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.”
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.”
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.
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.”