The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 23 - March 21, 2012


Spring breaking records
Carol Whitmore

Manatee Avenue is bumper to bumper bringing more
visitors to a packed Public Beach over the weekend.

Spring Break, and all of 2012 so far, is breaking tourism records, according to Anna Maria Island tourism operators and anyone who drives on local roads.

The season is fulfilling a forecast in December by Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau consultant Walter Klages, of Research Data Services, who predicted a boom this year after nearly half a million tourists visited Manatee County in 2011, breaking previous records. Occupancy was up 9.5 percent in 2011 from 2010.

Early warm weather attracted more people earlier than usual, tourism operators say, and while the peak of tourist season on the Island is mid-March, traffic indicates no signs of the season slowing down.

“We’re delighted with this whole year,” said Barbara Rodocker, of Bridgewalk in Bradenton Beach, a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, which advises the Manatee County Commission on spending resort tax funds to market the destination to visitors.

“It’s been the best winter season that we’ve had had in six or seven years,” she said. “The economy is turning around.”

More retirees and families are visiting from the Midwest and Northeast, which has produced fewer guests in the past, she said, adding, “We’re looking forward to a good summer also.”

The restaurant business also is booming.

“If you’re in the restaurant business and you’re not crazy busy in March, it’s time to get into another line of work,” said Sean Murphy, of Beach Bistro and Eat Here in Holmes Beach, and a member of the TDC.

The roads are as full as the eateries, he said.

“For all the money we spend trying to attract more tourists, they don’t seem to spend any more money, the traffic is just thicker,” he said.

Part of the boom may be due to the increased availability of rental properties stemming from the recent conversion of so many residential homes to rentals, said Barry Gould, of Island Vacation Properties.

No moratorium for Anna Maria

ANNA MARIA – In a 3-2 consensus, commissioners decided at a special work session not to pursue a building moratorium.

Opening the work session, Chair Chuck Webb said, “We’re here to reach a conclusion about rentals in the city and to talk about existing and proposed codes and enforcement issues. We want to discuss problems and see if we can identify them.”

Commissioner Dale Woodland said if the problem is enforcement, they don’t need a moratorium, but if it is building and planning, a moratorium is appropriate.

Webb replied. “Enforcement is the tail end of what happens if we adopt a code.”

Planner Allan Garrett said people are building larger homes with more bedrooms, leading to higher occupancy, but pointed out that it’s hard to distinguish between a large home for a big family and a large vacation rental. He said it’s easier to regulate what’s happening outside the home, such as parking and noise, than inside the home.

“We talked about limiting the second level to 50 percent of the first level, reducing the intensity and potentially the number of bedrooms,” he said. “But we have an example of a five bedroom home where the second living level is only half the size of the first.”

Listing problems

Building Official Bob Welch said three things cause problems – the number of occupants, how they conduct themselves and noise issues around pools.

Commissioners added to the list – the number of bedrooms, the definition of a single-family home, incentives for people to keep ground level homes, eye appeal of box homes, parking, fire safety and allowing large expansion of existing duplexes.

Webb asked City Attorney Jim Dye about the noise ordinance, and Dye said the city switched from measuring decibels to a reasonable noise standard. Welch added that the noise ordinance contains standards such as volume, intensity, proximity, time and duration.

“While it may be a legal standard, whether it can be enforced and whether the enforcement agent is willing to enforce is a difficult issue,” Dye said. “It’s going to be difficult to go into a court and explain why something is not reasonable.”

Welch said the ordinance states that if there are three violations within 12 months at the premises, it can be deemed a public nuisance and added that staff is developing a citation system.

Dye said under a citation system, the city could cite the owner, which would create an incentive to comply, and if there are enough violations, it could be deemed a nuisance.

Woodland asked why the city can’t evict people like the property managers do.

“Property managers can act much more quickly than government because they don’t have due process requirements,” Dye responded. “They have contracts. They are the judge and jury.”

Limiting rights

Webb said the city should ask the state for the power to check for rental licenses, but Woodland objected stating, “This scares me. The city government involvement should be nil or limited.”

Commissioner SueLynn suggested that the city issue licenses, but Dye said licensing belongs to the state, and Welch suggested a registration program.

Webb asked how the city could find violations such as too many occupants.

“When you write a code, it is difficult to limit occupancy or the size of the house,” Welch pointed out. “To do all those things can lead to the instances that Commissioner Woodland is scared to see happen with the police powers of the city.

“It limits your private property rights. I think enforcement, over a period of time, if it’s done properly, will alleviate a lot of the problems we have, but you have to include everybody in the mix.”

Dye said there are two basic components; structural issues and behavioral issues and pointed out, “You need to start breaking down the best way to address them.”

They brainstormed a list of structural issues that included limiting the number of bedrooms or occupancy per square feet; pools, hot tubs, fencing around pools and waterfalls; the square footage of a second story; outside parking; and incentives to maintain ground level buildings.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick asked if they were going decide whether to impose a moratorium, and Webb said that issue is not on the agenda, but they could decide whether to advertise the moratorium ordinance.

SueLynn and Webb were for advertising, and Woodland and Mattick were against it. Commissioner John Quam said he wanted to hear public comment before deciding.

Public comment

Sissy Quinn, resident and president of Anna Maria Island Preservation Trust addressed builders, “Every time you rip down a cottage you take away our history. These big houses are ruining the whole feeling of Anna Maria and the Island.”

Attorney Scott Rudacille said they need to work on the issues they’ve identified rather than impose a moratorium, and Micheal Coleman said they should regulate behavior, not how many bedrooms people can have in their homes.

Jason Sato, of Sato Real Estate, said property managers are working with the city to resolve many of the issues and that people are paying large amounts for lots, and the city shouldn’t restrict what they can build as long as they meet the code.

Resident Carl Pearman advocated a moratorium, and said, “I suggest you appoint a committee to come up with some ideas. Enforcement is an important part of the process, but the building code is a very important item too.”

Resident Mary Merkler said real estate is starting to rebound and a moratorium would be detrimental.

Larry Chatt, of Island Real Estate, said they are “using a shotgun approach on both the rental side and the building side” and that 80 percent of the rental issues are resolved.

After hearing public comment, Quam said he is against a moratorium. Welch asked if the administrative hold on building permits is lifted, and Webb said yes.

SueLynn then addressed the board, “I’m really concerned about this city – the infrastructure can’t support the amount of traffic, we don’t have adequate parking and we’re reaching the point where we have more rentals than residents.

“The people we want to stay are leaving. You talk about property rights of developers; people who live in their homes have rights too. If we don’t have the courage to do what we need to do to keep residents here, we’re killing the golden goose.”

Ruling Prince simply 'the man'
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story
Prince the cat relaxes on a chair at
Mister Roberts clothing store.

HOLMES BEACH – He’s a cat of means, by no means, but don’t call him King of the Road – he’s known as Prince.

Prince is a black and white tabby who technically does have owners, but in reality he belongs to everyone who cares about him. His world revolves around three shopping centers in the vicinity of Gulf Drive and Marina Drive.

There is a bowl of food and water in front of Minnie’s and a note that says, “My name is Prince and I don’t really have a home of my own. I have lived in the Island shopping centers for the last five years. Everybody that meets me loves me. Please feed me if you care, give me a soft, warm place to crash for a little bit and give me some love. I have had all my shots and I would never hurt anybody. If you notice that I am in distress, hurt or in danger, please call one of my ‘moms’ – Patti at Suncoast Real Estate – 941-228-8582. I don’t want to go home with anyone. I want to live the way I have been, so please don’t take me from the only home I have known.”

The person who wrote the letter was Patti Marifjeren, an agent for SunCoast Real Estate, in the Island Shopping Center. Her partner, Julie Gilstrap, talked about their relationship with Prince.

“He started coming around in January, 2009,” she said. “He was exclusive to us for about a year before he started visiting other stores.”

Prince is on her computer’s screensaver and Patti is the person who takes Prince in for vaccinations.

“Some people tried to take him home, but he didn’t like it,” Marifjeren wrote. “We paid for his first round of shots and Nannette (Almeter at Irene’s) collected for the next series.”

While several shop owners have admitted putting Prince up for the night when the temperature dips, the letter is ironic in one way.

Even though Prince doesn’t want anyone to take him away from his neighborhood, he has a bad habit. According to Signa Bouziane, at Mister Roberts clothing store, he will sometimes jump into a car if the top or windows are down, and fall asleep. If you don’t detect him in your car, you might take him somewhere he doesn’t want to go.

“He ended up at St. Bernard Church one time,” she said. “We have to check our cars to make sure he doesn’t sneak inside.”

Prince is a celebrity among the shop owners.

“Prince is the man,” said Adam Williams, a bartender at D Coy Ducks, where Prince is definitely in charge as he saunters in through the back door. “If I die tomorrow, I want to come back as Prince.”

Over at Anna Maria Island Health and Fitness, next door to Minnie’s, Prince has a special place all his own.

“He used to sleep on top of the radio, because it was warm,” said Grace Sawyer. “We would let him in for the night when it was cold.”

John Monteforte said they gave Prince a job.

“He used to sit by the check-in sheet,” Monteforte said. “We told our customers, ‘Prince will check you in.’”

They said Prince would get a drink by standing in the showers.

“He owns this Island,” Sawyer said.

Prince is also a favorite at Island Tatoo, even though he doesn’t have any tattoos and probably would not stand still for one.

“When it’s cold out, his owners would call and ask if he could spend the night here,” said Alex Topalski, who works there. “We do that maybe twice a year. He’s also been known to spend a rainy night here.”

Mindy Graham, at Irene’s, said he also used to sleep in their shop when it got cold, and they would leave food and water out, but he doesn’t come by much now, probably since other shops have welcomed him.

For now, Prince can be found making the rounds of the Holmes Beach business district. He lives off the love of the shopkeepers and, like so many cats, he will let them love him – if he’s in the mood. Will the Island’s most beloved homeless cat ever settle down?

“Probably not,” said Bouziane. “He’s the prince, and he definitely knows it.”

Baseball museum planned for the island
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUBMITTED One of baseball's greatest
pitchers, Warren Spahn was know for his
high kick. He played his entire 21-year
baseball career in the National League.
He won 20 games in 13 seasons,
including a 23-7 record when he was 42.
He was elected into the Baseball
Hall of Fame in 1973.

If the Anna Maria Island Historical Society can raise the funds, the home of Warren Spahn, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball, will be moved to the Island Historical Museum complex at 402 Pine Avenue, between the Old City Jail and Belle Haven.

The Hall of Famer's cottage was one of a group of winter homes for Boston Braves ballplayers when they were in spring training during the 40s and 50s in Bradenton. They are located near Tuna Street on the Gulf.

There was a sign on each cottage relating to the game: The Mound, Home Plate, Infield, Outfield, Shortstop, Catcher's Mitt and The Diamond. Spahn's cottage, The Infield, was donated to the historical society this year by his son, Greg.

Ted Baird, a member of the historical society's board of directors, is the chairman of the fund raiser. The Manatee County Historical Society has donated $1,000, however, it will cost $18,000 to move the house, according to Baird.

“Foundation and ground preparation will cost between $6,000 and $8,000," he said. "It will take about $4,000 to refurbish it, and, if they sell the lot, we will have to meet a deadline. The city has given us permission to move the house."

Grants are being investigated. Letters asking for donations are going out to American and National League ball teams and to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Donations to help with moving The Infield are appreciated. Checks should be to AMIHS. For more information, call Ted Baird, 779-0152.

The baseball cottages

The Infield is a typical beach cottage of the 50s. There are two bedrooms, one bath, living room, kitchen and a screened in porch, which will be removed. The historical society plans to fill it with historical baseball memorabilia.

Chris Torgeson van Zandt wrote in her Boys of Winter chapter in the "Tales Of Three Cities," "Warren Spahn and his wife, Lorene and their son, Greg, were on Anna Maria for the first time in 1948. ‘Spahnie’ joined the Boston Braves in 1946 and stayed with them for 20 years. Considered one of baseball's best, he was a Hall of Fame pitcher, known for his high kick.

“They rented a small cottage on the north end and fell in love with the beaches and the Island. Warren said, ‘Anna Maria has the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.’ A couple years later, they bought two little cottages on the beach on Tuna and named them The Infield and The Outfield.

“The Spahns had a ranch in Oklahoma, but Warren had an eye for a good investment, and he wanted more land on the beach. He bought a tract of beachfront land on Cypress Avenue and the beach from Clyde Phelps for a whopping $10,000 in 1953.

“Eddie Matthews also wanted land on the beach, so Warren let him buy in for $5,000. Spahn built The Mound on that land, and Matthews built a cottage nearby and named it Home Plate. The Spahn family owned the Mound until 2008 when it was sold for $1.65 million.”

The Boys Of Winter exhibit is now on display at the museum Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For information call 778-0492.

LOBSTAHS arrives on Island
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUBMITTED The new LOBSTAHS offers both a casual
and a finer island dining room, as well as outdoor seating.

HOLMES BEACH – The former Martini Bistro is now LOBSTAHS, under the same management as Ginny’s & Jane E’s in Anna Maria.

LOBSTAHS focuses on family friendly dining, said Jeff Levey, who, with his wife, Roberta (Bert) Levey, own Ginny’s.

From their experience in Anna Maria, the couple has learned what the Island wants in an eatery, he said, adding that the LOBSTAHS menu is reasonably priced while still providing the quality and service Island diners expect.

Unlike Martini Bistro, he said, “It’s not a bar serving food, it’s a restaurant with a lounge. It’s a family place.”

A casual dining room hut with a glass ceiling offers air conditioned comfort with the feel of being outdoors for lunch and dinner, while a finer island dining room is open for dinner. Open-air outdoor seating also is available.

A 300-gallon lobster tank and new signs are set to be installed this week.

The name comes from Levey’s Long Island pronunciation of lobster, which will lead off a menu including clam, shrimp, fish, steak, chicken and pasta dishes prepared by Executive Chef Robert P. Brodeur, of New England and the Florida Keys.

Brodeur has been voted top chef three times, twice by the Palm Beach Post and once by the Providence Journal for New England, Levey said. His award-wining recipe choices are on the LOBSTAHS menu along with new creations.

General Manager Richard Badolato grew up in a family restaurant business and has managed the Guy Harvey Big Game Club in the Bahamas and Sloppy Joe’s, the Jupiter Crab Company and Louie’s Backyard in Key West.

Fishing festival catch down

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) took in about a third less proceeds from the 30th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival last month than the previous record year.

Rain on Sunday morning and threats of high winds kept people away the second day of the festival, according to FISH Treasurer Jane von Hahmann, who estimated attendance at 18,000 to 20,000 over the weekend.

Parking was easier this year with the expansion of the FISH Preserve parking lot, which held more than 250 vehicles, according to the festival committee. Traffic control also improved, with recommendations for next year including posting a “no left turn” sign just before 121st Street Court West and a “do not enter” sign at the street.

Fifteen EMT calls and nine law enforcement calls were made during the two-day festival.

FISH is exploring a $250,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to continue restoration of the Preserve, von Hahmann said.

Aggressive code enforcement sought

HOLMES BEACH – Holmes Beach commissioners gave an update last week on the progress of their committees’ ideas for solving rental problems like noise, trash, parking and overcrowding.

Commission chambers have been packed in recent weeks with residents expressing frustration that their residential neighborhoods are transitioning into rental zones, reducing their quality of life.

Commissioner John Monetti’s permitting and zoning group suggested limiting the number of permits that a single builder can receive in a certain time period or for a certain type of structure.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said that such a regulation would be hard to defend because it would impact free enterprise. However, she suggested that the city could require a building to be completed in a certain number of days.

Monetti’s committee also recommended a disclosure requirement on the building application specifying the purpose of the building – rental or residence – which Petruff rejected, saying, “The legal ramifications would be ugly.”

Committee member Mary Buonagura suggested that the biggest problem is lack of proactive code enforcement, and recommended more staff to assist the city’s code officer.

Monetti also suggested that parking requirements should be strictly enforced.

Commissioner Pat Morton’s rental agent and contracts committee recommended restricting parking to one spot per car and one spot per boat per rental unit and requiring stickers on rental mailboxes or buildings designating the rental as a seven-day or 30-day minimum rental, depending on which city zoning district it’s in.

He also suggested that police should be authorized to shut down a loud rental party without a complaint from a neighbor.

Commissioner Jean Peelen, who heads the building code committee, suggested that the city’s police department should have arrested spring breakers evicted earlier this month for underage drinking and requested them to enforce the drinking age law in the future.

While applauding Larry Chatt, of Island Real Estate, for evicting the 18 students, she also said that he should not have rented to them in the first place. She asked why the city is allowing rental agents to rent to more than four people in violation of city law.

Petruff clarified that more than four people in a family are allowed to rent, but more than four unrelated people, like students on spring break, are not, suggesting that it’s an education and enforcement problem.

Peelen said her committee also focused on the city comprehensive plan’s stated preference for not increasing density.

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said that density refers to units per acre, and called the rental issue one of intensity of use.

Peelen also asked whether any committee members had financial interests in the big box duplex rentals at the core of recent rental problems.

Petruff said that committee members are not required to disclose any financial interests.

Committee members do not make the decisions, but only make recommendations to the commission, which has the final decision making power, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said.

Zaccagnino is working independently on enforcing resort tax collections, and said the county resort tax office will do a sweep of Anna Maria Island to determine rental tax evaders.

Commissioner Sandra Haas-Martens’ code enforcement committee is the only group that has completed its task, recommending educating citizens on how code enforcement works; citing renters, owners and rental agents for code violations; revoking business tax receipts for repeat code violators; and requiring rental agents to adhere to best practices designed by Chatt.

She also suggested that the city raise the cost of a business tax receipt the full 5 percent allowed every two years.

Committee member Forrest Longworth recommended raising the minimum age for signing a rental contract to 25 years.

The rental problem took on new dimensions this month at a rental property on 66th Street, which attracted a family of 41 who rented a bus to celebrate an anniversary in Holmes Beach, according to Bohnenberger, who said that cities should lobby the Florida Legislature to repeal the law passed last year preventing municipalities from increasing rental restrictions.

In other business, the commission:

  • Approved the reappointment of Ruth de Haan to the Parks and Beautification Committee.
  • Approved the reappointment of Thomas Creed to the Code Enforcement Board.
  • Approved the reappointment of Dale Stephenson to the Police Retirement Board.
  • Approved the appointment of Brian Hall to the Police Retirement Board.
  • Learned that a provision of the Florida Retirement System requiring a 3 percent contribution by employees is unconstitutional, which may require reimbursing employees who contributed.

Win an amethyst pendant or an Apple iPack

ANNA MARIA – Raffle ticket holders have two great prizes to look forward to at the Affaire to Remember, “Once in A Blue Moon,” on Saturday, March 31, at the Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Ladies will love the one of a kind amethyst pendant made exclusively for 2012’s Affaire. This beautiful pendant was designed and created by Bridge Street Jeweler’s own jeweler, John Krake.

The Art Deco style pendant is all solid 14k white gold. The gorgeous genuine 15 by 19 mm African amethyst is more than16 karats. Surrounding this rare and beautiful amethyst are 1 3/4 carats of fine white diamonds. All diamonds are SI1 G.

The appraised value of this amazing piece of jewelry is $5,500. It is on display at Bridge Street Jewelers, 129 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach.

Chances for the necklace are one for $50 or three for $100. Only 300 tickets are available at the Community Center starting on Thursday March 22, until all 300 are sold.

You also can tune in with an Apple iPack that includes an Apple iPad2 wifi plus 3G-64GB and an Apple iPhone 4S. The winner picks the carrier. This is sponsored by Anna Maria Island Resorts. Tickets are one for $5, three for $10, or seven for $20 and are available at the Center.

Tickets also will be available at the event for the pick of the live drawing. One hundred tickets will be sold for $100 each, and the lucky winner will get to pick anything from the live auction before the bidding begins.

All drawings will be at the Affaire to Remember, which begins at 6 p.m. with a champagne reception, hors d’oeuvres and the silent auction. Harry’s Continental Kitchen will cater the dinner, which will be followed by entertainment and the live auction.

Center officials are seeking sponsors and donations for the live and silent auctions. Sponsorships include Bronze, $1,000; VIP table host, $2,000; Silver, $2,500; Gold, $5,000; and Diamond, $10,000.

Tickets for the Affaire and VIP cocktail party are $250 per person, while tickets for the Affaire are $175 per person. Tables of eight are available.

For tickets or to donate or be a sponsor, call Sharen at 778-1908, ext. 9203, or e-mail

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper