LONGBOAT KEY – Charles (C.J.) Wickersham came home Friday night after spending six days at Bayfront Medical Center because a shark tried to take a chunk of his leg last Saturday. His mother, Ella, said it's nothing short of a miracle.
"They said it would be 10 days minimum and here we are at six days," she said.
As for the pain he went through, she said he really has not suffered much, except for the first couple of days after surgeons reattached a flap of skin where the shark had bit into the left leg.
Wickersham and his friends, Katie Mattas, Kiera Dunn, Oceana Beard, Connor Bystrom, Lee White and Max Gazzo, were free diving and spear fishing from Bystrom's boat about five miles off of the north end of the Island last Saturday when the incident happened. Wickersham dived into the water and the shark, which was identified as a bull shark, bit his leg as he was coming up. He hit the shark in the nose when he felt the animal pull on his leg, which might have saved him from further harm.
"The surgeon said the shark didn't shake his head after he hit C.J.," said Ella Wickersham. "He also said that if the shark had hit him at any other angle, he would have lost the leg."
She credited Connor Bystrom for jumping in the water after she shark hit her son and helping bring him on board and she also credits the surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, who was very capable.
"He served in Afghanistan, which means he dealt with severe injuries before," she said." "He said (C.J.) is one lucky guy."
As for making a total recovery, the chances are good, except for scar s from the bite and the 800 sutures it took to close the wound.
"They were able to save the whole flap," Ella Wickersham said. "It was sewed up and it's staying."
Meanwhile, the incident started a controversy when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wanted to buy billboard space to advertise its opposition to killing animals and eating meat. The ad showed a shark with a human leg in its mouth and said, "Payback is hell. Go vegan." Ella Wickersham said the billboard would backfire. She said the group would turn off more people than it would enlist for its cause.
Some residents are complaining about the dramatic increase
in vacation rentals and problems with noise, parking and litter.
HOLMES BEACH – Vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods are making it difficult for some Holmes Beach residents to live up to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce slogan, "Paradise without the attitude."
Late night parties, yards packed with cars and trash cans left out for days brought resident Tom Sabow to the city commission for some action last week.
Tourists are not obeying the law, a frustrated Sabow told the board, including noise ordinances, parking ordinances and trash ordinances.
Sabow has called police, and they respond, but the next night, "It goes on and on and on," he said. He has seen 11 cars in front of one neighboring rental home, not for one night, but for the length of the vacation. His grandchildren in their bedroom at night are subjected to foul language from the neighboring backyard, he said.
"Can you help us to accommodate renters but have some peace and quiet?" Sabow asked.
"We're attacking this in different ways," Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said, with ordinances enforced by police and code enforcement officers.
Residents should call officers any time there is a problem, Commissioner Pat Morton said; that's what they're there for.
But even with officers doing their jobs, residents remain frustrated.
Can tourists be ticketed? asked Sabow, acknowledging that if tickets are issued, vacationers may not return.
"I don't have a problem giving renters tickets," Commission Chair Sandra Haas-Martens said.
Sabow wondered aloud if rental agents could be fined for their clients' violations.
Agents caught in crossfire
But rental agents are not always to blame, saying that clients sometimes conceal how many people are in their party, violating occupancy laws without the agent's knowledge.
Anna Maria Island Accommodations co-owner Susan Brinson said she has responded to Sabow's calls on several occasions, and always has a good response from renters who are asked to be quiet after 10 p.m., the time specified in the city's noise ordinance.
But the house next to Sabow's, which she manages, sleeps 12 people, she said, and two houses behind his home sleep 14 people each, so he could have 40 neighbors on a busy day.
"What do you do about 12 people swimming in the pool?" making noise in the daytime, she asked, adding that renters are on vacation to enjoy themselves. "I'm sorry they live next to it, but I can't do anything about that."
Like most rental agents, AMI Accommodations provides information to renters about local ordinances that apply to vacation rentals, such as noise ordinances, parking regulations and turning lights out and bringing furniture in at night on beachfront property during sea turtle season (May 1 to Oct. 31).
Short-term vacation rentals cause most of the violations of sea turtle and nesting bird protection regulations, because tourists are not here long enough to learn the rules, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shore Bird Monitoring Director Suzi Fox.
"We have a book in the property and notes on welcome bags," Brinson said. "We want them to have a great vacation, but we also want them to understand there are residents on the Island too."
A cloud in paradise
The Holmes Beach Commission has tried to let real estate agencies self regulate, "but that has not worked," Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino said.
"Our neighborhoods are changing and some areas have become a free-for-all for tourists disrespecting our year-round residents. Over the past couple years, the commission has had numerous complaints and issues regarding trash, noise, parking, density and safety," he said. "Our Island has always been a tourist and rental destination, and we should be able to ive in peace and harmony, but when someone's quality of life is being taken away over another's, I think it is the responsibility of the commission to take action. I think it is time for the commission to change some regulations."
Holmes Beach is the only one of the Island's three cities with an ordinance designed to discourage short-term "three-day-weekend party" crowds by restricting minimum rental stays from seven to 30 days in certain zoning districts. Under a Florida law passed this year, it's now too late for the other two cities to follow suit.
Officials are considering even more regulations to address the problems with vacation rentals in Holmes Beach, Bohnenberger said.
"The best approach is to try to cut it off at the pass before they're built," he said.
For example, the city could regulate the construction of new vacation rentals by requiring one parking space for each bedroom, he said.
An ordinance could revoke the rental privileges of property owners whose renters consistently violate regulations, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said.
Municipalities can't stop property owners from renting, but they can stop them from disturbing their neighbors, said Island hotelier David Teitelbaum, a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.
Rental properties may not be in a commercial district, but they're acting as businesses, and should be required by the cities to have commercial licenses, he said. If violations occur, complaints can be filed with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Love thy neighbor
Despite conflicts, bothtourists and residents are important to the Island, Teitelbaum said.
"You don't want to lose either one of them. You need to have them live in harmony. When one group loses respect for the other, it's a problem. One person's rights ends where another's begins. What it comes down to is one thing," he said. "It's all about being a good neighbor. You respect us, we'll respect you."
The city of Destin, Florida has codified the "love thy neighbor" policy, according to Casey Cook, legislative advocate for the Florida League of Cities, adding that cities all along Florida's coast are having similar problems as people buy second homes in residential neighborhoods and rent them out.
"They have a 'good neighbor' provision in their ordinance; if you are a vacation property owner, you have to put a sign up in your yard saying it's a vacation rental and list a contact name and number for complaints as opposed to calling the police," he said.
"That holds vacationers and property owners accountable" in fairness to both renters and residents, he said, especially important in a tight economy.
"We need visitors to keep the restaurants and Publix open all year long," Holmes Beach Commission Chair Sandra Haas-Martens said.
"We need the rental people on this Island," Sabow agreed.
But like some residents, he questions whether enough is enough, or even, too much.
Too much of a good thing?
The problem has its roots in redevelopment – small, older homes are being demolished and rebuilt with multiple bedrooms, designed for large parties of tourists, Bohnenberger said, which has proved profitable due to successful tourism marketing campaigns.
The Island's growing national identity as a beach wedding destination has added business to the Island's economic life and crowds to residential neighborhoods.
Big houses can attract wedding parties of 50 people, Teitelbaum said, adding that it's one thing for a neighborhood resident's daughter to get married and have an at-home wedding with 50 guests, "but if week in and week out you pack 'em into a three-bedroom house, that's excessive."
Weddings will once again be a big part of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau's (CVB) strategy to attract visitors in 2012-13, with $2.6 million of its $3.9 million budget allocated for marketing.
A new tourism campaign begins this month, called "Family Traditions Start Here," capitalizing on the popularity of the Island as a wedding destination that attracts families. The CVB will expand the theme to family reunions and family vacations, according to Marketing Director Debbie Meihls.
Past campaigns, such as the "Your Summer, Your Way" campaign that just ended, have attracted record crowds.
August tourist tax collections – the most recent statistics available – were up for the third month in a row in all three cities on Anna Maria Island compared to August 2010, according to the Manatee County Tax Collector's office, which attributes part of the increase to improved enforcement. Accommodations occupancy rates were up 4.5 percent from last year for the first six months of the year, according to a report by CVB consultant Research Data Services.
As tourists increase, residents decrease, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Holmes Beach, like Anna Maria Island as a whole, is losing residents, according to the 2010 census.
The Island lost 1,752 people in the first decade of this century, with Holmes Beach losing the most - a 22.7 percent decrease. Bradenton Beach lost 21 percent of its population and Anna Maria lost 17.1 percent, according to the census, which cites the Island's population as 6,510.
Some local officials, including Bohnenberger, dispute the census survey methods and results. But he agrees a problem exists with vacation rentals.
"We didn't see it coming," he said.
Sabow and his wife have lived on 68th Street during those same 10 years, and in that decade, more and more homes have been converted to vacation rentals, he said.
"We love it here," Sabow said. "But I'm asking for help."
ANNA MARIA – Bayfest turns 10 when it returns this year on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14 and 15. That's a credible track record for this first-of-the-season festival.
Once again, parking might be a problem during the music and food warm-up on Friday from 5 to 10 p.m., and visitors would be wise to take the trolley. There will be fewer parking spots on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. because Pine Avenue will be blocked to all traffic except the 100 or more classic and antique vehicles that are part of the unique car show along the street.
Some might say it's a diversion for the men whose wives might be looking at jewelry, art or other items they might want to avoid. Others might say it's an excuse to hang out longer and admire a street rod or older car model from their youth.
The cars aren't a draw just for the men, however, and plenty of women have memories of a certain car model or a classic vehicle with a lot of artistic touches. If you get a chance to look through the vehicles, you're bound to hear somebody say they used to own one just like one parked there. Some classic car owners even use props, like a tray and speaker from an old drive-in restaurant.
There is generally something very unusual every year – from a mean looking street rod with a souped up, but economic, four cylinder engine to a pickup truck with a cab from one model and a bed from another.
Bill Mergens, of Sarasota, has organized these classic car shows for all 10 years. The owner of a classic Chevrolet Camaro, he travels with other car owners to shows around the area and says they enjoy this show because they and their spouses can shop, eat and get refreshments while people look at their wheels.
This year's classic car sponsor will be LaPensee Plumbing. Owner Mike LaPensee is quite a car buff, and he has tooled around the Island the past few years in a factory high-performance Ford F-150.
As in the past, there will be a DJ spinning oldies. He might be spinning CDs nowadays, but we all remember those 45s that got us through our adolescence and teenage years.
This is a juried show as well with trophies handed out right before it breaks up around 3 p.m. Sponsors will be looking at the vehicles to find a winner, and so will car owners, who vote for the best among their own.
HOLMES BEACH – Police Chief Jay Romine is opposed to expanding golf cart usage to more streets in the city limits, but would favor a change in the city's law that would require golf cart drivers to have valid driver licenses.
Romine addressed city commissioners at their request in a work session last week on the long-debated issue.
Golf carts are not legally permitted on Gulf Drive because it is a state road, so residents and tourists with golf carts south of the intersection of Gulf and East Bay drives are prevented from reaching destinations north of the intersection, and those north of the intersection are prevented from reaching destinations to the south, he noted.
The city's ordinance lists the streets on which golf carts are allowed (see box). None of the listed streets are south of the intersection.
Still, golf cart usage south of the intersection has "just exploded" since the mid-1990s, according to Commissioner John Monetti, who lives in the neighborhood.
"I'm not in favor of expanding the number of streets," said Romine, who also is the city's traffic engineer.
The best case scenario would be if the Florida Department of Transportation approves a golf cart crossing at the intersection, which it has been considering for some time, he said.
The project is sixth on a long range planning list at FDOT, but funding is not available, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said.
Even if a crossing is approved at the intersection, golf carts in south Holmes Beach east of Gulf Drive still could not legally reach it unless the city provides access through the Grassy Point Preserve, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said.
If the commission changes its golf cart ordinance, Romine recommended adding a requirement that all golf cart drivers have valid driver licenses.
"Fourteen-year-olds on golf carts is a scary, scary thought," he said.
That would make it illegal for seniors who no longer have licenses to drive their golf carts to the Key Royale golf course, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger objected.
The police department has not issued any citations to golf carts drivers, only warnings, said Romine, adding that his philosophy is to educate drivers.
Romine and Petruff plan to work on a written recommendation for the commission to consider at a meeting yet to be scheduled.
In Holmes Beach, golf carts are allowed on:
• Streets on Key Royale
• Marina Drive north of Key Royale Drive
• All streets north of Key Royale Drive and east of Palm Drive
• 71st Street from the bay to the Gulf
• Holmes Boulevard from Gulf Drive to 75th Street
• 75th Street from the bay to the Gulf
• 77th Street from the bay to the Gulf
• White Avenue from Gulf Drive to Aqua Lane
• Flotilla Drive
• 62nd Street
Source: City of Holmes Beach
ANNA MARIA – Attorney Jeremy Anderson has requested all site plan documents, approvals and minutes of commission or planning and zoning board meetings regarding remodeling taking place at the Sandbar restaurant in Anna Maria.
However, City Planner Alan Garrett said the project received administrative approval and explained, "The site plan code allows you to administratively increase or improve a building by 10 percent. According to the plans for the main structure, they are adding 5.8 percent.
"They have supplied us with every aspect of what we need for administrative approval. It is an expansion of the deck kitchen and new bathrooms."
Building Official Bob Welch said Phase II of the project is an expansion of the dining room, kitchen and bar and noted, "It will be real nice. It's such an improvement over what they had in the past."
Garrett said he has not heard back from Anderson and said, "He must realize that it complies with the code."
Anderson did not name his client but in the past, he has represented William and Barbara Nally. Last year, the Nallys sued the city over parking and density issues in the residential/office/retail district along Pine Avenue.