HOLMES BEACH – During a strident city commission meeting fueled by an accusatory e-mail and peppered with heckling, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino made a plea for civility.
"This is a small Island. Hurtful and false things travel quickly, and they do more damage than can be imagined," he told a nearly-packed commission chamber of city residents Tuesday night. Commissioners ran for office "…to give back to our community and try to keep a slice of Heaven alive, not for money or power, but for our neighbors and children, to try to come up with solutions and make people happy with a safe city."
In an e-mail to commissioners dated Friday, Feb. 24, resident Ellen Stohler asked for a building moratorium, echoing Anna Maria's administrative hold on certain types of construction, a response to complaints about noise, trash, parking and overcrowding problems at vacation rentals.
"There is a lot of talk in Holmes Beach about bribes being paid to the commission," she wrote. "Nobody has proof, but this resistance to the public sure looks like you guys are being paid off."
"People who voted for you don't understand why you don't do what we want," she told the commission Tuesday night, eliciting such a response from the audience that Zaccagnino nearly closed the public hearing.
Commissioners' moratorium views
The commission, which has had two 4-1 consensus votes against a moratorium, voted 3-2 on consensus against it again on Tuesday, with Commissioner Jean Peelen favoring a short term, three- or six-month moratorium and Commissioner Pat Morton willing to discuss it, but saying he does not favor the idea. Commissioners Zaccagnino, Sandra Haas-Martens and John Monetti opposed the idea.
A moratorium is not a denial of rights, but a "pause in an activity until the policy makers can decide if there needs to be a policy change," Peelen said, adding that while no permits are in the works for the large-scale duplexes that are at the center of the vacation rental problems, "…if we wait until they're filed, it could look like we're targeting the builder," she said.
The residential character of Holmes Beach is threatened by the multi-bedroom duplexes, she said, calling them "incompatible."
A moratorium would affect the livelihoods of many who are not causing problems and would affect property owners' rights, said Monetti, adding that committees led by commissioners were set up to find solutions to the problems and need to be given time to work (see related story on page 9).
Peelen had requested that the item be included on the agenda for a formal vote, but, as chair, Zaccagnino opted not to include it given the prior two consensus votes, he said.
Holmes Beach differs from Anna Maria, which may have opted for a moratorium because it is not protected by minimum rental restrictions, Zaccagnino said. Holmes Beach has seven-day and 30-day minimum rental restrictions in certain zoning districts.
Some owners build a duplex, then rent it out until they move here and become permanent residents, Haas-Martens said, adding, "We have to be fair to everyone."
The city can't put a moratorium on everyone because many longtime builders respect the city, Morton said.
Mayor Rich Bohnenberger reported that complaints about rentals have died down, with seven trash complaints, two parking complaints and one signage complaint resolved by code enforcement. Two 30-day minimum rental violation complaints were unfounded, he said.
Resident and former mayor Carol Whitmore, now a Manatee County Commissioner, encouraged the commission to consider a 60- to 90-day moratorium.
"It's time for you guys to take a step back and get your act together," she said.
Resident Pam Leckie, who serves on Peelen's committee, called the commission's response "smoke and mirrors," saying the congestion in her neighborhood is intense, and asking commissioners to take the request for a moratorium seriously.
Developers misrepresented the size of their buildings to neighbors, saying they would be smaller than they are, said resident Barbara Marcheck, who also serves on Peelen's committee.
"They are changing the character of the places we live," she said. "I'm losing neighbors to this. This is a dire situation to us."
People leaving neighborhoods because of big houses built next door does not compare to families that have to leave for economic reasons, said Joe Varner. He told the commission that he came to the Island a year ago from Ocala because of the poor economy there and opened a vacation rental company.
"Anna Maria Island has made a whole new life for me and my family," he said.
Resident Dorothy Pon said she is losing a tenant because of construction noise seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. by a builder of vacation rentals. She suggested restrictions that would lower building height and increase pool setbacks to encourage smaller homes.
Zaccagnino said that builders are trending toward smaller, one-story buildings.
Only one or two builders are ruining things for everyone, resident Renee Ferguson said, adding, "Let's make it uncomfortable for these individuals to be comfortable in our community."
In other business, the commission:
• Discussed whether to require Martini Bistro to request city approval of its outdoor dining seats due to complaints about parking congestion.
• Decided to require any music group wishing to use the Holmes Beach Pavilion next to city hall to rent the entire field to discourage rehearsals that would disturb neighbors.
• Requested that residents and renters leave tan trash cans at the rear of the building for rear door pickup and not use them on the street.
• Passed on first reading an ordinance to update the schedule of projects in the city's comprehensive plan to include the Manatee County School Capacity Program.
HOLMES BEACH – City committees are working on ways to manage vacation rental problems that have filled commission chambers in recent weeks with residents frustrated with noise, trash, parking and overcrowding in their neighborhoods.
Holmes Beach commissioners decided last week to set a goal of wrapping up committee reports by the end of April.
Commissioner John Monetti's permitting and zoning committee, with Mary Buonagura, resident; Larry Chatt, rental agent; Steve Titsworth, builder; and Joe Duennes, city building official; has concluded that permitting is not the primary way to approach vacation rental issues, Monetti told the commission last week.
However, the committee learned that postings of building inspections at building sites are not always accessible to the public, and should be, he said, adding "We want to make it easy for everyone to hold us accountable."
Commissioner Jean Peelen's building code committee, which includes Jim Plath; Pam Leckie, resident; Barbara Marcheck, resident; Greg Ross, builder; and Terry Parker, architect; is looking into how other towns have dealt with similar vacation rental problems and exploring whether the commission could require buildings to conform to an architectural review standard, she said.
Commissioner Sandra Haas-Martens' code enforcement committee, which includes Dave Moynihan, Robert Longworth, Len Tabicman and Steve Sanders, is working on ways to educate residents about city codes, such as a web page on the city's website, with legalese translated into everyday language.
They also have discussed a fine increase for code violations assessed against renters, property owners and rental agents of up to $500 a day, plus city expenses.
City Code Enforcement Officer Dave Forbes has never issued a citation, he told the committee, adding that 90 percent of the time, talking to violators and rental agents results in the problem being solved, sometimes with an eviction.
"Our goal is compliance, not fines," he said.
The committee also discussed changing the city's parking code to require one space per bedroom, and the challenge that would pose for residences with multiple drivers.
Commission Chair David Zaccagnino does not have a committee, but is working on the possibility of canceling or not renewing city business tax receipts, a form of business license, of rental property owners who do not comply with city codes, he said. He also is meeting with the county tax collector to find ways to crack down on rental property owners who do not pay resort taxes.
Commissioner Pat Morton's rental agents and contracts committee, with Ron Travis; Mike Kimball; Sean Murphy, restaurant owner; Jerry Kern, builder; and Larry Chatt, rental agent; discussed increased incremental fines followed by the revocation of the business license, color-coded mailbox stickers to designate seven-day or 30-day rental housing to assist police and code enforcement officers in identifying violations and boat trailer parking.
They also discussed holding property owners, who don't use rental agents and rent over the Internet, responsible and the importance of maintaining a database of rentals, which a proposed state law may make difficult. The law would eliminate the ability of municipalities to impose business taxes.
Chatt suggested codifying the following best practices for rental agents:
• Arrange rear door trash pick up; four bedrooms or more, two trash cans required; seven bedrooms or more, three trash cans required;
• Give renters a sheet with the city logo on it and containing the noise ordinance plus tips on playing nice with community;
• Record the number of day guests, night guests, occupants and cars and cross check;
• Give the city a rental list for police dispatch to be called regarding any issue and for severe issues immediately;
• Encourage new owners and current owners to meet their neighbors and provide property management details on whom to contact;
• Provide a community recycling dumpster, and have owners and property managers that rent reconsider leaving out bins versus removing recycle bins and provide the location of the community recycling drop off.
Chatt also suggested to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce that they discourage weddings in residential areas on their website, which they have done.