Vol. 8 No. 30 - April 16, 2008

headlines


TOURIST SEASON
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE
Packed beaches indicate one of the best spring seasons in years.

Statistics from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau confirm widespread observations that spring 2008 was a record-breaking tourist season.

With both hotel occupancy and room rates up in March on both Anna Maria Island and the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key, an early Easter and high gas prices proved to be no obstacle to visitors intent on enjoying the beaches.

Anna Maria Island hotel occupancy hit 88.9 percent, up from 84.7 percent last March, and the second highest occupancy rate in three years, behind a 94.3 percent occupancy rate in March 2005. On Longboat Key, occupancy was slightly higher at 89.4 percent, up from 85.5 last March, and a three-year record high.

Room rates on both islands also reached three-year record highs. Anna Maria Island room rates for March averaged $191.86, up from last year’s $176.10 per night, while rates on Longboat Key averaged $223.26, up from $217.27 per night last March.

Just off the Island, tourism boomed too. The Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival netted $110,000 in February, the best ever in its 26-year history, according to treasurer Karen Bell, with a record gross of $300,000.

Tourism business operators credit beautiful weather, no hurricanes, no red tide and bad weather up north with the boom.

The season will be analyzed by the Manatee County Tourist Development Council at Holmes Beach City Hall on Monday, April 21, at 9:30 a.m.

Owner must pay ex-partner’s $20g fine

HOLMES BEACH – When commissioners agreed to reduce his code enforcement board fine from $105,000 to approximately $24,000, property owner Joe Hieronimus said it was still too much.

"The fine is $105,000 and you’re looking at it as the starting point," Hieronimus told the board. "I see the $26 rental license fee as the starting point. That’s the disconnect."

The fine involves a rental property at 4605 Gulf Drive that Hieronimus and two partners purchased in 2001 as an investment. Hieronimus, who lives in Pennsylvania, and another partner Richard Santia, who lives in Georgia, allowed the third partner, George Ellin, to manage the property.

Ellin contracted with a rental company to rent it for a period of time, then moved his employees into it and assumed the costs. Due to a tenant dispute, the city learned that Ellin did not have a rental license.

He was brought before the code enforcement board in February 2006 and agreed to get a license, but did not. A second hearing in March 2006 resulted in a fine of $150 per day. When that wasn’t paid, the city placed a lien on the property.

Hieronimus said due to Ellin’s financial difficulties, he agreed to purchase Ellin’s one-third share in April 2006. He put it on the market, but could not sell it, then contacted a rental company, which rented it in September 2007.

Code Enforcement Officer Nancy Hall saw that the property was rented, checked and learned there was a new owner. In February of this year, she sent a letter to Hieronimus, who said he knew nothing about the code enforcement action, the fine or the lien until he received the letter.

"No one in their right mind would let a fine go to $105,000 for a $26 license fee," Hieronimus said. "I’ve been honest and open with you. I had no idea."

Commissioners debate

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said the city did everything correctly and pointed out, "The property appraiser keeps records of where the tax bill is sent. It’s only sent to one owner and they designated Mr. Ellin to get it. It is not the city’s duty to notify a new owner if there is a city issue."

She said commissioners could compromise the lien by reducing the fine or charging a flat amount. She said they also should consider the city’s costs.

"You showed poor judgment and misplaced trust with your partner," Commissioner John Monetti observed. "I don’t think the city has a spirit of imposing upon people who try to do the right thing. I believe you are speaking honestly to us."

However, Commissioner Pat Morton said it is not a city issue and that Ellin "threw you under the bus and now you’re faced with a $105,000 fine."

"I had no idea he threw me under the bus until I found the tire tracks on me," Hieronimus responded.

Commissioner David Zaccagino suggested reducing the fine from $150 per day to $30 per day, or a total of about $21,000.

"When the fine was imposed, the board was dealing with George and he upset them," Monetti said. "But it’s Joe that’s standing in front of us. What did he do wrong and to what degree does he get financially whacked for using poor judgment?"

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said they should base their decision on whether Hieronimus was a willing partner in not paying the fine.

Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens took a consensus for a $20,000 fine plus the city’s costs and all the commissioners except Morton agreed. Haas-Martens said she was thinking of $30,000, but would compromise.

"The concept of code enforcement is to bring people into compliance, not to punish them" Petruff pointed out. "It does appear that the board was truly trying to get Mr. Ellin’s attention. Well, hey, that didn’t work.

"Since Mr. Hieronimus was made aware of the issue, he has been very cooperative and made every effort. I can’t fault the man for trying to do the right thing."

"The cost to the city is $3,300 and I look at anything over that as punitive damage," Hieronimus said. "You say you want $20,000 or $30,000 because you can, not because it’s right. Whether it’s $20,000 or $105,000, it’s extreme."

Commissioners said they would make their final decision at their meeting on April 22. Petruff said Hieronimus must decide how and when he would pay the fine before the next meeting.

Causeway bollards create controversy
Committee member says they restrict access to the beach and make it hard to back out of parking spaces.
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND Bollards were installed on the
Palma Sola Causeway last week to separate the beachgoers from the
vehicles and define the parking, but some said they restrict access to the beach.

BRADENTON – While one member protested the bollards being installed along the beach side of the Palma Sola Causeway, other members of the Scenic Highway committee defended them.

"I’m against them" member Ken Crayton said. "They are restricting the public from getting to the beach. If you have a personal watercraft and want to back into the water, you can’t do it. You have to go in at the boat ramp."

Crayton said people will have a hard time backing out of parking spaces, the bollards are too linear and he doesn’t recall seeing the bollards on the Causeway site plan.

"The purpose was to restrict that uncontrolled flow of traffic on the Causeway," Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann responded. "We always said we were providing for a safer environment and giving them designated places to park."

She said the committee could designate an area for people to launch personal watercraft.

"They were in the design from the beginning," member Kathy King added. "One of the missions of this committee was to preserve access for people to safely use the beach.

"The idea was to separate the people from the vehicles. We don’t want people parking every which way and we don’t want personal water craft access everywhere."

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore agreed with Crayton and said, "I’m disappointed in the way it looks. It looks like a wall. You have limited the parking, so those people who can’t park will be coming to the Island.”

She said the some of the bollards on the south side near the new boat ramp are too close to the road.

Seth Kohn, of the city of Bradenton, said that he and the landscape architect decided on a linear approach after trying different schemes. He said he would look at the bollards that concerned Whitmore and he would look for an area to designate for launching personal watercraft vehicles.

Crayton also asked about the concrete stops that were moved from in front of the restrooms on the north side of the road to the south side.

Chair Ingrid McClellan, of Keep Manatee Beautiful, said they are to designate where the south side rest rooms will be built and protect the shoreline until construction begins. She said they could be removed for aesthetic reasons, and Kohn said he would have them removed.

In other business:

• Kohn said the new Causeway boat ramp and pier are completed and the city of Bradenton will begin work on the parking lot soon.

• McClellan announced that Australian pines between Perico and the Island are to be removed when the Anna Maria Island Bridge is closed in September and October. The number of trees to be removed depends on the funding available.

Third annual boat festival launched
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN FILE PHOTO
The Great Florida Gulf Coast Small Craft Festival
drew hundreds of boat lovers to Cortez last year.
This year’s event is April 18 through 20.

The Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez will launch its Third Annual Great Florida Gulf Coast Small Craft Festival April 18-20.

Traditional wooden boats are the focus of the festival, which will be highlighted by keynote speaker Charley Morgan, founder of Morgan Yachts and an America's Cup designer and sailor.

Activities will include sailing, paddling, racing, children's activities, boatbuilding and maritime museum exhibits, boat judging and an awards ceremony, a nautical flea market and a post-festival "gunkhole" trip around the Manatee River, Sarasota Bay, Emerson Point, Pleasure Key, Egmont Key and Fort DeSoto.

The festival is sponsored by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, the N.E. Taylor Boat Works, the Florida Gulf Coast Traditional Small Craft Association, the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Cortez Village Historical Society and Sunrise Sails Plus.

Spring Fling planning in full swing
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT From left, the co-chairs for the
Anna Maria Elementary School PTO’s Spring Fling are
Linda Burger, Holly Connelly and Kyra Valadie.

HOLMES BEACH – With only three weeks to go, tickets for the Anna Maria Elementary School PTO’s Spring Fling May 3 are selling fast, but there’s still time if you don’t wait too long.

The theme for this year’s event is the 1970s. Even though you sold that Starsky and Hutch Ford Torino years ago, you can still get the leisure suit out of the closet and run those synthetic fibers through the washer and dryer one more time for a good reason. There will be prizes for the Grooviest Girl and Disco Dude, whoever dresses to the era the best.

Another reason to spend $40 to get in is the food. This year, Liza Morrow and her crew have assembled a great menu for the dinner from the finest restaurants and food outlets in the area. From the complimentary refreshments to the desserts, you will come home happy and stuffed. Thank goodness that rayon in those clothes stretches some.

Appetizers are from St. Armands Bakery, the Sun House restaurant and bar, house smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres from A Moveable Feast, fruit and cheese from the Sandbar, shrimp cocktail from the Anna Maria City Pier restaurant, seafood gumbo from the Rod and Reel Pier and assorted sushi rolls from Ocean Star.

Entrees include stone crab from Moore’s Stone Crab restaurant, baby back ribs from Mr. Bones BBQ, Anna Maria mahi mahi lemon and capers from The Sandbar, lobster and four-cheese macaroni from Ezra, beef tenderloin skewers with horseradish sauce from the Waterfront restaurant and seafood paella and ratatouille from A Moveable Feast.

Save room for dessert, if you have the will power. Starbucks will provide the coffee, Ezra will have cookies, Harry’s Continental Kitchen will serve brownies, Bountiful Cakes will bring sheet cake and Jane E’s I’ll Cook If I Want To will have cookies, lemon bars and treats. Tricia Hackworth will bring Fabulous 70s cakes or cupcakes.

After the meal, get ready to bid on items including theme baskets from the classrooms, a week at the prestigious IMG Academy, the honor of being principal for the day and use of the coveted Spring Fling parking space in the northern lot.

Reservations are $40 per person and discounts apply for those who purchase a table of eight or 10. Free babysitting with a pizza party is available for the first 50 children.

The Spring Fling co chairs, Linda Burger, Kyra Valadie and Holly Connelly are still looking for sponsors and volunteers. Call 708-5525 to donate.

City considers stormwater fees

ANNA MARIA – The Anna Maria City Commission discussed setting stormwater utility fees at about $50 per ESU (Equivalent Stormwater Unit) on Thursday.

The amount is based on a proposed budget presented by Tom Wilcox, of HDR Engineering, estimating the required cost of successive aspects of the stormwater improvement program.

Phase A, which is already complete, cost $9.83 per ESU, he said, estimating that phase I will cost $20.93 per ESU, phase II will cost $13.02 per ESU and the remaining work will cost $15.60 per ESU, for a total of $58.94 per ESU.

One ESU represents 2,254 square feet of impervious area.

Commissioners passed an ordinance establishing a stormwater utility last month to improve water quality by filtering stormwater runoff and improving drainage.

The utility will charge property owners fees based on the type of property owned and the amount of impervious surface area on the property.

Single family homes will be assessed at one ESU if the impervious area on the property does not exceed 40 percent of the size of the lot. Duplexes and triplexes will be assessed at .51 ESUs per dwelling unit and condominium units will be assessed at .91 ESU per dwelling unit.

The commission is scheduled to consider the item again on April 24 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

In other business:

• Tim Eiseler of the city’s Environmental Enhancement and Education Committee requested that commissioners consider imposing an escalating fine for repeat violations of the city’s yard and solid waste code in the city’s fee and fine schedules, which are being revised.

A small group of repeat violators makes the community "look like trash day lasts all week long," he wrote in an April 14 letter to the planning and zoning board.

He suggested a $25 fine for first-time violators and a $500 fee plus pick-up costs for second violations.

"This may seem harsh to some, but the city has exhausted all kinder, gentler approaches," he wrote.

• The commission discussed a change in a proposed ordinance that would require the Anna Maria Island Community Center to notify the city no less than one week in advance of an event expected to attract more than 200 attendees, or at any event when alcohol is served.

The Center had previously requested the number be raised to as many as 350.

The ordinance is scheduled for a second reading on April 24 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Olesens get green light to move in

ANNA MARIA – After months of litigation, Terry and Patricia Olesen have the green light to move into the addition they made to their home at 504 South Bay Blvd.

Manatee Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas ruled last week that the city of Anna Maria must grant a certificate of occupancy to the Olesens as required in a settlement agreement between the Olesens and the city.

The city withheld the certificate after two of the Olesen’s additions were listed as potential violations of the city’s code in a lawsuit filed against the city by the Olesen’s neighbor, Laura Gee.

Court records indicate that the Olesen’s roof overhang is nine inches longer than allowed, and a courtyard wall violates setback requirements.

The city issued only a temporary certificate of occupancy because of the roof overhang and the wall, even though the property had passed its final inspection, the Olesen’s attorney, Darren Inverso, told the court.

A final certificate of occupancy should have been issued because the roof overhang and the wall both existed the day the settlement was reached, and the settlement included a provision that everything the city had previously approved would remain approved, he said.

The city is bound to comply with the settlement agreement, but also is required to enforce its building codes for the public’s safety, said Gregory Hootman, an attorney representing the city.

"The city wants to get the Olesens back in their house, but the city’s building official can’t be governed by a private contract,” he said, requesting a court order that the city can overlook the two conditions and issue a final certificate of occupancy.

The judge found that the roof overhang and the wall existed at the time of the mediation, and distinguished between them and serious public health risks such as the presence of asbestos. He also noted the length of the litigation – a year and a half – and his previous ruling that the settlement was clear and binding on both parties.

While the city has an obligation to make sure structures are in compliance with their submitted plans, the city’s ability to do so in this case ceased when the settlement agreement was reached, he said, adding that the city also had the obligation to bring all pressing matters forward during the settlement negotiations.

"As a result, both parties are bound and the city is estopped from withholding the certificate of occupancy," he said.

The couple has been living on the ground floor of the home during the litigation, Patricia Olesen said.

"We can’t feel like it’s over until we have the paperwork in hand," Terry Olesen said. "We can’t wait ‘til we move in."

Undaunted forecasters predict heavy storm season

After two seasons of dire hurricane season predictions that didn’t pan out, hurricane forecaster hope that the third time is the charm.

Island residents most assuredly hope they’re wrong again.

The Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, headed by Philip J. Klotzbach and Dr. William Gray, increased its annual prediction from the one issued on Dec. 7, 2007, in this most recent forecast. The scientists predict that there will be 15 named storms, up from 13 predicted earlier and much higher than the 9.6 average. The number of days that named storms will be around rose from 60 to 80 as compared to 49.1 average.

The number of hurricanes that will form went from seven to eight, compared with the 5.9 average; the number of hurricane days went from 30 to 40, compared with 24.5 average.

They now predict four intense hurricanes compared with three in the earlier forecast and the 2.3 average and they forecast nine intense hurricane days compared with six predicted earlier and the average, which is five.

They forecast a 69 percent chance of at least one major category (3,4 or 5) hitting the entire U.S. coastline, compared with the average of 52 percent. The chance one will hit the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula, is 45 percent compared with an average of 31 percent.

Their forecast is based on a new extended-range early April statistical prediction scheme that utilizes 58 years of past data. They expect the La Nina conditions in the western Pacific to continue to weaken by the start of the season, raising the probability of major storm development.

In the past two seasons, storms have not hit the mainland U.S. despite predictions that they would. Whether this is the case this year remains to be seen, but residents on and near the coasts are cautioned to be prepared.


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