Vol. 8 No. 28 - April 2, 2008

headlines


‘Awesome’ season bolsters Island
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Lines have been long at Star Fish Co. in Cortez and many other
restaurants during this stellar spring, which seems busier than last year
to many area businesspeople.
SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE

The hard numbers aren’t in yet, but a look at any beach, store or parking lot is proof positive that Anna Maria Island is having a stellar spring. From rental agents to retailers to restaurateurs, local businesspeople agree that beautiful local weather, severe Northern weather and even emotional factors are bringing crowds to the Island. "I believe people have had to deal with fears for so long they’ve finally said, ‘Wait a minute, I want to live. I may have to have a shorter holiday or may have to give up something else, but I need a vacation,’ " said Barbara Rodocker of Bridgewalk and Silver Surf in Bradenton Beach, both at 100 percent capacity.

She predicts the trend will continue into the warmer months when Floridians replace snowbirds at the beach.

"Even through the summer, we’re going to find people saying, "It’s time to start living again,’ " she said.

Anna Maria Commissioner Chris Tollette and several friends who meet each week to paint and go out to lunch together have changed their routine due to the crowds.

"We’ve been going into town for lunch because it’s so crowded out here," she said, adding that no one is complaining. "It’s good for our economy."

Weekend nights are especially crowded, so much so that New York visitor Marilyn Woelk had to choose a restaurant for dinner based on available parking in Bradenton Beach one recent night, when her party had to circle several blocks several times before finding a car pulling out of a parking space at Oma’s.

Even on weekdays, cars overflow from the full Manatee Public Beach parking lot to the shoulder on Manatee Avenue. On the Monday after Easter, some Publix shelves were empty, as if a delivery truck had missed its schedule. A cashier said that swarms of people had cleaned off the shelves like ants at a picnic.

At Sign of the Mermaid, 9707 Gulf Drive in Anna Maria, Matt Cromer says he’s been serving dinner to 15 to 30 more people each night than last year.

Paradise Cafe and Catering, 3210 E. Bay Drive in Holmes Beach, had bigger crowds in both February and March than last year, said Jackie Estes, calling the season "awesome."

The Sand Dollar Gift Shop at 5302 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach was exceptionally busy in March, especially the past week, with families and college students on spring break, Ginny Possehl said.

It’s hard to get a picnic table at the bayfront Star Fish Co. in Cortez, where lines are 20 deep at lunch waiting for mullet, shrimp and other fresh seafood. Lines also have been spotted running out the door and down the sidewalk at Dips Ice Cream, 9801 Gulf Drive in Anna Maria.

Even businesses that aren’t attracting more people than last year have seen increased sales.

Sales are up at Jessie's Island Store, a gas station/deli at 5424 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.

"I’m surprised because Easter was so early," said Jimmy Lachapelle, attributing some of the increase to the rising cost of gasoline.

Chris Fielder, manager of the Sun House at 111 Gulf Drive S. in Bradenton Beach, says the number of his customers hasn’t increased, but they’re spending more money, according to sales figures that exceed last year’s.

Real estate agents also are enjoying multiple benefits of the increased tourist traffic. Not only have the crowds brought visitors to rental agencies, but some are interested in buying, according to Barry Gould at Island Vacation Properties in Holmes Beach.

"There’s no question the amount of activity is higher than last year," he said. "I think the word is out that there are reasonably priced properties here. People are here looking to buy."

State says no to renourishment extension
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

This property won’t be eligible for state renourishment funding,
even though it is eroded. SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT

ANNA MARIA – Like the ebb and flow of the tides, the likelihood of renourished beaches along the north end of the Island is ever changing.

First they said they couldn’t; then they said they could.

Now they’re back to square one.

In a letter dated March 13, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems Project Manager Catherine Florko has given her department’s latest assessment – they can’t approve any money to help pay for it.

The area in question is from just northeast of Bean Point to the Rod and Reel Pier, which Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Director Charlie Hunsicker originally said was not eligible for partial funding from the state. Hunsicker made the announcement during a renourishment workshop Feb. 12 at Anna Maria City Hall. He pointed to an area on a map where a marker was located in the ground and said that was the farthest limit north and east for the state funding.

Resident Joan Dickinson challenged his assessment, saying she had heard that the marker might be in the wrong place.

Hunsicker asked Florko to check it out and she told him a week later that because that area of beach was badly eroded, she felt it would be eligible, but after talking with her engineers, she recently concluded that she had made a mistake.

Hunsicker, who called Dickinson with what he thought was the good news from Florko’s original response, said he is sorry, but rules are rules.

"These properties don’t lie within the coastal zone as defined by state statutes for renourishment funding, even though the beaches there are badly eroded," he said. "The residents there need to work on their own to get the engineering and maybe some funding from the city."

Hunsicker said that the county won’t be able to provide any relief from the tourism bed tax, which has paid for part of other renourishment projects, because of where the beaches are situated.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said that the city won’t be able to contribute to putting sand there because its funds are limited and the job would be expensive.

"I told Joan that she ought to lobby state legislators," Barford said. "The beach has to be parallel to the sea."

Meanwhile, Dickinson said she’s down, but not out.

"I’m not sure I‘m quite willing to throw in the towel yet, even though funding cannot be given to non-Gulf-front area," she said. "If you think about the welfare of the Island as a whole, that area of the beach is important."

Dickinson said she would talk with state legislators to see if they can help. She complimented Mayor Barford, saying the city has been helpful.

Job cuts loom at AME

HOLMES BEACH – Faced with budget cutbacks on the state and local level, Anna Maria Elementary School will have to cut four positions on its staff.

The order came from the Manatee County School Board that administrative assistant Debbie Gomes, two unknown teachers and a teacher’s aide will not be on the staff at the start of the next school year. Gomes, who started as the school nurse’s assistant, has been at the school for 12 years.

The teachers who won’t return will likely be those with the least tenure, unless there are retirements planned.

In addition to the four paid positions, the school has to find a way to cut $98,912 from its 2008-09 budget. All schools must make cuts totaling almost $16 million, according to information on the district’s Web site, http://www.manatee.k12.fl.us/.

The budget cuts are necessary because of a $2.5 billion shortfall in the state sales tax this year and a $4 billion projected shortage next year. Also factoring into the equation are lower property taxable values brought on by the recent property tax amendment that increases homestead exemptions.

The school district is asking for ideas on reducing expenses. For more information, log on to the district Web site and click on "Budget information for 2008-2009" in the "Hot topics" box.

City seeks county OK for pets on path
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO/ERIK STAHR
A firefighter douses the lanai behind the duplex where the fire started.
Flames were reported to be eight feet high shortly after the fire was discovered.
Damage was confined to the lania area.

HOLMES BEACH – Three people and their pets had to find new homes after an explosive fire destroyed the back of two duplex units Sunday around 6 p.m. in the 200 block of Haverkos Court. Nobody was injured.

Firefighters from West Manatee Fire Rescue and Longboat Key brought the blaze under control, but not until it had destroyed the lanais of both units. West Manatee Fire Rescue Deputy Fire Marshall Kurt Lathrop said Monday that he suspects the cause of the fire was accidental. One of the two residents at home when the fire broke out, Terry Cappello said that it appeared the fire started in an area where she and her husband, Mike, had a TV and stereo. She said that they were unable to find the television in the debris, and surmised that it might have melted into an unidentifiable mass. Lathrop estimated the loss to be around $40,000.

Nobody could tell why the fire was so explosive. Witnesses said the flame shot as high as eight feet into the air. Cappello said that the firefighters found their two propane tanks for their barbecue and threw them away from the burning homes.

The residents of the other side of the duplex were not at home. Cappello said that they had just rented the unit.

Officials made sure all of the pets in the two units were safe. The Cappellos got their dog and one of their two cats out of the burning unit and Manatee Emergency Services Paramedic Jim Hannah found the second cat hidden under a bed. Two bulldogs in the other unit were saved by firefighters, and Lathrop gave them oxygen from pet emergency kits on the fire truck.

Cappello said that she and her husband would be staying with relatives in west Bradenton until they find someplace to live.

Lathrop said the residents in the other unit refused emergency help from the Red Cross and had also made arrangements for a temporary home.

City to raise stormwater utility fee
The price tag for the city’s remaining eight drainage projects is $1,638,000.

HOLMES BEACH – City commissioners plan to put away more money for a rainy day by increasing the city’s stormwater utility fee by $1.50 per month for most residences.

Commissioners approved the fee of $3 per month per ERU (equivalent residential unit) in 2003. An ERU is a typical home. The fee generates $145,000 per year, which only can be used for the stormwater projects and maintenance.

"Thirteen drainage basins were reviewed by the city’s engineers in 2003-04 and they came up with plan for the future to clean up some of the problems we were experiencing," City Treasurer Rick Ashley explained.

He said four projects – the south Holmes Beach basin ($186,000), Harbor Drive ($293,00), Haverkos Court ($187,000) and central Holmes Beach ($38,000) – have been done with a combination of stormwater utility money and general funds.

A fifth project, 57th Street, is in progress and is estimated to cost $180,000. The remaining projects total $1,638,000.

"Through Amendment 1, we’re looking at a reduction in tax bills this year," he continued. "We’re going to be looking at some money issues in the future as far as continuing to fund these projects.

"Up until this point in time, we have funded maintenance with our general fund. As we move forward we may have to fund maintenance out of this."

Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said in the past, the city received grants for stormwater projects, but Ashley said a lot of the grants have dried up.

"No one knows what’s going to happen, but I can tell you, it’s not going to be a fun year," Ashley stressed. "We going to be facing some very serious decisions during the budget process.

"There also is some discussion of proposed legislation that would begin to limit the cities’ abilities to raise user fee type revenue in the future."

Haas-Martens said she would not have a problem increasing it to $4, but not $5 or $6. Ashley said he was leaning toward $5.

Commissioner Pat Geyer suggested $4.50 and the others agreed. The resolution will be on the April l8 agenda.

Commissioners dish up outdoor dining ideas

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners continue to debate the best way to increase outdoor dining seats without creating safety and parking issues.

In a memo, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said she had surveyed several local government codes to see what others do.

"From my research, I found that several cities use one-year or two-year permits for outdoor dining," she said. "Each time they apply for a permit, they submit site plans and other narratives …"

She said the city of Naples requires three parking spaces for every 1,000 feet of outdoor dining area and gives an exemption for areas under 100 square feet. It also provides for petitions for exemptions to the parking requirements.

The city of Sanibel limits the number of outdoor seats to 15 percent of the total indoor seats or 16 seats, whichever is greater. Its code has an absolute maximum of 32 outdoor seats.

"By instituting a permit system, the city could set standards and review a site plan under more detail than the current general language of the code, which requires only a submittal of a revised site plan to show general compliance with the code" she said. "

Commissioner Pat Morton said he felt the options did not fit the city and noted, "A lot of people want extra seating that shouldn’t have sets now. Make it site specific."

He said extra seats shouldn’t be tied to parking because many people walk to the restaurants and many ride the trolley. Commissioner David Zaccagnino agreed.

"I love outdoor dining, but it has to be safe," Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said. "No matter what we do, it has to have a site plan."

She asked Assistant Public Works Supervisor Bill Saunders if a hand drawing is acceptable as a site plan. She said she thinks the city should require formal site plans for liability reasons.

"It has to be done by an engineer or architect and meet all the requirements of the site plan review of landscaping, parking, ways to get in and out of the site and move around in the site," Saunders replied.

Haas-Martens said the commission should wait for Commissioner John Monetti’s report on state restaurant regulations. Monetti was unable to attend the commission meeting because he was in Tallahassee representing the local restaurant association.

Three Island projects get bay-friendly grants

ANNA MARIA – A proposed program to identify natural habitat for educational purposes in Anna Maria and at the Island Historical Museum will get some help from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program this year. So will a program to curtail pet wastes from going directly into the Bay and Gulf waters surrounding Anna Maria Island.

Those were three of the 10 bay-friendly projects that got grants from this annual program, according to Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Outreach Coordinator Julia Burch. She said the three projects on Anna Maria Island varied in their intent.

"The Environmental Education and Enhancement Committee (EEEC), of Anna Maria, asked for $2,000 and that’s what they got," she said. "The Historical Society also asked for $2,000, but were only awarded $1,000."

The EEEC project applies to habitat restoration areas around city hall and the Historical Society will use its money to identify native plants along the Lake LaVista Canal.

The Bradenton Beach WAVES grant of $2,000 goes toward a campaign against pet waste. Burch said the projects showed initiative and she wished there was more money to be awarded.

"Our funding for this program was cut from around $26,000 last year to $15,000 this year," she said. "We awarded up to $3,000 per project when we had more money and had to cut it back to $2,000 this year."

Other local projects included:

• Funding to bring the Mote Marine Education for Youth program to the YMCA After School Program for second through fourth graders

• Removing resource intensive St. Augustine grass and replacing it with native landscaping to include the quality and reduce the quantity of the stormwater entering Big Sarasota Bay from Windward Bay on Longboat Key

• Painting a mural depicting Palma Sola Village; the Manasota, Calusa and Seminole Indians and the DeSoto Expedition on public restrooms on the Palma Sola Causeway to promote awareness and sense of place through the Palma Sola Scenic Highway group.

Burch said a citizen’s advisory committee made the decisions on which groups got awarded grants according to four criteria: how the projects addressed the issues of stormwater runoff and pollution prevention; wildlife habitat restoration and protection; recreational use and Bay access; and environmental education and awareness.

"It’s always a tough call," Burch said. "We were limited in our funding this year. I wish we would have had more."

City to celebrate Founder’s Day
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

An old postcard shows the Holmes Beach airstrip,
POSTCARD FROM THE COLLECTION OF PAT AND DOUG COPELAND

Holmes Beach will hold its first Founder’s Day on Friday, April 4, to commemorate the city’s history. The event will begin with a meet and greet at 8:30 a.m. at city hall, followed by the opening ceremony and recognition of community partners.

The ceremony will then move to the skate park, which will be named for the late Officer Pete Lannon, who succumbed to cancer last year. Lannon was the resource officer for Anna Maria Elementary School. The ceremony will conclude with a ribbon cutting at the city’s new tot lot beside the skate park.

History starts with Cobbs

The city’s history began in 1896, when Sam and Annie Cobb homesteaded 160 acres from the Gulf to the bay in the center of the city. In 1907, they built Cobb’s Marine Ways at the end of 52nd Street. It was the first commercial establishment on the Island. Their daughter, Anna Maria Cobb, was the first non-native child born on the Island.

Next came Capt. John Jones, who homesteaded the land adjacent to the Cobbs, which is now called Sportsman’s Harbor and is south of Anna Maria Elementary School. Jose Casanas, a Spanish fisherman from the Canary Islands, settled south of Jones.

More settlers came to the Island, cutting back the jungle and fighting rattlesnakes, panthers and mosquitoes to build homes and businesses. They had to row to Perico Island to get their mail before the first post office was established in 1902 in the Cobb’s home.

Boom begins

At the end of WWII, the boom began with Jack Holmes, who built a 600-acre community and an airstrip in the center of the city. The city was incorporated in 1950.

According to a transcript, the meeting to incorporate took place on March 13 at the Island school. Of the 73 "registered freeholders and voters," 62 were present, enough to "organize a new municipality."

The group discussed the pros and cons of incorporation including, "the loss of tax money derived from the sale of cigarettes and liquor and a possible withdrawal of assistance by the county commissioners for the maintenance of roads and streets," After voting to incorporate, they selected a name for the city. Holmes Beach won out over Palm City, Mid-Island Beach, Coquina Beach and Tarpon Beach. Following the vote, Halsey T. Tichenor was elected as the city’s first mayor.

Rapid growth

Growth came rapidly and the elementary school was built in 1950,the first shopping center in 1952, the Island Medical Center in 1953, the Yacht Club restaurant in 1954, the Anna Maria Island bridge in 1957 and the Island Bank in 1960.

Jack Holmes developed Seaside Gardens in the 1960s. At the same time, School Key was being developed into Key Royale with the bridge built in 1960 and the golf course in 1966. By 1969, there were 138 occupied homes on Key Royale .

In 1973, the airstrip, which was used as a flying school and for commuter airplanes, closed following an airplane accident and the Island’s first and last high-rise building, the Martinique, was built.


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