The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 23 - March 17, 2010

headlines

Parade attracts smilin' Irish eyes

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD
Riley Singer, 9, and sister, Laila, 5, of Holmes Beach,
are decked out in green from head to toe and having a
blast at Sunday's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Get the Adobe Free Reader View the PDF

 

The Anna Maria Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade was bigger and better than ever, according to organizer Sean Murphy, who estimated the half-mile long parade went past as many as 10,000 spectators. He said he felt St. Patrick would be proud.

Participants included the Anna Maria Island Privateers, the DeSoto Crewe the Pirates of the Gulf Coast were there, tossing out beads and other loot, but the stars of the show were Judy, the elephant who made a return appearance this year, and a camel that accompanied her. Asked if he might add a third large animal to next year’s parade, Murphy said he preferred more people.

“No more animals,” he said. “but I would like to add another high school band.”

The Manatee High School Fiddlers and the Braden River and Southeast High School bands performed this year.

Also new this year, the Pittsburgh Pirates had representatives in the parade, which ran north from the Mainsail project, formerly known as TideMark to 81st Street, on the northern border of Holmes Beach.

“I thought it was awesome and I’m glad that other people enjoyed it too,” Murphy said. “For me personally, this is about as much fun as I have all year.”

Until next St. Patty’s Day, Nova Scotia’s most famous Island restaurant-owning Irishman will have to settle for feeding the people who live and visit here and visit the Beach Bistro.

City OKs building moratorium

ANNA MARIA – Commissioners approved a moratorium on commercial and mixed use construction in the residential/office/retail (ROR) district, including site plans that are already in the process.

City Attorney Jim Dye will draft an ordinance containing the specifics, and bring it back to commissioners for two readings.

The ROR includes Pine Avenue and a few blocks of Gulf Drive south of Pine. The moratorium is to be in place for a maximum of six months or until the commission makes changes to the land development regulations in question.

The meeting opened with a request from Commissioner Chuck Webb, who was absent due to illness, to hold action until he could be present. Commissioner Dale Woodland said the issue was too important to delay, and the others agreed.

Dye asked the board for direction on what the moratorium would include, how long it would last and whether to include site plans that are already in process.

Commissioner John Quam said it should only be the ROR district. Commissioner Dale Woodland said it should only affect commercial properties in the ROR, however, Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus felt both residential and commercial should be included because it’s a safety issue.

Dye asked about site plan applications that are already in process, and Stoltzfus replied, “I want it all frozen.”

Lawsuit concerns

“There’s a buzz in the room,” Dye pointed out, referring to the court reporter present. “Including projects that are in the pipeline raises likelihood of a lawsuit. Dealing with a lawsuit takes a lot of resources.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick asked what reason the city had to stop the ones in process, and Dye said typically a moratorium would be placed if there is a significant threat or a situation that requires immediate action.

“How can infill buildings that are replacing existing buildings reach the level to put stress on any of those things that fall under health, safety and welfare?” Mattick asked. “The only reason I’ve heard to justify this has been for safety.”

“It’s hard for me to say whether you are right or wrong,” Dye said. “It’s not really a legal consideration. It’s a policy decision.”

Mayor Fran Barford said she also is concerned about a lawsuit and stressed, “The city will not be able to manage that. The only projects that have been targeted have been specifically Pine Avenue Restoration. That’s what worries me.”

Stoltzfus maintained that he has not targeted PAR, however, PAR’s attorney Valerie Fernandez pointed out, “We have on the record you admitting that you actually are targeting PAR.”

Making a decision

“I think there’s four site plans open,” Quam said. “That’s 40 to 50 spaces where cars could back up over sidewalks. We know the problem is here. If we continue to allow further development, we’re increasing the liability.”

“To me there’s a safety issue, “Woodland agreed. “We can’t ignore it. When you recognize there’s a problem, you should fix it.”

Mattick said she raised the issue of backing out at Pine Avenue General Store and the Community Center in January 2009 and no one on the commission acted.

“Now you want to do this blanket thing and stop everything,” she pointed out.

Stoltzfus made the motion directing the staff to prepare an ordinance authorizing a moratorium for the acceptance, review and approval of projects governed by site plans in the ROR district. The moratorium would last until the commission has considered and enacted changes to Chapters 90 and 114-282 and any other affected sections of the land development regulations.

Dye said maintenance and other projects that do not require acceptance review or approval of site plans are excluded.

Public comment

Micheal Coleman, of PAR, said the court reporter was not there to intimidate the commission but to preserve PAR’s rights.

“We have 11 percent of the tax base, and the last thing we would want to do its sue ourselves,” he stressed. “But there comes a time when you have no other choice.”

Sandy Mattick said the commission has been talking about parking in the business district for seven years, and said commissioners should work on making the business district a walkable neighborhood rather than pass a moratorium.

However, Mary Selby countered, “Seven years ago, we didn’t have 184 parking spaces being proposed on Pine Avenue.”

Robin Wall said she supports the moratorium because it would give the city time to solve the problem.

Prior to approval of the motion, Barford asked about a time frame, and Dye said it could be a certain number of days or when the corrections are made. Stoltzfus asked that both be included in the ordinance and suggested a maximum of 180 days.

The others agreed and approved the ordinance with Mattick dissenting. Following the vote, Woodland suggested fast tracking the issue. Commissioners set a joint meeting with the Planning and Zoning Board on March 18 at 6 p.m.

Officials' e-mails sought

ANNA MARIA — A Sarasota-based legal consultant has submitted a public records request to the city asking to inspect e-mail records of City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus and Planning and Zoning Board member Jim Conoly.

The request was made by Michael Barfield, a legal consultant with offices in Sarasota, and is dated March 10, 2010. The request, made under that portion of the Sunshine Laws pertaining to public records (section 119.07, Fla. Stat.), asks for the following: “All e-mails, including attachments, regardless of whether on a personal or private e-mail account, sent or received by Jim Conoly and Harry Stoltzfus beginning on March 1, 2009 through March 10, 2009.”

Barfield’s request, stating more of the statute (section 119.07(1)(c), says that if the city (or Conoly or Stoltzfus) contends that a particular record is exempt, they must state in writing why they feel that the requested record is not a public record.

Under the law, “even if an assertion is made by the custodian of public records that a requested record is not a public record subject to public inspection or copying under this subsection, the requested record, shall nevertheless, not be disposed of for a period of 30 days after the date on which a written request to inspect or copy the record was served on or otherwise made to the custodian of public records by the person.”

Barfield’s request includes only e-mails that pertain to the official business of the city.

Barfield said in a phone interview that it is his policy not to comment on public records requests.

“It’s the right of every citizen to request and inspect the public record,” he said. “The person’s motivation is irrelevant and the governmental body should not ask for a reason.”

The Venice case

Barfield was one of the principals in a well-known public records case in Venice.

In that case, the private and official e-mail accounts of several city commissioners also were requested.

The Venice case illustrated the difficulties of gaining access to the public record. The commissioners denied they had public records on their personal computers.

Ultimately, the hard drives of the commissioners were seized and the deleted e-mails pertaining to city business were recovered forensically.

The city of Venice ended up paying about $1.5 million in legal fees to the opposition, changed the way it preserves the public record and holds regular Sunshine training sessions for public officials and employees.

The Jacksonville law firm of Rumrell, Costabel, Warrington and Brock, LLP handled the Venice case.

PAR

Pine Avenue Restoration, Inc, (PAR) a company developing properties in Anna Maria, retained the Jacksonville firm late last year to write a letter to City Attorney Jim Dye.

That letter complained that Stoltzfus, in an undated letter to city officials about parking codes, was singling out the PAR properties in a “not so subtle attack on the already approved site plan at 315/317 Pine Avenue and future development.”

Barfield refers to the Venic case in his letter, “As in the city of Venice, whenever a city uses its governmental power to target a specific property owner, it subjects the city to damages for violation of the equal protection laws and the Fourteenth Amendment rights of property owners."

Barfield would not confirm he was involved in the Venice case, however, a court Web site indicates he was part of the successful legal challenge against the city of Venice over the Sunshine violations. A legal document states he was owed a total of $100,080, which included 834 hours billed at an hourly rate of $120.

It was specifically due to the Venice case that the city of Anna Maria hired a technical firm to handle e-mail. Each commissioner and the chair of each committee was assigned an e-mail address on the city’s account.

Then shortly after last fall’s election, the city held training for city staff, elected officials and appointed members of boards and committees on the Sunshine Laws.

Both Stoltzfus and Conoly attended the training session during which Dye outlined the Venice case. He advised those in attendance that it would be prudent to avoid using their private e-mail accounts when conducting city business.

Micheal Coleman, managing partner for PAR, declined comment at this time as to whether or not PAR is involved in any way in the public records request.

Conoly said he’s in the process of complying with the request.

“It’s a pain to gather all that material,” he said. “But that’s the law and I have to comply.”

Conoly said it is fortunate he captured anything having to do with city business in a folder on his personal e-mail.

Stoltzfus said he didn’t want to comment.

The city is working to gather the e-mails that Barfield requested, according to City Clerk Alice Baird.

“I’ve been in touch with Integrated Tech Support,” she said. “They maintain our electronic record.”

Baird said she’s asked ITS to work up an estimate of what retrieving the e-mails stored in the city’s archive will cost. When she has that figure, she’ll ask for some or all of the money up front from Barfield.

Under the Sunshine Laws, governmental bodies are allowed to recover reasonable costs for fulfilling public records requests.

At press time, Baird was still expecting to hear back from ITS.

Tourism industry hopes spring sticks

After a winter of worrisome weather and a Friday deluge, spring burst forth on Anna Maria Island on Saturday, pulling new leaves from bare tree branches and drawing sun-starved beachgoers to the coast.

Just in time, they agree.

Optimistic snowbirds who had been saying, “At least it’s not snowing,” were beginning to tire of bundling up for beach walks, and patience had waned among tourism operators, who had only one glimpse of spring last Wednesday when a long-awaited sunny day backed up traffic from Holmes Beach to Anna Maria.

“That was the first warm, sunny day we had,” said Mary Ann Brockman of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

Up until now, spring breakers determined to get some sun have been the only intrepid beachgoers wearing swimsuits in temperatures that seldom left the 60s, with winds blowing around 15 to 20 m.p.h.

“They’ve only got a certain number of days here so they’re going to be out no matter what,” she said.

While roads have been clogged, it’s from local residents as much as visitors, she said.

“Moteliers still have vacancies and it’s the middle of March. That’s almost unheard of,” Brockman said. “It has a lot to do with the weather and the economy. A lot of local people are out of jobs and are coming to the beach.”

A relatively late Easter on April 4 will stretch the season a bit, but “It’s not the best year we’ve ever had,” she said.

Tourism operators have been disputing statistics showing that occupancy is up, Brockman said.

According to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), February occupancy on Anna Maria Island reached 74.9 percent, up from 66.6 percent in February 2009, and up significantly from January 2010’s 51 percent.

“There’s got to be something wrong with those statistics,” said Barbara Rodocker of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, and a Bradenton Beach hotelier with 78 rooms.

“Mine was not up from last year, and several have been down. It’s a strange, cold, hard winter,” she said. “There is something wrong with the numbers.”

The statistics come from a relatively small cross section of hotel accommodations that the CVB has defended as the only consistent measure of occupancy over the past two decades.

Not all disagree with the numbers.

“We’re certainly having challenges, but we’re better than last year,” said Ed Kirn, property manager for Island Vacation Properties, adding that return visitors are booking for next year.

“The weeks are filling up quickly, and some weeks are sold out,” he said, although vacancies exist for Easter weekend.

Three out of four visitors comment on the unusually wintry weather, but mention that where they live is worse, Kirn said, adding, “Most people are pretty understanding that we can’t control weather.”

Last year at this time, occupancy was 82.7 percent on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key was at 85.7 percent occupancy. March is historically the area’s busiest month.

Commissioners oppose $35 business tax

HOLMES BEACH – After an appeal by a resident, all but one city commissioner said they oppose the county’s proposed business tax.

Last month, Manatee County officials said they are seeking a $35 tax on every business in the county to fund a recruitment effort to encourage business to relocate to the county.

“Taxes, weather and insurance are driving individuals and businesses out of Florida,” Emery Morse said. “To add another tax to try and encourage other businesses to come in is ironic. I encourage you not to participate.”

Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said it’s not fair to residents who already pay a tax to the city. She suggested that Morse call individual county commissioners and express his views about the tax.

“There’s so many unclear items,” she pointed out. “What about hairdressers, barbers, home health care companies, real estate agents? A lot of those people are independent contractors. I’m not sure the county’s really thought about it.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said the Island Chamber of Commerce supports the tax and suggested that business owners contact the Chamber.

“Three of us up here have rental licenses on our places,” he said. “I would request that not be included as part of the business tax. I think that’s one of the big concerns in this community. It’s a double whammy.”

Commissioners Pat Morton and John Monetti said they oppose the tax, but Commissioner Al Robinson said he does not.

“It’s not a big deal to me,” Robinson declared. “It’s only $35 and has the potential to do something for the county.”

Haas-Martens said the tax should apply only to those who do not pay a business tax to a city.

Pier centennial stamp in works

ANNA MARIA – To commemorate the City of Anna Maria Pier’s centennial in April 2011, the city’s Centennial Committee is considering creating a postage stamp.

Stamp aficionado and Island visitor Charles Fields suggested designing a stamp that features the pier, ordering a limited number, perhaps 250, and arranging to have the stamps cancelled on the day designated as pier centennial day at a temporary satellite post office on the pier. The cancelled stamps could be sold to collectors and Island enthusiasts for $250 each to pay for the project.

“It only happens once and you only get one shot at doing it,” he said. “It’s just a fun thing to do.”

The 100th anniversary of the city pier will be celebrated with art, music, food and fireworks, including a parade planned to kick off the celebration on Friday night, followed by a barbershop chorus concert and a Picnic in the Park at Bayfront Park featuring hot dogs and cotton candy. On Saturday, an arts and crafts show, a demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard, and a concert followed by fireworks are planned.

Other tentative plans include an offshore event by the Cortez Yacht Club, silent movie showings and commemorative T-shirts featuring a vintage photograph of the pier.

The committee is seeking new members to replace two who recently resigned; volunteers are needed for several projects. Interested people may call committee chair Sissy Quinn at 778-5120.

Haitian pastor to visit CrossPointe
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO PROVIDED
Pastor Julio will meet with supporters
at CrossPointe Fellowship Wednesday, March 17
and on Sunday, March 21.

ANNA MARIA – Haitian Pastor Julio Jn Giles, will meet with his supporters at CrossPointe Fellowship this week to give them an update on conditions in Haiti, thank them for their support through the years and tell them how their money is used in his ministry.

Giles is the founder of Bethesda Ministry, a church and school located in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, which members of CrossPointe have supported with donations of supplies for children and money to build a church.

In 2004 and 2005, CrossPointe member Earl Mowry spearheaded a community effort to collect hundreds of ‘Bags of Joy,” gallon zip-style bags filled with toys, toiletries and school supplies to distribute to Haitian children.

Mowry had become acquainted with the people of Cap-Haitien when he traveled there in 1999 with a group of men from the church. They worked with the People’s Relief Project, a group of churches in the Sarasota-Venice

In 2004, Mowry delivered 600 bags and $3,970 in donations to the Haitian church and in 2005, he delivered 1,000 bags and more donations. The church was completed in 2004 and dedicated in 2005.

Giles will meet with supporters on Wednesday, March 17, at 6:30 at the church, 8605 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. He will meet with supporters again on Sunday, March 21, at 10 a.m., following the morning service and including a Haitian lunch in the fellowship hall.

Bridge Street Pier work finished
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT
The floating day dock at the Bridge Street Pier
was reopened to boaters last Friday and the public after
the ramp that led to it was damaged in January by high
waves and repaired by Wood Dock of Cortez.

BRADENTON BEACH – Wood Dock has completed its permanent fix of the Bridge Street Pier after a long, weather-related delay.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said that Wood Dock informed him the work was done late last week. He opened it to the public on Friday, March 12.

The city closed the pier on Dec. 2 after strong waves from a storm caused the ramp leading to the floating day dock to twist around on two concrete pilings. The city reopened the pier Dec. 4, when it was determined that the pier was safe, but kept the day dock ramp closed and performed a temporary fix.

Wood Dock, which had installed new wood pilings under the restaurant section of the pier, was hired to fix the pilings under the ramp as a permanent fix, but cold stormy weather kept the Cortez-based company from bringing in a piece of equipment from the Tampa Bay area that it needed to get the job done.

When the weather warmed last week, Wood got the right equipment and completed the fix. The floating day dock has become popular with boaters who would tie up to it and visit Rotten Ralph’s on the pier or shops and other eateries on Bridge Street.

The pier has been damaged before by the weather. It was closed in September 2004 after Hurricane Frances passed nearby and damaged the restaurant roof and bait shop. The city also had an engineer look at the structural integrity of the pier underneath the café after finding concrete pilings with rebar rusted and corroded.

That led the city to replace the restaurant structure. They hired architect Tom O’Brien to design substructures with an eye on the future. His design included a larger bait shop and facilities for boats docked in what will eventually be a mooring field south of the pier. There was also a plan for a harbor master’s office.

The city formed the pier team to meet with the contractor on a weekly basis. Speciale was chosen as the head of the pier team and the process went well until a communications gaffe paved the way for a more expensive kitchen area for the restaurant. That caused a cost overrun and the city had to forego a couple of projects that were planned along Gulf Drive and take out a loan to pay for the completion of the pier.


AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper