The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 25 - April 3, 2013


Egg-citing day
Carol Whitmore

Kids and parents alike celebrated Easter in style.

Easter weekend on Anna Maria Island was fun and fast paced with beautiful weather and a huge crowd of people to enjoy it.

The weekend began with Saturday’s 27th Annual Easter Egg Hunt, sponsored by The Sun and the Sandbar and held on the beach behind the Sandbar. Colorful plastic eggs speckled the sand, with a large contingency of kids scooping them up after Sandbar Manager Joe Rogers counted down to “go.” Then the party marched east to Pine Avenue where the merchants had put together a morning of fun with an Easter egg roll, an Easter bonnet contest, face painting and games for the kids and food and drinks for all.

The Easter Bunny led the way down the street with a trail of kids in tow. It was a lot of fun and the bonnet contestants put a lot of work into their entries.

Sunday brought the Easter Sunrise Service, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island, with all six of the Island’s churches sharing $7,262 in donations, much more than last year.

Bill Tokajer named police chief
Carol Whitmore

Peggi Davenport, of Duffy’s Tavern, hands a badge
supporting Lt. Dale Stephenson to be the city’s
next police chief to Erma McMullen at Thursday’s meeting.

HOLMES BEACH – Despite a host of pleas from residents supporting Lt. Dale Stephenson for police chief, commissioners approved Mayor Carmel Monti’s recommendation of Bill Tokajer for the job.

Tokajer is captain of the patrol division of the Longboat Key Police Department. Stephenson has served as interim police chief since former Police Chief Jay Romine retired in December. The city did not advertise for the position, but received seven applications to replace Romine.

Monti explained his decision first stating that the department had no succession plan for the second in command to take over and that Romine did not recommend Stephenson to become the chief until two weeks ago.

“It difficult for someone outside the system to know the nuances and detail of how the department is run,” he continued. “There’s a huge difference between a number two man and a number one man in an organization such as a police department. Dale did an exceptional job in his role as lieutenant, and I’ve asked him to stay on.

“I’m recommending Mr. Tokajer because I believe that we have some issues in the police department that need to be addressed. The experience level of a person who’s had more leadership and more of a top role and background is what the city needs.”

Public questions process

Most of the residents who spoke expressed disappointment at the process, felt the meeting was hastily called without enough public notice and that they had no opportunity to learn about the candidates. They also supported Stephenson for the job.

Andy Sheridan asked that the meeting be rescheduled and said, “It is grossly unfair to the citizens, the police department and Dale to have this meeting at a date and time with no advance notice to keep citizens from coming and having public comment.”

Don Schroder agreed and noted, “For 26 years, Dale has grown to be our working chief. Yes, Jay held the job, but Dale did the work and commanded the respect of his fellow officers and those that protect our sister cities.

“I respectfully ask that you appoint Dale as chief because of his character and devotion to the city and fellow officers and staff, as well as the eminent leadership qualifications that are all based on his record.”

Erma McMullen asked what process Monti used to make the decision.

“I gave Dale the position as interim police chief as a trial period figuring in four to six months he could prove to come up to the mark of leader,” Monti replied. “During that time I felt that didn’t happen.

“I also was able to discern many more facts about the department itself and compile more information from outside sources. It’s difficult to judge from the outside when you don’t know the dynamics inside.”

John Monetti, a former planning commissioner for five years and city commissioner for six years, said, “I’d like to offer an insider’s view. Never has anyone expressed anything negative about our police department.

“You have somebody in house that has been here for 25 plus years that’s doing the job, that has the support of the staff and the community.”

Manatee County Commissioner and former Mayor Carol Whitmore said Stephenson “has major community support and respect” and deserves a minimum of a year to prove himself.

Many others expressed similar sentiments as the previous speakers.

Commissioners decide

Commissioner David Zaccagnino made a motion to appoint Stephenson and said, “Dale was the clear choice. He has the integrity, honor, trust and he is fair and kind. He deserves and has earned this position until he retires. The morale of the police department depends on it.”

Chair Jean Peelen said he could only make a motion to accept or reject the mayor’s recommendation.

Morton made a motion to accept the mayor’s recommendation, and Commissioner Judy Titsworth seconded it. Commissioner Marvin Grossman was absent due to medical reasons.

“Two police chiefs told me, ‘Anybody but Tokajer.’” Zaccagnino protested. “That’s a huge signal to me. If we appoint Tokajer, it will make this department crumble. This is not the right choice.”

Titsworth said, “They are both great guys. My duty is to support the mayor if I feel he is doing a good job. Having a good police chief is important, but supporting the mayor is equally important.”

Peelen said she spoke to many people in the county and got positive comments about Tokajer and added, “I have been in the mayor’s position and it is not an easy decision because you want to reward loyalty.

“That’s not the criteria. It is what direction do we want the department to go and who is best to supply that. While I don’t think it would have been my decision, I do feel it is important to support the mayor.”

Zaccagnino was the dissenting vote.

The mayor said Tokajer would start after giving the Longboat Key Police Department a week’s notice. Stephenson gave Monti a letter of resignation at the end of the meeting.

The mayor then recommended appointing Tom O’Brien as full time building inspector, and the vote was unanimous.

Mainsail site plan revoked

HOLMES BEACH – Rejecting the advice of their mayor and city attorney, commissioners voted 3-2 to revoke the site plan for the Mainsail development eliciting a collective gasp from the full house at city hall last Tuesday.

“Now we have to engage counsel,” Mainsail President Joe Collier said after the vote. “We don’t have any choice. We have to protect our interests and our investors.”

The marathon meeting of nearly four hours regarding the site plan for the development near the corner of Marina and Gulf drives began with a disagreement over whether to even proceed with the pubic hearing.

The public hearing was continued from Feb. 12 so building department officials could meet with Mainsail representatives to compare the site plan of the original Tidemark development, approved in 2001 by a resolution that granted a special exception, with Mainsail’s site plan.

Mayor Carmel Monti said they had received more information from Mainsail andInterim Building Inspector Tom O’Brien “did not feel we had an adequate amount of time to present it and are looking for a continuation to the next meeting.”

However, Commissioner Marvin Grossman disagreed and said, “I move to hear from them. They’re here; they’re prepared. Let them present it today.”

Commissioners Pat Morton and Judy Titsworth agreed with Grossman, and Chair Jean Peelen and Commissioner David Zaccagnino agreed with Monti. Peelen asked City Attorney Patricia Petruff about the legality of proceeding. “Generally when the administrative head of your city tells you he would like you to delay something for two weeks to bring clarity to the situation and to provide additional time for your staff, it is best if the elected officials follow his lead,” Petruff responded. “There’s nothing to be harmed by waiting two weeks, but there’s likely something to be gained.”

The vote to proceed was 3-2 with Zaccagnino and Peelen dissenting.

Site plan questions

The project includes 37 two-story hotel units, a two-story lodge building with an 80-seat restaurant and a 50-slip marina.

Mainsail architect Stephen Smith detailed some of the changes the developer made to its site plan including increasing setbacks, redesigning one building, changing the parking configuration and adding buffering along Sunrise Lane and reducing the lodge to two stories, the number of units from 40 to 37, the restaurant seats from 120 to 80 and the boat slips from 75 to 50.

Grossman asked a series of questions regarding square footage, parking spaces and boat slips and said, “You want the best of both worlds. You want to take all the things the commission in the past gave you in a special exception – the parking, the setbacks.

“You want to use your plan from 2001, and you want us to give you all these changes so it makes it easier for you.”

Collier said that they have already been through an extended site plan review with the former building department, and now there’s a new building department.

“You came to us and said, ‘We don’t like your site plan that’s been in existence for three years,’ ” Collier continued. ‘If you want this approved, you’d better stick with your old site plan, otherwise we’ll revoke it.’

“Your city issued permits for this site plan, foundations were poured and construction began. If you’re now going back and saying you want us to start all over again, that’s not realistic in our world.”

He said they made changes the building department asked for in the spirit of cooperation, but Grossman said, “The building department does not speak for the commission.”

However, Peelen pointed out “They were invited to meet with our building department to work on the site plan to make any changes necessary to make it a better plan. We did that; we invited them.”

She said the building department and planner were to determine if the new site plan was close enough to the old site plan to recommend approval.

“The intention was to come up with a plan that would be good for Mainsail and the city,” Monti added. “We sat down and said we want to cooperate. We made suggestions; they followed those. We made tremendous progress over the original site plan, and to just toss it out without acknowledging progress is not accurate."

Titsworth disagreed with Peelen.

Pro and con

Manatee County Commissioner and former Mayor Carol Whitmore spoke in favor of the project and maintained that Titsworth has a conflict of interest because “she has the potential of financial gain or loss.”

Peelen and Zaccagnino agreed on the conflict of interest issue, and Zaccagnino read from the Florida Code of Ethics and said, “That’s a clear statement that Mrs. Titsworth needs to recuse herself.”

Several residents of the area spoke against the project citing concerns about parking, setbacks and boat traffic, and all urged the commission to start over with a new plan.

“I think it’s going to be a lot worse than people imagine,” said Jo Ann Kirby, of 56th Street.

“We want the developer to make the adjustments and sacrifices, not us,” said another.

Attorney Stephen Thompson, representing project neighbor Lance Spotts, declared that the project has been abandoned and urged the commission to void the site plan.

Restaurateur and Mainsail partner Ed Chiles stressed, “We need to face reality that something will happen on this site. We have an opportunity to work with quality people in a spirit of cooperation.”

When Peelen asked for a motion to continue the public hearing, but did not get one, she said, “I’m very distressed that we are about to act on a very important thing that could create liability against the advise of our attorney and the request of our mayor without all the input I think is necessary for us to have.”

Grossman made a motion to revoke the site plan based on the code provision LDC III:30, which states, “Except as provided under section 4.b. following, any modifications to an approved special exception use and any addition to an existing special exception shall require the same application, review and approval as required under this section for the original approval of the special exception use.”

Morton seconded it. Titsworth agreed and read from a prepared statement and called the project “substantially different from the original site plan.”

Vulnerable to a lawsuit

“I believe our attorney believes the plan is still active and revoking it would put us in major jeopardy,” Zaccagnino said. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

“These guys don’t have to put up with this. They could package it up and sell it off. Someone could put in a Motel 6 there with as many rooms as they can and rent it out for $60 a night.”

“This city is very vulnerable to a lawsuit that we don’t need,” Monti added. “Let’s continue to work with them. I abhor litigation because no one wins except the attorneys. We are leaving ourselves open to a situation that would jeopardize the reserves of this city, and I think it’s very irresponsible.”

Peelen asked Petruff to comment, and Petruff said the changes made by Mainsail are improvements or enhancements and decreases in intensity and density, which are not considered substantial or significant.

“You have a lot of moving parts that make it a very complicated case,” Petruff continued. “Once it gets through the pleading stage, it will be sent to mediation. You’ll have a stranger mediate the case. I don’t think that’s a good outcome. I concur with the mayor.”

The motion was approved with Peelen and Zaccagnino dissenting. Following the vote, Petruff said it creates an issue with the marina and said, “I don’t know what the ramifications are at this point,” and suggested that they put it on a future agenda.

Regarding the vote, Monti said, “I’m disappointed. I thought we had made progress with them in a cooperative spirit. There was no acknowledgment of that.

“We’re now looking at something that will be onerous for the city. We were on the right track to do something good for the city and we derailed it.”

Collier pointed out, “We really were told to relax and we would work though it, and we took that as their word.”


Corps approves renourishment funding
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Heavy equipment on the beach and a dredge
offshore during a 2011 renourishment.

BRADENTON BEACH – The eroded beaches of Anna Maria Island are going to get some help soon.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a memo to Manatee County last Friday saying the Corps approved the emergency rehabilitation of Manatee County’s beaches to the tune of $6 million to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, which caused wind and water erosion on the beaches. The Corps is trying to get the funding at this time, according to the memo to Manatee County Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker from Corps of Engineers engineer Sirisha Rayaprolu.

The original Corps memo from which she based her memo also recommends combining Flood Control and Coastal Emergency (FCCE) funds with Construction General (CG) funds to perform a full renourishment of the beaches two years early. This would save the governments money by only having to pay for mobilization (moving people and equipment to the scene) twice.

The memo points out that 348,400 cubic yards of sand would be brought to the shore for the emergency portion of the project and an estimated 795,700 cubic yards of sand for the rest of the renourishment.

In a memo to county commissioners and officials, Hunsicker said the news is the next step in the total renourishment of the Island’s beaches.

“Normally, this federal funding would have required a 36 percent match from Manatee County and the state,” Hunsicker’s memo said, “but due to the emergency category through which Hurricane Sandy monies have been appropriated (labeled as FCCE funds), no match is required, saving at least $1 million from Manatee's County's TDC (Tourist Development Council) fund, used to match federal funds.”

Hunsicker said the county stands to get $9 million for the non-emergency renourishment project. He said the good news continues to come in.

“We have also received confirmation that House and Senate appropriations committees in the Florida Legislature have recommended the appropriate matching amounts of state funding in their respective drafts of the State budget, required for the Anna Maria renourishment project if both FCCE and CG federal funding is programmed by the Corps,” his memo said.

Hunsicker praised U.S. Congressman Bill Young, of Pinellas County, who spoke for the emergency funding for the damaged beaches, and Coastal Planning and Engineering, the county’s renourishment engineers, for supplying the Corps of Engineers with a continuous stream of information on the damage to the beaches.

If things continue to go as planned, the renourishments could begin sometime this summer or fall, according to county sources.

Moratorium ordinance being rescinded

HOLMES BEACH – Holding to their word, commissioners last week approved on first reading an ordinance to rescind the moratorium they approved in December.

The moratorium on issuing demolition permits and building permits for any work that exceeds the threshold for substantial improvement for all residential dwelling units in R-2 came into effect on Dec. 26.

Commissioners said they would lift the moratorium when they accomplished the following objectives: the size of houses, the underground connection of duplexes, the number of pools allowed per duplex, the policy on the number of docks per lot, clarification on setbacks for corner lots, clarification of policy on elevator shafts and the procedure to be used to determine market value of rehabs. Later, they removed docks from the list.

The second reading is planned for April 9.

The same night, commissioners were to hold the second reading on an ordinance to eliminate the underground connection for duplexes, which was the final objective to be achieved.

However, at the urging of Planner Bill Brisson, who said he found ways contractors could get around the ordinance, they continued it for two weeks.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino again was the lone dissenter to the ordinance and said, “It goes against our vision plan” and will create homes that are “bigger and boxier.”

At a work session last Thursday, Brisson brought commissioners several different configurations for joining duplexes with a party wall that would address the problem. They agreed on a minimum connection of 30 percent and asked Brisson to draft the changes for a second reading of the ordinance at their meeting on April 9.

Work continues on flood insurance rate map

tom vaught | sun
Anna Maria Building Official Bob Welch points
to the maps used to determine flooding risk and
ultimately to set property insurance rates for Manatee County.

ANNA MARIA – A dozen people attended an informal meeting last Wednesday evening where Building Official Bob Welch gave an update on the federal government’s progress on a new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

According to Welch, the map upon which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bases federal flood rates is being redrawn to take new information and measurements into consideration. Those new measurement have not been taken on Anna Maria Island yet.

The maps deal with the Velocity Zone, where there could be erosion from flooding during a storm.

“In those zones, homes have to be anchored,” he said, adding that homes not anchored get washed away during a storm. “After a storm, the only thing left would be the concrete slab foundation.”

Welch also reminded homeowners to expect big rate hikes for federal flood insurance soon.

“Rates for non compliant properties are artificially supported,” he said. “That will end by 2016.”

Welch said FEMA will drop the price supports on non-conforming and non-homesteaded properties first, but the supports will be all gone by 2016.

He said when FEMA takes new measurements, they might recommend higher elevated houses,

“They might go higher than the 13 feet required now,” he said, “They might go as high as 17 feet.”

Elevating houses gets them above the expected flooding during a storm and new measurements might show there could be higher water than first expected.

“A storm surge is higher if the water level in the Gulf is normally shallow,” he said. “That’s the case here, where the table extends way out from the shoreline.”

Welch said homeowners need federal flood coverage because flooding is not covered in a normal house insurance police.

“If your toilet floods, it’s not covered,” he said. “You need federal flood coverage to pay for what the water does to your home.

Commissioners change direction again

ANNA MARIA – After arguing about how to limit the size of houses for several weeks, the city commission has settled on a new, simplified set of limits, for now, and some are expressing doubt over whether they are doing the right thing.

Over the past few weeks, commissioners have tried to limit new homes in size, saying big homes are out of scale with the existing houses in the city. They most recently set limits that would allow a home’s square footage to be 40 percent of the lot’s area up to an 8,000 square foot lot. They set lower limits for homes on lots more than 8,000 square feet so that only two percent of the addition lot size would be allowed.

At last Thursday’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved allowable limits to 40 percent of the lot’s size up to 15,000 square feet, 35 percent of coverage if the lot is more than 15,000 square feet and less than 21,000 and three percent for lot coverage more than 21,000 square feet. They also would allow 33 percent of lot size for a second livable level and a total of 50 percent or less of the lot size for impervious coverage that would block rainwater from going into the ground.

Mayor SueLynn also asked City Attorney Jim Dye to give the commission a report on how defensible these limits would be in court, especially against a Bert Harris Act suit that would claim the limits would cost homeowners value in their property.

Before the vote, Commissioner Chuck Webb passed out a list of existing homes with their lot sizes, house square footage and the ratio of home to lot sizes. The first list, which Webb said looked to be within scale of existing homes, had only one house that came close to the 40 percent they were considering, and it was only 29 percent.

Of a list of seven homes, which he labeled “too large,” four had square footage ratios higher than 40 percent. Webb said he wanted different ratios of allowable home square footage to lot size depending on the size of the lot size. The larger the lot, the lower the ratio. He said it is the commission’s responsibility to protect what the city has for the future. He finally asked Dye for his opinion.

“Every time you change the rules, you create a new generation of homes that are non conforming,” he said. “When you decrease the allowable square footage of a home, you need to figure how much the drop in value would be.”

Commissioner Gene Aubry said they are not addressing the problem of people renting large homes in residential neighborhoods and disrupting the neighbors.

“I think we have missed the point,” he said. “Don’t put limitations on people that they don’t need.”

Developer Micheal Coleman said he feels the commission is addressing the problem of building large houses in the city, and the noisy neighbors problem seems to be abating.

“If we look at complaint reports this year over last, I believe you would find we are taking care of the problem,” he said.

In other decisions, the commission reopened the issue of requiring a certain number of parking spaces according to the number of bedrooms. Aubrey said he talked with builders, and the new law would force them to tear down old homes and replace them with elevated houses where they could use the space under the home for parking, The commission asked Building Official Bob Welch and City Planner Alan Garrett to work on ways to reverse that trend.

The commissioners also passed the moratorium ordinance, taking out the deadline suggested by the planning and zoning board a week earlier. They also passed an animal control ordinance that ties the city with the county, which has an animal control department; agreed to allow a new restaurant on Pine Avenue, Poppo’s Taqueria Mexican restaurant; and passed a resolution of support for a proposed half-cent sales tax to help pay for health care for the indigent.

AMI fourth among U.S. islands

Anna Maria Island is ranked fourth in the Top 10 Islands in the U.S. by the first annual TripAdvisor’s Travelers' Choice Islands Awards.

The awards are based on the quality and quantity of the most highly-rated hotels, restaurants, and attractions listed by travelers for each island on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period.

“From the world famous to the hidden gems, what unifies every award winner is the fantastic feedback from travelers across the globe,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Islands in the U.S. are:

1. San Juan Island, Washington
2. Kauai, Hawaii
3. Marco Island, Florida
4. Anna Maria Island, Florida
5. Maui, Hawaii
6. Sanibel Island, Florida
7. Chincoteague Island, Virginia
8. Island of Hawaii, Hawaii
9. Amelia Island, Florida
10. Key West, Florida

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper