The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 22 - February 18, 2009


Anna Maria OKs land use regulations

ANNA MARIA — Separate ownership of the residential and business portions of buildings on Pine Avenue will be allowed following a vote Feb. 12 by the city commission.

At the packed meeting, commissioners approved the land development regulations that make the separate ownership legal in the city’s small residential/office/retail district (ROR).

"It’s good to encourage business, but you have to control where it’s going to be and that’s (Pine Avenue) a good place for your community to put your businesses," County Commissioner and Holmes Beach resident and former Mayor Carol Whitmore said. "You have to prepare for what’s coming and have controlled growth. This is a good thing for you guys."

Whitmore was one of a majority of people who spoke in favor of including the language in the regulations that allow the separate ownership clause to remain.

The decision was the culmination of a process that began more than five years ago, when the city established a task force to begin a state-mandated revision of its comprehensive plan.

"We saw a mixed-use district that was not working and that was rapidly becoming residential," said Micheal Coleman, the managing partner for Pine Avenue Restoration, which is in the ROR district. "Allowing separate ownership was considered and then included as a way to encourage mixed use. It was discussed in public meetings by the task force as a proposed change to the comp plan, passed by the P&Z (planning and zoning board) and by the commission and ultimately adopted as the comp plan."

"The comp plan is the most important document a city has in land use," City Planner Alan Garrett said. "Once passed, the land development regulations have to be in concert with the comp plan. In cases of conflict between the two documents, the comp plan prevails."

The state gives counties and municipalities a time frame in which they must bring the comp plan and LDRs together. Anna Maria has until April 11 to submit its LDR revisions to the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Though some of the speakers at the public hearing seemed to believe that the hearing was about the Pine Avenue Project, most spoke about the district as a whole.

"I hope you will balance the concerns of the business community with the concerns of the residents and require a one-week minimum rental," said Sally Eaton, who owns property on Spring Avenue. "Please make sure the six-foot fence and landscape buffers as recommended by the environmental committee are included."

Commissioner Dale Woodland, who had been in favor of separate ownership from the earliest days of the task force, changed his mind at the zero hour.

"I just never considered that the units would be used for short term rentals." He said. "Short term rentals are a commercial use. That makes the upstairs commercial and the downstairs commercial. Where’s the mixed use?"

And it was those short-term rentals that caused most of the dissent. Up until several residents discovered that the residential units of the Pine Avenue Project were being pitched as a good market for short-term rental units, residents seemed comfortable with having non-business owners as their neighbors.

Then there was consideration of requiring a seven-day minimum in the ROR district while allowing the rest of the city to keep no minimum rental restrictions, but most commissioners didn’t want different regulations for different parts of the city.

After more than two hours of public input and commission debate, the LDRs passed as written.

"I’m relieved, of course, but it was a good debate," Coleman said after the meeting. "It’s obvious we have a good process in place. I hope we can all be good neighbors."

Cortez Fishing Festival this weekend
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Michael Coleman (right), the project’s managing partner, sits down with
Neal Eaton, Sally Eaton and Nancy Pedota, all of whom own property on
Spring Avenue and have voiced concerns about the impact the project
will have on their property. SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY

CORTEZ – There’s no excuse to be crabby on Saturday and Sunday, not with the 27th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival celebrating "Claws."

Stone crabs will take center stage on the plates of festival goers, along with mullet and other fresh seafood that made the village famous.

Visitors can also get a taste of Cortez history with free tours of the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez Road and 119th Street. The museum is housed in the restored 1912 Cortez schoolhouse next to the 95-acre FISH Preserve, which was purchased with proceeds from previous fishing festivals.

Other nautical attractions are on tap, including net making demonstrations, traditional hand-built wooden boats displays, strolling sea shanty singers and sea-themed arts and crafts displays.

You can also explore the historic fishing village’s waterfront by boat, and learn fascinating fun facts dockside from a marine biologist, like stone crabs are the only animal that survives after people harvest them (only the claws are eaten; the crabs are returned alive to the water).

Children will enjoy marine life touch tanks, pony rides, amusement rides and rock climbing, and non-stop music and dancing will entertain on the main stage.

Community groups also will be represented, including the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Cortez Village Historical Society, celebrating its 25th anniversary, and the Cortez Yacht Club, which will raffle off a free membership.

Food vendors include Clayton Allen: fried and smoked fish and sides; Banana Cabana: mango crab cakes, grouper sandwich, chicken; Caribbean Café: shrimp, grouper, red beans and rice, sausage; Coco Joes: Italian ice; Fatstuffs Grill (Garden): jambalaya, gumbo, etuffee, grilled chicken; Kassiff family: funnel cakes; Greek Flame: Greek salad and gyros, chicken divine on pita; Rick Gullet: smoked mullet and spread; Harrison Fun Foods: steak, sausage, turkey legs, chicken, fish, onion rings; J & J BarBQ: barbecue beef, pork, chicken, corn dogs; Kiwanis: hot dogs, sloppy Joes, ice cream; ‘Ol Kentucky Korn: kettle korn, boiled peanuts; Shrimp Shack: pastries, nuts, seafood, salad, rice, steak, chicken pita, pizza, roasted nuts; Walt’s: crab roll, chowder, shrimp, grouper; Tyler’s Ice Cream: soft serve ice cream; Beachhouse: clam chowder, soft shell crab, oysters; Jim Gowett: grouper and crab sandwiches; Peter Barreda: seafood chowder, shrimp paella, Cortez hot dogs and Bob Greene: smoked mullet and spread.

The historic fishing village of Cortez is south of Cortez Road, just east of the bridge to Anna Maria Island’s beaches. Admission is $2, with children under 12 free. Parking is available at the FISH Preserve off Cortez Road and 119th Street, a 10-minute walk to the festival, or take a shuttle bus from Sugg Middle School, 3801 59th St. W. in Bradenton or Coquina Beach Bayside in Bradenton Beach for $2 roundtrip.

For more information, call the Florida Maritime Museum at 708-6120 or visit

Preserve dispute remains unresolved

CORTEZ – The Manatee County Commission deadlocked three to three on a vote to vacate a county right of way leading to private property in the FISH Preserve last week.

Iris LeMasters of Grand Rapids, Mich., who owns three adjoining vacant lots in the 95-acre preserve east of the historic Cortez fishing village, had asked the county to vacate a right of way next to her property, where she and her husband intend to build a house.

With three exceptions, including a parcel owned by Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, who abstained from voting, the not-for-profit Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) owns the property in the FISH Preserve surrounding the LeMasters property.

"Mrs. LeMasters is entitled to the use of her prop

The right of way is used by preserve visitors, by vehicles conducting habitat restoration activities such as removing trash and non-native trees and for educational programs of the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez, which is next to the preserve, said Roger Allen, historic sites manager for the museum.

"It is meant to be a public nature preserve," Allen said. "The management plan meant for that space to be open and used by the public."

"We have always wanted to acquire as much of the land as possible to be part of this preserve," FISH President Allen Garner told commissioners. "The main reason we are opposed to vacation of this parcel is it’s our major east-west trail." Without public access to the right of way, hikers and other users would be forced into the state-protected mangroves next to the right of way, he said.

"It seems odd to have a trail along mangroves be interrupted by private property," McClash said.

A motion by Commissioner Carol Whitmore that the county negotiate with LeMasters and FISH to build a pedestrian boardwalk through the mangroves failed.

Whitmore also said she was unhappy that the LeMasters cleared the right of way last year without a permit until Manatee County stopped the work. The LeMasters are sorry that heavy equipment destroyed more foliage than expected, Porges told the commission, adding, "They will have to address that."

Last September, LeMasters sued both the county and FISH, alleging that the county unfairly refused her request to vacate the right of way while granting a similar request by FISH. She dropped the lawsuit in December after FISH filed a motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the county’s statutory authority to vacate rights of way is discretionary.

The county vacated other portions of the right of way in 1993 and 2007, Porges told commissioners. "She is only asking for what every other property owner has received. She should have the same rights as other parties."

In 2007, FISH requested that the county vacate only parts of the right of way and others nearby that were surrounded by FISH property and would not impact other property owners, according to a letter from Garner to county commissioners. The request was necessary to ensure continued grant funding for the preserve’s habitat restoration program, and was recommended by the Florida Department of Transportation, he wrote.

FISH has used grant money to clear non-native vegetation on the preserve, plant native vegetation and install walkways and bridges to make the park accessible to the public.

"I’m not in favor of this (vacation)," Commissioner John Chappie said, adding that the county worked with FISH to create the preserve. "I question the compatibility."

"I think it should be preserved as a public right of way," Commissioner Ron Getman agreed.

Commissioners Gwen Brown, Donna Hayes and Larry Bustle disagreed.

"This is a matter of fairness," Bustle said. "We should vacate as requested."

The three to three vote maintains the right of way for the time being.

FISH, which has raised more than $500,000 from the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival over the past 27 years to create the preserve, has offered unsuccessfully to buy the LeMasters property for several years.

Last month, FISH offered to trade certain lots it owns on the perimeter of the preserve - where construction would not have the same impact - for LeMasters’ land, but she refused, Garner said.

During the 2005 real estate boom, the three LeMasters parcels were advertised at 4435 114th St. W. for $1.2 million as follows: "Build your Florida dream home on this one-of-a-kind half-acre bayfront lot completely surrounded by preserve." The Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office lists her 1997 purchase price for the half-acre property as $3,000, and the current appraised value as $18,075.

LBK blasts pipeline company

LONGBOAT KEY – The Town of Longboat Key has formally objected to Port Dolphin’s revised pipeline route, charging that the new path could affect underwater sand reserves that the company has discovered and is keeping confidential.

Port Dolphin is applying to build a floating liquid natural gas port off Anna Maria Island that would connect to Port Manatee with an underwater pipeline. The Houston-based company adjusted its original route in response to concerns about its potential to ruin sand reserves currently mined and used to renourish Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island beaches.

The sand is necessary to prevent erosion, preserve wildlife habitat and maintain tourism, according to town officials.

The town’s Washington D.C. law firm, Patton Boggs, filed objections on Feb. 10 to Port Dolphin’s deepwater port license application with the U.S. Coast Guard, opposing the plan on the basis that the new route, like the prior one, will impact previously unknown sand reserves that Port Dolphin discovered. It also charges that Port Dolphin has ignored town officials’ requests for access to the information.

"Longboat Key’s comments show that Port Dolphin has withheld information about offshore sand deposits. Even though it has the necessary data, Port Dolphin has opted not to do a thorough ‘sand study.’ Nor will it allow Longboat Key access to the information to do the study," according to the town’s filed objections. "Instead, Port Dolphin has ‘tweaked’ the last few miles of the pipeline route solely to avoid currently known and permitted sand sources, while ignoring the impacts of its pipeline on potential sources both there and farther offshore."

Port Dolphin, which did not comment for this story, has previously refused to reveal any information about its investigation of sand resources, citing competitive business reasons.

Underwater reserves of beach-quality renourishment sand are scarce and costly to locate, according to Coastal Planning and Engineering, the engineers for the beach renourishment projects administered by the town and Manatee County.

In Coastal’s 58-page analysis, filed with Longboat Key’s objections, the firm wrote that Port Dolphin’s description of geologic resources, which includes sand, is "incomplete," concluding, "…there are significant deficiencies throughout the document to require additional data collection and processing in order to determine the true impacts to regionally-limited beach-compatible sand resources."

The analysis continues: "Port Dolphin has, in its possession, geophysical and geotechnical data that it collected in support of their application that confirms the existence of both known and previously unknown beach-compatible sand resources. Port Dolphin has chosen to keep this data confidential and to not process and interpret the data for these resources, instead relying on local stakeholders to bear the burden of proof of their existence. By not sharing the data, and refusing the local community access to it, Port Dolphin is refusing to identify the presence of an important regional resource, and as such is refusing to describe the impacts the proposed action may have on these resources."

The town has requested that the licensing agencies include all of Port Dolphin’s available data on sand reserves in the revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the port’s application. The statement, which will be the subject of public hearings, is the next step in the license application process, which requires review by several local, state and federal agencies.

Parents vent at school budget meeting

HOLMES BEACH – A representative of the Manatee County School District addressed 50 parents and citizens at a meeting Thursday night about the budget shortfalls that they face in the future. While it drew concern from some people, others were critical of how public education got in this condition.

The district has been educating staff members about the situation so they could travel to schools to give similar discussions. Ron Russell, director of the Exceptional Student Education Department, was chosen for Anna Maria Elementary School, and he concluded his presentation by telling everyone to write, call or e-mail their state elected officials to seek an answer.

Russell said $26 million in stimulus funds is due to the district, but it won’t be available to make up for an expected $20 million in cuts needed in next year’s district budget.

"Those funds are earmarked for Title 1 schools and students with disabilities," he said. "It will not be allowed to flow into the general fund."

The budget shortages are caused mainly by a downturn in state taxes and lower property values from which the school district collects taxes. Russell said 85 percent of the budget covers personnel expenses such as salaries and benefits. The general fund comprises 42 percent, $342.2 million, and the capital projects fund comprises another 42 percent at $342.3 million. Russell explained that under state law, the district cannot transfer money from the capital projects fund into the general fund. He then spoke about what some people think.

"Only 3 percent of our personnel work in management positions," he said, "We talk with legislators but we get the feeling they think we’re a bit self-serving, looking out for ourselves."

Russell said, however, that those legislators listen to parents.

One of the solutions being bandied about is to raise the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, but Russell said generally, lawmakers don’t like to raise taxes.

"How did you get yourselves into this situation," asked Ron Mauer, of Holmes Beach, who said he had retired from a career in government.

"I don’t think we got ourselves into this problem," Russell answered. "It’s a statewide problem.

"Manatee County used to have around 1,400 new students a year," he added. "This year, there were only five. People aren’t moving to Florida. People aren’t spending money."

"Looking at this list (of spending cut possibilities), these things should have been done years ago," Mauer said. "Things like turning out the parking lot lights at night and field trips should be paid for by the people who take them."

Russell said he didn’t think some of those items were luxuries.

Suggestions included eliminating assistant principals and lowering the superintendant’s salary. Russell said that the district offered Tim McGonegal $175,000 per year and he voluntarily lowered that to $160,000.

"Why the spread between the lowest and the highest paid?" Mauer asked. "He’s not running a corporation. He’s not making a profit."

Former PTO President Joy Murphy asked about talk of closing AME to save money.

"Will our principal have a voice in the future cuts?" she asked

"Absolutely," Russell answered.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner John Monetti said that AME should get more allocation based on the amount of tax money that comes from the Island residents and businesses.

Builder Dan Hardy talked about the increased impact fees the county started collecting.

"Why didn’t you put some of that money away?" he asked. "I own a business and I have to adjust with the trends. You have to do that, too."

Russell noted the frustration that was being voiced and suggested they contact the School Board.

The people who showed up took handouts with the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of their state legislators with them.

Perico cell tower in works

PERICO ISLAND – Manatee County officials are planning to build a cell phone tower on Perico Island that would aid the county’s emergency services communications system and individual cell phone users.

The radio system the county uses for public safety purposes has 3,500 users and needs to be expanded, said Diane Frenz, county director of information services.

County staffers are writing a request for proposals for a communications company from the private sector to build a tower on county property within the Bradenton city limits on Perico Island, with an agreement to lease the land from the county, she said. The request for proposals is expected to be published within a month.

Perico Island resident Ken Crayton learned of the plan at last week’s Manatee County Commission meeting, which he attended to express his opposition to a new fire station on Manatee Avenue on Perico Island. Crayton said the noise would disturb neighbors in the quiet residential area surrounded by Perico Preserve and the water.

Commissioner Joe McClash told him that while the fire station is not likely to be built anytime soon due to the economic climate, the county is working on a flagpole-style cell phone tower in that area.

The fire station is on hold until the developer of the proposed Seven Shores community begins home construction, triggering its obligation to build the fire station, Bradenton Fire Chief Mark Souders confirmed later.

Crayton said a cell phone tower would produce "visual pollution" for himself and his neighbors, adding that Perico Island residents already have adequate cell phone coverage.

"Why can’t they go on the south side of Manatee Avenue where Neal Preserve is?" he asked, adding that Neal Preserve is bordered by the road and the Intracoastal Waterway, and has no nearby residents, unlike Perico Preserve on the north side of Manatee Avenue, which adjoins his residential neighborhood.

"It doesn’t matter whether they’re a quarter mile further down the road," he said.

R-1 to stay at 30 days

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners rejected a compromise offered by city planning consultant Bill Brisson and agreed to leave the rental period at 30 days in the R-1 district.

Two years ago, commissioners changed the rental period from seven to 30 days. 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. Last year, commissioners agreed to revisit the issue after hearing objections from rental agents.

Brisson’s compromise was to allow seven-day rentals in those areas of R-1 that are on the Gulf. These would include one at the north tip of the city and a second in the center of the city between Manatee Public Beach and 52nd Street.

The remainder of the R-1 district, including Bay Palms, would be 30 days. Most of the objections to allowing seven-day rentals came from residents of Bay Palms, which is primarily along the canals off Marina Drive.

"It’s a really good compromise," Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said. "

However, Commissioner John Monetti said an area in the south of the city on the bay side from 31st Street to the city limits should also be included in the seven-day rentals.


"You’re giving away our business to people who are illegal and using it as a second income," Ken Gerry, of the White Sands Resort, said in objecting to seven-day rentals. ‘You’re not improving the quality of life of these people’s neighbors."

"You punish the honest individuals who do things correctly," Jeff Gerry, of the White Sands Resort, added. "The economy is bad; I don’t need more competition."

Sean Murphy pointed out if the city allows seven-day rentals, it is, in effect, adding motel rooms and devaluing the property of motel owners.

"You’re saying they’ve been renting by the week anyway and breaking the law, so let’s change the law to accommodate this behavior," he said. "If we can’t enforce the current law we have, why have a new law?"

Peter Hecht, John VanZandt and Gary Hickerson also spoke against seven-day rentals.

On the other side of the issue, Don Schroder said, "Many of these homes will be primary residences when these people retire. With today’s economic situation, if you have another home down here, you need the income. You’re taking away people’s rights."

Greg Burke said he favors the compromise.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff stressed, "At some point, people need to take responsibility for what they’ve purchased. The city is allowed to have reasonable restrictions to maintain the quality of life."

After a short discussion, commissioners agreed to leave the rental period at 30 days in the entire district.

Center staff works to cut expenses

ANNA MARIA – With revenues still down, Island Community Center officials are working to cut costs, Treasurer Bill Ford reported to Center board members Friday.

"Pierrette (Executive Director Pierrette Kelly) and her staff continue to do a yeoman’s job of reducing expenses because our revenues are not making our projections," Ford said. "Expenses are down about $90,000. That’s what is getting us through this period. We can’t expect to get much more in revenue."

Ford said he and Kelly met with Mark Mixon, of Mixon Insurance, to reduce insurance costs by $8,000 to $9,000. He said they are also seeking a price for flood insurance, which the Center has never had in the past, in order to protect the gym floor.

"We are working on all areas of revenues and expenditures," Kelly added. "The participation is good, but revenue is not. More people are asking for scholarships and reduced fees. The need is great, and no one is turned away."

She said now is the critical time for fund raising. Upcoming fund-raisers include a Heart and Soul dance with the Billy Rice Band on Feb. 21, a golf tournament raffle and a talent show on March 7, the annual Tour of Homes and quilt raffle on March 21 and the annual dinner auction on April 4.

Board members also discussed a 10-point plan for non-profits during difficult economic times, their mission and vision statements and goals. They agreed that one important goal is to attract more young adults to participate in the Center.

Kelly said the Center serves 584 youths and 1,579 adults annually. In addition, the Family Foundations Counseling Program serves 191 people annually.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper