The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 20 - February 4, 2009


Neighbors respond after shop burglary

HOLMES BEACH – Amy Welch has seen her business grow with a lot of help from her staff and satisfied customers spreading the word. Last weekend, she didn’t miss a beat in getting her shop open following a burglary, thanks to her neighbors, customers and friends.

According to a Holmes Beach Police report, the front door glass to Acqua Aveda Salon was smashed out and the door was open when two officers arrived around 8 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1. They found a multi-colored beach towel with a barbell inside that may have been used to break out the glass. They found no other damage, but they found the cash drawer open.

"They took deposits for Friday and Saturday and the cash from the drawer," Welch said, "They also got blank checks."

But it was what happened after the burglary was discovered that amazed her.

"Steve Titsworth helped rebuild the door frame and install plywood where the door glass had been," she said. "He spent all day, Super Bowl Sunday, helping secure my business."

Welch said that her business neighbors and customers gave her moral support, and it was business as usual after they got the glass cleaned up.

"We never skipped a beat," she said. "I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help."

Welch said she was upset and could not stop crying while the police took information, but the help she got from everyone buoyed her spirit.

"Burglary isn’t what we’re all about on Anna Maria Island," she said. "Having you neighbors help you out when you’re down is. The police were terrific and I can’t get over how everyone was there to help."

Even though she wants to "accentuate the positive" during this experience, Welch said she is taking a realistic step.

"I’m talking with my insurance this morning and getting a security camera immediately," she said Monday.

Rate hikes at Citizens could hit 20 percent

A task force recommends that Citizens Property Insurance be allowed to implement rate increases of up to 20 percent when a rate freeze expires in January 2010.

The Citizens Property Insurance Mission Review Task Force recommended to the Florida Legislature on Monday that annual rate increases be capped at a statewide average of 10 percent, a regional average of 15 percent and a 20 percent maximum increase per policyholder.

One of 17 recommendations, the change is designed to encourage policyholders to seek insurance elsewhere, lessening Citizens’ risk and improving the underfunded company’s ability to pay off claims if a major hurricane strikes.

The task force also proposes requiring that policyholders affirm annually that they are still eligible for coverage with Citizens, requiring them to shop for coverage each year.

Other recommendations suggest passing state laws requiring that Citizens obtain new applications from policyholders who have had Citizens policies in force for more than three years, allowing only two automatic policy renewals and adopting fines and penalties for both insurance agents and applicants who violate eligibility standards or make false statements on applications.

Another recommendation proposes a law that no new structures built seaward of the 30-year erosion projection line or in Coastal Barrier Resources System areas would be eligible for coverage with Citizens.

The task force also favors reducing Citizens’ wind exposure by requiring that the boundaries of high risk accounts be redrawn to make them more geographically consistent.

Other recommendations would eliminate the ability of insurance companies to offer multi-policy discounts on automobile policies when the agent places a homeowners’ policy with Citizens, and would stop requiring Citizens to write commercial non-residential wind-only and multi-peril coverage.

The company has 1.1 million policyholders - many of them on the Island - and must request approval for its new rates in July.

R-1 rental issue sparks debate

HOLMES BEACH – As expected, a commission discussion on rental restrictions in the R-1 district brought out a crowd last week.

"We’re trying to find a happy medium for everyone," Chair Sandy Haas-Martens told the group.

In January 2007, commissioners changed the rental period in R-1 from seven to 30 days at the request of planning commissioners. In addition, owners with a valid rental license who were renting for seven days could continue to do so for 10 years to give them time to recoup their investment.

In August 2008, commissioners agreed to revisit the issue after receiving complaints from a commissioner and several rental agents. However, they said they would wait until winter visitors had returned in January.

Frank Davis of Island Real Estate, said the rental market has evolved over the years from long stays to shorter stays, and noted, "We need to provide them with a place to stay. Four or five year ago, all commercial property was full. Now there are 35 vacancies. They can’t get the business if we don’t have the people."

Greg Burke, of A Paradise, concurred with Davis, and Larry Chatt said the AMI Chamber of Commerce did a survey of about 300 homeowners in R-1, and 90 favored one-week rentals and 41 favored one-month rentals.

In favor of restrictions

Jeff Gerry, of White Sands Beach Resort, said short-term residential renters create trash, a glut of vehicles and noise, but "in resort areas you have management on site that can control the number of people, the cars, the garbage. If you don’t think there’s enough rentals, put them in the commercial areas and keep the residential areas residential."

"This is these people’s second job, but it’s my main job," Ken Gerry, of White Sands Beach Resort, added.

John VanZandt, of 75th Street, said although he works at Island Real Estate, he favors restrictions on residential rentals and stressed, "We live in a residential area and want to keep it that way. One of the things we value about our neighborhood is our quiet residential neighbors, and it increases the value of our homes."

Two other neighbors agreed.

"Recently the house beside me has become a rental unit," Peter Hecht, of 68th Street, told commissioners. "These people poured in and we had six cars and one truck with a boat on it and they got a little loud. That’s not a residential neighborhood. We care about the Island and want to keep it clean and safe."

Gary Hickerson, of the planning commission, said when planners made the recommendation for 30 days it was after they held numerous hearings and discussions on the issue.

Commissioners also received several letters from residents on both sides of the issue.

Haas-Martens told the group that the commission would hold further discussions on the issue and invited residents to come and air their opinions at future meetings.

Transit agencies may merge

Sarasota and Manatee counties might merge their two public transit systems, especially if it means saving money.

According to the public transportation planning manager of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), both county commissions might be willing to explore the idea, especially if it means getting the transit systems out of their budgets.

"If they could find an alternate form of financing, they would most likely be inclined to combine the two," said Bob Herrington. "If they could get revenue from a committed tax source, then the counties could free up money for their budgets."

Public transportation is not a money-maker for governmental agencies,he added, and like all Florida counties, Manatee and Sarasota are strapped for cash.

Herrington said the MPO Public Transportation Task Force, which meets every three months, was formed to look into merging the two systems.

The two systems, Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), already work together on two routes – route 99 that runs U.S. 41 from Palmetto to Sarasota and the new trolley service that runs from Coquina Beach into the city of Sarasota.

Ridership up

Ridership and budgets on both systems were discussed at a recent Public Transportation Task Force to the MPO meeting.

When SCAT Representative Phil Leiberman gave his report on ridership, he said ridership was up 29 percent in December 2008 over a year earlier and it was up 5 percent overall. He spoke of the new trolley route through Longboat Key.

"The Longboat route is still up there," he said, "It’s not breaking any records, but we’re up."

Leiberman said the increased service to 30 minute headways was one reason for the increase over the old bus service.

"It’s season now," he said. "With the 30-minute service, we expect to break some records.

MCAT Director Ralf Heseler reported a 12 percent increase in ridership for 2008 over 2007. He said their traditional yearly increase had been 4 percent. He attributed the increase to several factors.

"The price of gas, the new amenities and the increased level of service," he said. "It shows that if you increase your service, you will make it easier for people to use the system."

Heseler said that the increase in trolley ridership was higher last year than the previous two years. His report showed a total of 455,755 people rode the trolley in 2008. That’s an average of 1,248.6 people per day.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce asked Heseler about a request from the city’s parking subcommittee to run the trolley later at night for tourists who dine out or visit nightclubs. Heseler said they have been looking at that request.

"There is, however, a dark cloud this year and that’s the budget," he said. "We’ve been told that there will be more cuts and that might affect our level of service."

Herrington asked Heseler how much it would cost to extend service and he said it costs $75 per hour.

Task force member Donna Hayes, a Manatee County Commissioner, said it might be time to drop the "free" in the free trolleys.

"It’s free and maybe it’s time to look at a fare of a dollar or so per rider," she said, "I always thought they should have to pay."

Heseler said there are more forces at work that might require them to charge for the trolleys.

"Two years from now, Manatee County will feel a tremendous impact when state funding for the trolley goes to half, $257,000, from the current $500,000 per year and the county will have to fund the rest of that," he said, "That same year, the state funding for the Longboat Key trolley of $400,000 goes away, so that’s more than $600,000 the county will have to make up."

Town wants to stop drifting sand
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE The town of Longboat Key wants to keep sand from
drifting to the north end of the key, shown here, and into Longboat Pass.

LONGBOAT KEY – Greer Island, a popular destination for weekend boaters that’s better known as Beer Can Island, is growing, so much so that it’s no longer an island, but a peninsula that extends under the Longboat Pass bridge.

That’s because sand has been drifting north to the end of the key, beginning on the beach at the end of North Shore Road, a trend that should be stopped, Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told town officials and Manatee County commissioners last week.

Because the sand could clog Longboat Pass, and is needed to renourish the beach south of Northshore Road, "We would like to see it come south, or at least stop it from going further north," he said.

The town has asked U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan to support having the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey the area to determine whether the drifting sand has built up in the channel, necessitating dredging, and whether a structure such as a groin or breakwater should be built to prevent the sand from continuing to drift north.

St. Denis requested that Manatee County, which owns the land, support the request, and consider agreeing to split any beach quality sand removed from the pass for renourishment purposes.

County commissioners said they will consider the issue at a future meeting.

SAM members ask for bridge committee

A former mayor and a former city councilman from Bradenton Beach made a pitch for a low-rise replacement for the Anna Maria Island Bridge because it would be safer when storms blow in, but they got an icy reception from a county commissioner.

Former Mayor Katie Pierola and former City Councilman James Kissick, both members of Save Anna Maria (SAM), spoke before the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) last week. Kissick wanted to impress on the group the need for a short bridge that would be usable to drivers evacuating the Island longer than a tall bridge.

Kissick recalled information from former National Weather Bureau forecaster Robert Sheets indicating higher wind speeds at higher altitudes could force officials to close a taller bridge to traffic sooner than a low-rise bridge.

Pierola said she had been involved in the Florida Department of Transportation’s attempts to replace the Cortez Bridge and the Anna Maria Island Bridge and she stated that the current AMI drawbridge had never been closed to vehicles because of high winds, but Manatee County Commissioner and MPO member Joe McClash disagreed, "There has been some unfortunate misinformation released," he said. "I have been here when the bridge was shut down due to winds."

McClash also said that the data Kissick had gotten from Sheets some 16 years ago did not pertain to bridges and storms.

Meanwhile, Pierola asked for more citizen input on the design of a replacement for the AMI Bridge that is being planned for 10 years or more from now.

"There was a huge controversy about replacing the Cortez Bridge and County Commissioner Kathy Snell formed a bridge design committee," she said. "I would like to see you form one for the AMI bridge replacement."

FDOT District Manager Stan Cann said he saw no problem with having an architectural design committee add its input to the project. "We need to make sure communication is open to everyone," he said. "When we get to the design stage, a design committee would be a help."

Cann said that FDOT would be gathering more input in a public meeting it is planning for March.

Port Dolphin offers new study supporting pipeline route

LONGBOAT KEY – Port Dolphin officials have offered to prepare an engineering study that would demonstrate why they cannot build their submerged natural gas pipeline alongside Gulfstream Natural Gas System’s pipeline.

The Houston-based company has offered to allow Manatee County and Longboat Key officials to choose an independent consultant to prepare the study, which the company will pay for, Assistant Manatee County Attorney Sarah Schenk told officials on Thursday at a joint meeting of the two governments.

Port Dolphin, which is applying for permits to build a floating port in the Gulf of Mexico connected by a pipeline to Port Manatee, recently adjusted its original pipeline route in response to concerns about its potential to ruin sand reserves currently used to renourish the beaches on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

Longboat Key officials are now concerned that the new route will plow through largely unexplored sand hills that are potentially important sand sources for the next 50 years, Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis said.

"There’s not enough sand left for our next beach project in the current area," he said.

"Once that pipeline is in place, we’re out of business," Longboat Key Commissioner George Spoll added.

Officials said Thursday that a third alternative is necessary to minimize the impact on future sand reserves - the pipeline should be laid alongside the existing natural gas pipeline owned by Gulfstream Natural Gas System to the north of Port Dolphin’s revised route, St. Denis said.

"They need to use the corridor that’s already been impacted," he said, acknowledging that the alternative could be more expensive for Port Dolphin because the route is largely on hard bottom, not sand. The company is required to cover the pipeline with sand or more costly concrete mattresses or rocks.

Manatee County commissioners voiced their support of the town’s efforts to preserve long-term sand resources.

Longboat Key officials previously had asked Port Dolphin for underwater geological survey data it compiled off Anna Maria Island to determine the location of sand reserves and the quality and amount of sand in each. Port Dolphin officials refused, citing competitive business reasons.

"Port Dolphin may be going through a hill of no value, but they won’t tell us and we don’t know," St. Denis said. "We’re having to force the issue."

Commission refuses to vacate Gulfside alley

HOLMES BEACH –Commissioners denied a request by Fred and Susan Bartizal to vacate a 10-foot platted, unimproved alley on the Gulf side of their duplex at 2812 Avenue E so they can build a swimming pool.

Two weeks ago, the commission denied the request, but learned they were required to hold a public hearing. The hearing, held last week, gave Bartizals’ attorney, Derin Parks, and opposing neighbors an opportunity to speak.

Parks introduced exhibits that showed neighbors had built various structures in the alley including a house.

"We feel our client is similarly situated," Parks stressed. "People have been allowed to construct permanent improvements across the alley we see no reason our client should be denied the right to also make use of this alley."

Parks said the erosion control line is so close to the property, that it would not create buildable property and the natural vegetation would not be harmed. He also maintained that the plat had never been dedicated to the city, therefore the city did not own it.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff took issue with Parks and pointed to "City Ordinance 67 dated June 3, 1958, in which the city accepted the dedication of streets, alleyways, parks, canals and other areas. This Ilexhurst plat is listed as one of those. It is my opinion that the city holds it in trust for the benefit of the public."

Pro and con

"There’s no way that by vacating this alley it has any bearing on the quality of life of anyone on this Island," Rebecca Smith, Bartizals’ next-door neighbor, said. "It has no practical use to the citizens of the Island."

She said people have to trespass to get to the alley because there are privately owned lots between the alley and the Gulf.

A second resident spoke in favor of the request, while three spoke against it.

"I do not think this should be vacated unless the city gets compensated handsomely," Ronald Mauer said. "You have a duty and responsibility to represent the taxpayers, not the petitioner."

Steve LeGore, a neighbor and marine ecologist, said the vacation would threaten the dunes and sea oats there and noted, "The dune are there to protect us. The county put them there at great cost. They go right to the decking.

"I defy them to build a swimming pool without people walking around on top of those dunes. After it’s built, people are going to be running around on those dunes and there will be damage."

Roxie Asbury agreed with LeGore and Anita Bettis asked, "They have lots west of the alley and if you vacate that alley, what keeps them from keeping people off the beach?"

Commission discussion

"There are houses, pools, fencing, landscaping, but these things were done 50 year ago, so I don’t think that’s a valid argument" Commissioner David Zaccagnino said. "To vacate it doesn’t bring any benefit to the city. You’re going to open up a can of worms."

Petruff asked Superintendent of Public Works Joe Duennes if permits were ever issued for structures in the alley and he said no.

"The vegetation provides a benefit to the city, therefore, the vacation would not be in the best interest of the public." Commissioner John Monetti said.

Commissioner Pat Moron agreed with Zaccagnino and Monetti and said, "We’re here to represent all the citizens, not one citizen."

"Just because something was built there doesn’t mean it was right," Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens added.

Commissioner Pat Geyer was absent for medical reasons.

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