The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 25 - March 18, 2009


Spring break has sprung on AMI
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Collin Ries, of Orlando, practices skimboarding during his spring
break on Anna Maria Island. SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – It’s a sure sign of spring break when bright umbrellas burst forth on the beach and footballs, volleyballs and Frisbees take to the air.

Without the bikini and beer-guzzling contests that have other spring break destinations lamenting their marketing plans, Anna Maria Island draws a different breed of breaker.

Ashley Clark, who studies at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, wasn’t looking for concerts, MTV or nightlife. She went online and Googled "sleeps 16 west coast Florida," and up popped the Sandcastle in Bradenton Beach, a two-level duplex where she and all her friends could each have their own bed.

"And it’s warmer than the Panhandle," a bonus, she said.

They’re willing to drive to Sarasota to hear live music, her group agreed, but are just as happy to take the trolley to play bingo at the Annie Silver Community Center with a roomful of retirees.

They’ll expend enough energy to toss a football or run on the beach or skimboard a little, like University of Central Florida student Collin Ries, who showed Chelsea Moore how to skim last week. But mostly, they’re here to relax.

"You can wake up whenever you want and go down to the beach," said Brittany Vallie, a Charleston student with a stress-free smile.

Some graduate students from Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., and Mercer University in Atlanta brought books and laptops, planning to read and write papers on their break, but after their first morning of listening to waves lapping the sand, those plans were shelved.

"We’re here to chill," Andi Sullivan said.

Another group of students from East Main Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Pa., broke up their lazy beach days by volunteering at Save Our Seabirds, the former Pelican Man Sanctuary on City Island. They helped prepare the grounds for new pens that will be used for injured birds as they are being rehabilitated.

"They enjoyed working outside," Director Lee Fox said. "They’re from Pennsylvania. Today it was like 20 degrees there."

You’re right - it’s really crowded

If it seems like there are more visitors here than last year, you may be right.

On both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, February hotel occupancy was up slightly from a year ago, according to the latest statistics from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

February occupancy on Anna Maria Island was 66.6 percent, up from 65.2 in February 2008. On Longboat Key, February occupancy was 75.5 percent, up from 74.5 percent the previous February.

People are thronging to the area online too, said David Teitelbaum of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC).

From Feb. 8 to March 10, the chamber website had 56,000 visits, with people spending an average of five minutes on the site, he said. When an article on the Island was featured in USA Today on Dec. 12, the website had 2,068 visits compared to the typical 616 the day before, he said; on March 4, an article in Southern Living magazine prompted 2,755 website visits.

"The combination of USA Today and Southern Living articles has promoted other articles in smaller publications," he said. "It also translates to our places (Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds Resort and Seaside Inn and Resort in Bradenton Beach). We sleep 450 people and we’re full."

Many people are coming from neighboring Lakeland and Orlando, he said, but the mix also includes spring breakers and snowbirds.

Room rates were mixed in February, with Anna Maria Island rates averaging $170.95 per night, down from $175.30 in February 2008, according to the CVB. Rates on Longboat Key averaged $199.71 per night, up from $193.52 the previous January.

The record high average nightly rate is $223.26 a night, set in March 2008 on Longboat Key. Anna Maria Island’s record high average nightly rate is $191.86, also set in March 2008.

One more bridge hearing

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) will host a public hearing on the Anna Maria Island Bridge Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study on Thursday, March 26, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach. An informal open house will begin at 6 p.m. and the formal public hearing, consisting of a presentation by FDOT on the project and its associated impacts followed by a public comment period, will begin at 7 p.m.

The PD&E study, which is the first step in a possible total refurbishment or replacement of the bridge, has gone through two previous public hearings. People who responded to surveys, showed a preference for replacing the low-level drawbridge with a 65-foot-high clearance fixed-span. Other possibilities include a 45-foot-high clearance drawbridge and a new low-level drawbridge. The purpose of the study is to give FDOT documented information necessary for it to recommend one of the alternatives to the USCG for its approval.

This public hearing will allow interested persons to express their views on the conceptual design and social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed improvements.

Everyone is welcome to attend and voice his or her opinions.

Funding for the bridge is not yet available and the project would begin in 10 years or more, at best, according to FDOT officials.

How public are our public records?

ANNA MARIA — A new electronic mail policy may not provide citizens with any greater access to public records in the city.

Access to electronic records is subject to all the requirements of Florida’s Sunshine Laws, according to Adria Harper, the director of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee. The non-profit agency is dedicated to providing expertise and assistance to the public and media about the state’s open government law.

In Anna Maria, access to the written record was formerly provided through a read file that contained most of the city’s internal and external correspondence.

However, as the city, like most other municipalities and counties in Florida, turned to conducting its business over the Internet, the number of documents available for review by the public diminished dramatically.

What once was easily accessible via paper documents eventually became more and more difficult to obtain.

Electronic record law evolving

Meanwhile, the laws pertaining to electronic records are evolving, according to Harper.

"There’s no formal legislation as yet, but everyone agrees that the (Sunshine) law does apply to electronic records," she noted. "Most counties and larger cities are already providing access to the entire electronic record by printing everything out for a paper read file or by providing a computer terminal for citizens.

Harper said it’s the smaller municipalities that are having difficulties with electronic records.

Access in Anna Maria

Anna Maria city commissioners got their first look at a proposed electronic mail policy at their March 12 work session.

All city staff and elected officials would have e-mail accounts provided by an outside website host.

"We want everyone to use these e-mail accounts when doing city business so we can capture every electronic record and retain it for the proper length of time," City Clerk Alice Baird told commissioners.

However, within the city’s proposed policy, there is no provision for providing public access to the electronic record.

When several of the commissioners questioned City Attorney Jim Dye about maintaining a public read file, electronic or printed, Dye said there was no requirement under the Sunshine Laws for providing a read file.

"It’s strictly an internal matter whether to have one or not," he told commissioners.

Harper agreed with Dye and said that usually cities and counties choose to provide broad access because it’s simply easier and less labor intensive for staff and for the public.

As a result, the idea of providing an electronic mail file for the public has been discussed.

Commissioners weigh in

Reached after the meeting, several commissioners said they would support having an electronic read file.

"I’m all for public access," Commissioner JoAnn Mattick said. "I know it’s the law, and I also think government works better if the citizens are informed."

Commissioner Dale Woodland agreed.

"I don’t have much computer expertise so I don’t know how we’d do it, but I’ve talked to several people who know what they’re doing, and they have assured me that it can be done fairly easily," he said. "

Commissioner Chuck Webb, had concerns about security breaches.

"My electronic education comes from my time in army special operations," he said. If security concerns could be met though, he said he would favor an electronic read file.

All three commissioners said they had concerns about the expense and staff time needed to maintain broad public access to the electronic record.

Commission Chair John Quam said he doesn‘t think an electronic read file is a bad idea, but he doesn’t think everything should be put into it.

The electronic mail policy will come to a vote at the March 26 commission meeting.

Different Affaire planned for April 4

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Island Community Center’s annual dinner auction, a new and different event, "An Affaire Under the Starfish Sky," is planned for the evening of Saturday, April 4, from 6 to 11 p.m.

"This year’s event is going to wow everyone attending," said Scott Dell, Center assistant dtrector. "We believe this event will inspire you and make you feel a part of all the amazing things we have accomplished over the past 25 years."

The evening includes:

• Dinner theatre-style entertainment throughout the evening created in a fun social atmosphere for mingling with guests;
• Seven different gourmet food stations from local restaurants;
• Three different bars, including fine wine and martini bars;
• A fantastic and inspiring light show;
• A shortened live auction;
• A fine art gallery;
• After gala dancing;
• And a few 25th anniversary surprises.

Donors, members, sponsors and volunteers and their guests may purchase tickets for $100 per person or a table of eight for $800. Others pay $150 per person or $1,200 for a table of eight.

Call Sandee at 778-1908, ext. 9204, to reserve your tickets.

Pet bird’s disappearance a mystery
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGH Wizard, an African gray parrot that
looks like this bird, was taken from his cage in front
of Sun & Surf, in Holmes Beach, Sunday morning and
his owners would like to get him back.

HOLMES BEACH – The chorus of birds talking and wolf-whistling in front of Sun & Surf Apparel, 5418 Marina Drive, was reduced last Saturday night when somebody apparently took Wizard, the African gray parrot, from his cage.

Storeowners Helen and Marty Duytschaver found out that Wizard was missing Sunday morning, after someone moved the cage and opened the feeding door on the side. He said Wizard’s friendliness is another reason they think he was stolen.

"I could open the door to his cage and he would just go to the top and sit there," Duytschaver said. "But if you stuck your arm in the cage, he would come right to you."

Wizard is one of their favorites, for sentimental reasons, according to Duytschaver.

"We’ve had him for 10 years, but my father owned him for 10 years before that," he said. "When my father passed away, we got Wizard and put him out in front of the store."

Now they have several cages with several birds that spend the day entertaining the shoppers.

"Most of the birds are rescue birds," he said. "People come to us and say they can’t keep them, so we take them."

Duytschaver said they also work with Wildlife, Inc., Education and Rehabilitation Center, in Bradenton Beach, to house and adopt out birds.

"In the past, we would take in maybe five birds a year and adopt out five," he said. "With the economy of late, we took in a lot more last year."

As for Wizard, Duytschaver said he would appreciate getting him back, as he was a part of their family for many years. He said there were tears when Helen found out that he was missing.

He said there is a shortage of African gray parrots and somebody might have taken him to resell him, but there is also a chance he might have gotten away from his captors.

"We checked and he’s worth $1,200," he said, "We had a customer who used to play with him when he was down here and one day, just before he left to go back up north, he came in and offered me $5,000, but I had to say no."

As for locking up the birds, Marty said he would not change the way they have been operating because of this incident. Besides, the other birds would not be so accommodating.

"Anyone who sticks an arm in a cage is in danger of sustaining some serious bite injuries," he said.

If you see a gray parrot out in the wild, call Sun & Surf at 778-2169 or the Holmes Beach Police Department at 708-5804.

City poised to eliminate duplex zone

ANNA MARIA – Construction of duplexes within city limts may be prohibited if a new zoning ordinance being considered is approved.

The city commission had a first reading March 12 of an ordinance that would combine the single-family (R-1) and R-2 districts into one residential zone.

The ordinance has been a long time in coming. It’s been the subject of a joint workshop between city commissioners and members of the planning and zoning board. It came to the commission in a form recommended for approval by the P&Z board after several meetings and a public hearing.

The elimination of the R-2 zone would mean that all duplexes in the city would become non-conforming uses, which could be problematic for duplex owners who want to remodel, expand or rebuild in case of catastrophic loss.

"I’d like to preserve the rights of existing duplexes, but I don’t want to see any new ones," Commission Chair John Quam said.

There was consensus to move in that direction, and City Planner Alan Garrett said he’d come up with language that would codify that desire for the final public hearing March 26.

50 percent rule

More controversial was the proposal brought forward from the P&Z board to limit the second habitable floor to 50 percent of the under-roof floor space as the first habitable floor, based on square footage.

"If I’m not mistaken, the purpose of this was to get away from having the box-like homes, but this doesn’t get away from that, because then you have a two story home with a box upon a box," stated Commissioner Chris Tollette, who mentioned the architectural review boards that exist in Hyde Park and other cities.

"That’s something we’ve always shied away from," said Commissioner Chuck Webb. "I think we may need to bite the bullet and have some architectural standards, though then the next thing you know you’ve got all Florida cracker, if that’s what you call it."

There was discussion of other architectural styles that might become too prevalent.

"Then there’s Mediterranean Revival, which I like," Tollette said. "But can you imagine what that looks like on stilts?"

Quam noted that most of the homes he’s seen being built in the city were attractive, but the homes built by speculators were three story boxes where space was maximized.

The size of the second habitable floor will be determined at the commission’s second reading and public hearing on the ordinance March 26.

Setback for equipment

Another issue that resulted in differing opinions was whether or not to allow air conditioning and pool equipment in the outside the bounds of the side setbacks.

Some commissioners and members of the public felt that this was the logical place for those things.

"People use their front and rear yards for living and for recreation," Micheal Coleman, a resident of Pine Avenue and the managing partner of the Pine Avenue Development Project said.

On the other hand, some say equipment in the side yard is too close to neighboring properties.

"I’m not in favor of putting the equipment in the side yard as I’m a victim of this," resident Barbara Zdravecki said.

She noted that noise from a neighboring property’s pool equipment is noisy and runs all day long.

"I can’t open my windows on that side," she said. "I find that an invasion of my privacy and sense of well being."

Public hearing

Garrett said he’d have suggested changes ready for the final reading and public hearing on March 26.

A copy of the proposed ordinance is available at city hall. Minutes of the March 12 meeting should be available soon.

This is one of the land use regulations that the city is working on to bring their ordinances into compliance with the comprehensive plan. The revised land use regulations must be in the hands of the Florida Department of Community Affairs by no later than April 11.

Commissioners give Washington an earful
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED Manatee County Commissioners John Chappie and
Carol Whitmore joned other commissioners in Washington. D.C.,
to ask for federal funding for county projects.

All Manatee County commissioners except Ron Getman traveled to Washington, D.C., last week for a three-day whirlwind visit to our elected officials and some of Washington’s well-connected senators and congressmen to try and get some federal dollars.

Commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie made the rounds and pressed for funding for local projects, including some on Anna Maria Island.

"We had dinner with Congressman Vern Buchannan the first night (Tuesday, March 10) and he introduced us to Congressman John Mica the next day, who is a ranking member of the transportation and infrastructure committee," Whitmore said. "We told him we wanted $16 million for the design phase of a new Anna Maria Island Bridge and he said he would do what he could."

Whitmore said if the money is approved it would be easier to get the replacement project into the funding pipeline in 10 years or so.

Another of Whitmore’s pet projects was beach renourishment. She asked for $200,000 the review process pertaining to a project scheduled for 2012-13.

Chappie lobbied for a mapping system showing where water storage is available in the county.

"It will help with stormwater and flood mitigation," Chappie said. "It will be invaluable if we have a hazardous material spill because we’ll be able to respond quickly to keep it out of the drinking water.

"Half of the county is surrounded by water," he added. "We have two estuaries, the Gulf of Mexico and rivers, and this would be a key to protecting those water sources."

The cost would be $1.5 million, but Chappie said they were only asking for half of that and would expect the rest to come from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, grants and possibly the county.

The commissioners also asked for $600,000 for the carriage house of the Crosley Mansion, the county-owned waterfront facility that is used to public and private events and $750,000 for an intelligent traffic control system that would monitor stoplight locations and time the lights for optimum flow. They also asked for $1.2 million for the United Community Center, Dream Center of Education, Science, Technology and Recreation and $7 million to continue the cleanup of Wares Creek and Cedar Hammock on the mainland.

"We had 18 appointments with congressional leaders, and I believe we got positive feedback from those legislators and their staff," Chappie said. "Rep. Buchannan and his wife were very gracious hosts and I believe he is a wonderful representative for this district."

Whitmore said a lot of people knew about Manatee County.

"I pulled out the Southern Living Magazine with the article on the Island and over half of the congressmen and their staff had been to the Island," she said. "Rep. Buchannan said he was impressed because we were one of the few counties that was so organized."

Whitmore said that when they got to Washington, they were given backup material for each of their projects, which helped. She said it was interesting, if not hectic.

"We met at Congressman Buchannan’s house for cocktails one night and he wanted to take us out to dinner, but John and I said we were to tired," she said "I had cheese and crackers that night."

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