprehensive plan was approved on Friday by the Florida Department of Community Affairs after years of exhaustive review by city and state officials and local residents and committees.

The plan ensures that Anna Maria’s distinct personality will be preserved, Mayor Fran Barford said on Monday, when she was notified of the approval by the Sun.

"We’re glad it’s behind us," she said.

The culmination of five years of work, the plan expands the city’s retail/office/residential (ROR) districts to include mixed residential and commercial uses such as those proposed for Pine Avenue, she said. The plan also reiterates prohibitions against condominiums, new duplexes, "big box" stores, strip malls and buildings taller than 37 feet.

"We found the city’s plan in compliance with growth management requirements," DCA spokesman Jon Peck said, adding that any resident who wishes to challenge the plan has 21 days to file an appeal with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.

No challenges are anticipated, Barford said.

"I think the comp plan does an excellent job of preserving this gem we call Anna Maria," said Commissioner Duke Miller, who ran for office three terms ago primarily to impact the plan’s formation.

"The most important thing about it is that it doesn’t do anything to change the city," said Miller, a resident since 2001, whose parents purchased land in the city in 1957. "To keep something the way it is with the way Florida is going is significant. We have to be careful that we don’t mess with the goose that laid the golden egg."

The city’s planning and zoning commission has already been working on reviewing and revising land use ordinances in anticipation of the plan’s approval, Anna Maria Commission Chairperson John Quam said.

"We’re moving forward on our land use regulations to make sure they match up with the comp plan," he said.

State law requires all city and county governments to adopt a comprehensive plan. Plans and proposed revisions to existing plans must be approved by the DCA before they take effect.

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