The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 43 - August 21, 2013


School opens with high hopes
Carol Whitmore

tom vaught | sun

Above, Sienna Lazar was the first student off
the bus this year at Anna Maria Elementary School.
Below, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer stands
near the crossing with officer Brian Copeman, the
school’s crossing guard. Tokajer had new signs
erected at the crossing to show people where
to stop while a child crosses the street.

HOLMES BEACH – The staff was ready, classrooms were squeaky clean and the quiet calm that prevailed in Anna Maria Elementary School for the past two months was broken Monday morning as the kids returned to school.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer joined officer Brian Copeman, the school’s resource officer, in front of the school. He had additional signage at the school crossing and extra officers were on duty.

“The safety of the children is our main concern,” Tokajer said. “We want to make sure motorists know what is going on here during the school year.”

At least one motorist was pulled over for not slowing down when the lights were flashing and motorists who pass a car on the right, in the bike lane, while that car is turning left, will be ticketed.

The city’s speed limit sign, which tells motorists how fast they are going, was up to make sure the drivers slowed down.

The first bus pulled up, and Sienna Lazar was the first student off. School Counselor Cindi Harrison came out to ask each student how he or she was getting home, and she put color coded bracelets on their arms so school personnel would know where to send the students when the final bell rang Monday. Tokajer joined Harrison, helping get the kids ready for their classrooms.

In the auditorium, kindergarteners and their parents were separated into two sections, one for each teacher, and as the time ran low, there were those loving hugs from parents whose children were taking that first step into public education. And what an education awaits them. With Sarasota Bay in the back, beyond the playground and sports fields, and another A rating, the staff was ready for another year.

Lee Ann Anderson and her husband moved to northwest Bradenton this summer and they chose to have their son, Dutch, attend Anna Maria Elementary. She said they were amazed at what the school offers, and when their son saw the playground equipment, he was ecstatic. They were equally impressed with the school’s educational rating and the amount of help provided by the parents through the PTO.

For now, the kids are settling in and the teachers are busy memorizing names of new students and setting boundaries as the process of education gears up.

Anna Maria Island: Filled to the gills?

HOLMES BEACH – Anna Maria Island has exceeded its capacity for absorbing tourists, Island leaders told the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday.

The county’s success in marketing the Island worldwide as a tourist resort has started a vicious cycle fed by greed, Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn told the council – more visitors, who generate more resort tax, which the county spends on more marketing, attracting more visitors, who create a demand for rental units, causing residents to sell their homes and move off the Island, their homes replaced by rental units, whose owners demand more visitors.

“The TDC’s success has destroyed the standard of living on the Island,” she said, blaming noisy, rude tourists, some who use yards as toilets, for driving off “neighbors who wanted to stay and live out their lives in Anna Maria.”

“It’s just too many people, she said. “Where is the agenda item that discusses and acknowledges the devastation of our quality of life? Where’s the balance?”

The Island has limited parking, no room to widen roads, and infrastructure that can’t stand up to booming tourism, she said, including the two piers in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach advertised to tourists.

“Before long we will be Disney World,” TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said, adding that while she supports SueLynn’s views, she is unsure what the TDC can do, since state law limits how the council spends resort tax funds.

Help needed

SueLynn renewed her request for the TDC to provide resort tax funds to help repair the Anna Maria city pier.

The county attorney’s office advised in June that the funds could be spent on piers. The county’s 5 percent resort tax raised $8.3 million in 2012.

“Why do I have to come to you and ask? Four of you live on the Island,” she said. “You know there is a problem.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy also asked the TDC to “seriously consider investing in the future of Bradenton Beach” by contributing to the Bridge Street Pier renovation. Damaged by storms, it is only half open, with an empty restaurant up for lease.

“We are at the tipping point,” TDC chair Carol Whitmore said, promising that the TDC will consider using resort taxes for piers in future budgets.

“We don’t want to wreck what we have,” she said. “It’s not that we’re not listening. We have to go through the process and we are.”

Statistics back observations

Tourism in Anna Maria was up 54 percent in June, according to the county’s most recent resort tax collections.

In the second quarter of 2013, tourism increased in Manatee County by 6.5 percent over last year to 141,600 visitors, according to Research Data Services (RDS). Occupancy rates were nearly 70 percent.

“I do understand the sensitivity of the very fragile Island communities,” said Walter Klages, of RDS. But until occupancy rates reach 100 percent, “There is still room in the inn,” he said.

In 2012, nearly 538,000 people visited Manatee County, according to RDS. Manatee County’s estimated census count in 2012 was 334,000.

Not so bad

“I don’t believe the sky is falling,” said Micheal Coleman, a partner in the redevelopment of Pine Avenue. “I believe we are at or near or slightly beyond capacity on the Island, but that’s a good thing.”

“We’re making progress,” he said, with Anna Maria and Holmes Beach attempting to limit the size of new construction and property managers working to address complaints.

Holmes Beach has instituted living area ratios (LAR) in its code and is finalizing a daytime noise ordinance to address tourist issues, Mayor Carmel Monti said.

“It’s not acceptable to say, ‘I’m here on vacation and I paid $10,000 and I’m disregarding the law,’ ” he said, adding that the city’s new police chief is committed to bringing visitors into compliance with local laws. “We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water and say we don’t want tourism.”

TDC member Ed Chiles, of the Chiles Group, said that day trippers, not tourists staying for two weeks, cause the problems, and once parking lots at public beaches are full, they should go elsewhere.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione said that Island governments bear the responsibility for addressing issues with tourists.

“We are a small component of that,” he said.

“We’re doing what we’re asked to do,” said TDC member Barbara Rodocker, a Bradenton Beach hotelier who hires police on weekends to patrol her parking lots. “I would not like to see the Island turning into something uncontrollable, and we’re close to that right now.”

City to keep deputies

ANNA MARIA – Faced with being phased out by a cheaper bid from Holmes Beach, the head of the city’s Manatee County Sheriff’s Office substation, Sgt. Paul Davis, figuratively “landed the plane in the Hudson River” Wednesday evening as he saved the day for the deputies. The city commission agreed to keep the Sheriff’s Office coverage and reject the Holmes Beach offer.

Commissioner Gene Aubry, who brought up the idea to ask for a bid from Holmes Beach during budget talks, said it was all about the money – a bid from Holmes Beach that was $130,000 cheaper than the price the Sheriff’s Office presented to the commission for the next fiscal year. That’s when Davis came to the dais to answer questions.

When asked about the shifts the deputies work, he said one shift runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., another from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. and a third from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Davis said he works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and he said they make adjustments for heavy beach weekends. In essence, he said, there are two deputies on duty at all times except 1 to 6 a.m. Then Davis went on to explain the type of coverage he expects from his deputies.

“The main drive is crime prevention versus reaction,” he said. “The reason you have a Utopia here is because of your deputies working hard to prevent crime.

“Prevention takes much more effort, ingenuity and teamwork, especially with residents,” he added. “There’s a bond that gets nurtured each time we go out. We solicit responses from citizens to include what we could do better.”

Community policing

As he spoke to Aubry, Davis said there are a lot of residents the deputies see more than Aubry and he said they have a friendly inter-office competition to see who can make contact with the most residents and visitors in a shift.

“When I see somebody park illegally to go to the beach, it’s better for me to say, ‘Excuse me, you can park there, but you’ll get a $30 ticket,’” he said. “It’s fun after the dad moves the car for me to tell the kids, ‘Tell dad to buy you some ice cream before you leave the Island from that $30 he just saved.’”

Commissioner Doug Copeland asked Davis about two cars he saw parked illegally, facing the wrong direction one day, and they stayed there all day without being ticketed. Davis said sometimes the deputies get involved in more pressing projects, and he apologized for the lapse in enforcement. He added their main objective is to not have to write tickets, but if a resident sees something like that, he/she can call 708-8899 or 911 to get a deputy.

Davis said education is important and so is responding to situations before they become problems. But he also said once a violator is ticketed, there’s no turning back.

“I will back a deputy when he issues a citation,” he said.

Copeland asked about construction sites and lawn service trucks that park in the street illegally, and Davis said there are exceptions.

“Sometimes they have to park a heavy truck or construction equipment on the street because if they go onto the right of way, the ground won’t be able to support the weight,” he said, adding if they block traffic, call 708-8899.

Bigger can be better

Commissioner Chuck Webb said generally he thinks bigger law enforcement offices yield better officers.

“I notice the really good officers on small police forces tend to gravitate toward a Sheriff’s Office,” he said, adding if they have a hostage situation, Davis can call in the sheriff’s SWAT team. Webb said the $130,000 difference between the Sheriff’s Office price and the Holmes Beach bid amounts to $72 more per taxpayer.

“I think the coverage we’re getting now is worth that amount,” he said. “I would pay it.”

Aubry said he agrees with Webb.

Mayor SueLynn read from a statement, saying she was somewhat offended that the Holmes Beach bid puts some Holmes Beach streets together with Anna Maria to make a section to be patrolled by only one officer. She then praised Davis, who set new goals when he first took over the Anna Maria patrol in January.

“Because of Sgt. Davis’ leadership and their own law enforcement experience, the deputies are capable of making those decisions that allow each to respond to any situation encountered in an effective and responsible manner,” she wrote.

“Through word and deed, I know they care about our city and its residents and they have a solid grasp of community police work. They not only enforce our laws, they share our values and they want us to maintain the quality of life we want our residents to have.”

After that, the commissioners agreed through a consensus to tell Holmes Beach they are keeping the Sheriff’s Office patrol.

Tree house petition to go forward
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

file photo

The tree house, which has been featured on the
Today show, recently was declared in violation of
the city's land developemnt code by the
code enforcement board.

HOLMES BEACH – Although it was declared insufficient by the city attorney, commissioners agreed to allow the initiative petition regarding the tree house to proceed

After the city maintained that the structure is illegal, tree house owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, 103 29th Street found a provision in the city’s charter in which allowed them to file an initiative petition to propose an ordinance approving the structure.

They were required to get signatures of a certain number of voters on the petitions in order to have the ordinance come before the city commission for a vote. If commissioners failed to approve it, it would go to an election.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said the petitions are insufficient because each page of signatures is supposed to indicate how many signatures are on the page.

“The petitions didn’t do what the city charter requires,” Petruff explained. “It’s a technical insufficiency, but it’s not worth getting into a court case about it.”

She said the initiative committee submitted a new affidavit with the number of signatures added, and the commission must decide whether to accept them, which would require them to be recertified.

“I think we should accept this new batch as a new submittal,” she advised. “The clerk will verify the number of signatures as sufficient or insufficient, and they will have the right to submit more signatures.”

Florida statute issue

In addition, Petruff referred to a memo she sent on July 24 regarding a 2013 amendment of Florida statute that prohibits the use of the initiative process in regard to any development order.

“This ordinance grants a special exception and building permit, which have always deemed to be development orders,” Petruff pointed out.

“I talked to other government attorneys around the state, and they think I’m right, but it hasn’t been litigated. Mr. Levin (Hazen/Tran attorney David Levin) disagrees.”

She said one party would have to take it to litigation or ask for a declaratory judgment from the court. She recommended that the city seek a judge’s ruling, adding, “It’s our opportunity to lay out the facts as we see them rather than react to someone else’s complaint.”

She also advised the commission not to take action on the initiative petition until it receives the judge’s ruling.

Commissioner Pat Morton disagreed and said, “ My whole stand on this tree house is it should not have been built. Now we’re jumping through all kinds of hoops for them. I think we should leave it as it is.”

Commissioner Judy Titsworth agreed with Morton. Commissioner Marvin Grossman felt the city should allow them to proceed, and Chair Jean Peelen agreed. Commissioner David Zaccagnino was absent.

Petruff explained the situation again and stressed, “Rather than getting into a big hoopla about that process, I’m suggesting that we just accept this as a new petition, so that issue is not part of some litigation.”

Titsworth asked what would happen if they deny the petition.

“Mr. Levin will probably take us to court,” Petruff replied. “We would have to explain to a judge downtown that we killed it on a technicality and what the technicality was. After a lot of drama, the judge will say, ‘Let them move forward with the process.’”

Commissioners voted to allow the petition to move forward and seek a judge’s ruling

Holmes Beach to establish a domestic partner registry

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners instructed City Attorney Patricia Petruff to draft an ordinance establishing a domestic partner registry in the city.

Ken Shelin and Grace Carlson, of Sarasota, made a presentation about the program and said it has been adopted in many cities and counties statewide, including Sarasota, St. Pete, Orlando, Clearwater, Tampa and Venice.

The definition of a domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between two individuals who live together in a mutual residence and share a common domestic life, providing for each others’ basic needs, but are neither joined by marriage or a civil union.

“It’s a concept that’s been around since the mid-1980s,” Carlson said. “It’s about two people who are committed to watching each others backs and want the respect and acknowledgment of that commitment to each other.”

“This is a contract, not a marriage,”Shelin added.

The registry documents the relationship of the two adults of at least 18 years of age who are not married or related by blood. It is used to establish that a family relationship exists and enables them to receive family benefits currently limited to married persons.

These benefits include health care facility visitation and decisions, funeral decisions, emergency notification to family members and correctional facility visitation.

Shelin said the ordinance would create a registry in the city for domestic partners and requires an affidavit, which is filed with the clerk of the court. The city provides the partners with a laminated card, which the city would charge for to defray costs.

City to amend parking rules

HOLMES BEACH – Police Chief Bill Tokajer has recommended amending the parking regulations as follows:

• No parking on the sidewalk, on a crosswalk or on a bicycle path;
• No parking facing the wrong direction – every vehicle stopped or parked upon a two-way roadway shall be so stopped or parked with the right-hand wheels parallel to and within 12 inches of the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway;
• No parking within 30 feet of a stop sign, within15 feet of a fire hydrant or within 20 feet of a crosswalk;
• No parking within 30 feet of intersection upon the approach to any flashing 
signal, stop sign or traffic control signal located at the side of a roadway;
• No double parking, either side by side or tandem;
• No blocking a driveway, public or private;
• No parking at the public beach between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.;
• No parking in a handicapped zone or space without a sticker.
The amended schedule of fines is as follows:
• Unlawful parking in handicap zone, $200;
• Parking in restricted areas; unlawful parking or parking where parking is prohibited, $35;
• Additional penalty if fine is not paid within five days, $15.

Commissioners asked City Attorney Patricia Petruff to draft the changes.

Watch out for sea stingers

A number of swimmers had bad days at the beach recently as the result of jellyfish and stingrays.

On Wednesday, Aug. 14, lifeguards had to warn swimmers at the public beaches of an approaching group of jellyfish, according to lifeguard Colin Schmidt.

“They are always in the Gulf, but the tide was strong and it brought them in,” he said. “We had five people stung by jellyfish at Coquina Beach and one at Manatee County Public Beach.”

Schmidt said jellyfish are at the mercy of the waves and tides.

In addition, there have been a number of stingray stings, Schmidt said, adding people need to use the stingray shuffle.

Authorities say people need to shuffle their feet along the seabed as they walk to warn stingrays that roost on the bottom. They will move out of your way. If you don’t shuffle, you might step on a stingray and they can arch their stingers and strike you in the leg.

In either case, victims should seek medical help or help from a lifeguard as the wounds are very painful and might put people with other medical problems in distress to the point that it might be life threatening.

Board divided on Mainsail

HOLMES BEACH – When Commissioner Marvin Grossman asked if the city could tell the Mainsail Development Company to take the city to court if they can’t agree on a development plan, Chair Jean Peelen reacted quickly.

“You can always be willing to be sued,” she responded, causing laughter from the audience, but added, “This is a process. I don’t think we should give up on the process and say, ‘Come and get us.’”

The remarks came during an update at last week’s work session on the continuing negotiations with the company regarding its proposed development near the corner of Marina and Gulf drives. Building Official Tom O’Brien reported that items under discussion include the building on the peninsula, the height of the lodge, setbacks, landscaping and the building nearest Sunrise Lane.

Mainsail representatives and city officials are attempting to work out an agreement regarding what should be built on the property before the next scheduled mediation hearing on Sept. 4.

The first mediation hearing with a special magistrate was held June 21. The company requested the mediation after the city commission revoked the company’s site plan for its development.

Mediation process

“I asked for this to be on the agenda because I wanted to make sure the commission understood where we are in the mediation process,” City Attorney Patricia Petruff explained. “We could work it out before Sept. 4, but at some point the special magistrate is going to write a recommendation.

“He will determine whether the city commission’s action was reasonable or if it was unreasonable and unfairly burdens the property owner. If he does the latter, he will write a recommendation and give his opinion. He could recommend one or more alternatives.

“You don’t have to accept it, but if you do, you would proceed to implement it. The owners would have to submit an application that the staff would have to review. Then it would go through a public hearing process, and you would vote on it.”

Peelen asked what would happen if they don’t agree with the special magistrate’s recommendation, and Petruff said the issue would go to court.

Attorney letter

Grossman said the city received a letter from Mainsail attorney Robert Lincoln that he perceived as threatening and added, “I believe we’re in the right and I believe if we went to court they would lose. I don’t like to be threatened.”

“I didn’t read it as a threat,” Petruff said. “I read it as he was trying to clearly outline his client’s position. Just as every time we’re here, Commissioner Titsworth outlines her position with respect to the history of the setbacks.”

Commissioner Pat Morton agreed with Grossman and Peelen agreed with Petruff. Commissioner David Zaccagnino was absent.

Titsworth said the letter is Lincoln’s opinion on “everything we did wrong up here.”

“The real issue is can we find a way to resolve this matter that will result in a project that the commission will deem acceptable and the citizens will be proud of and Mainsail can live with?” Petruff responded.

She said some lawyers maintain that if they reach a settlement that no one is 100 percent happy with, they have succeeded.

“The intent here is to try to go forward in good faith and try to come to an agreement,” Mayor Carmel Monti added. “We have put a good foot forward. Let’s continue that and not respond to the puffery of a letter from an attorney.

“It’s our responsibility as commissioners and mayor to have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens and the city and not take a cavalier attitude and say, ‘Let’s just go to court.”

Titsworth said, “I disagree. Mr. Lincoln went on and on that if he doesn’t get his way he’d see us in court. My recommendation is maybe we should start planning that. I don’t recommend spending another $4,000 on mediation. I would like to see us come back with a better site plan.”

Peelen said they would continue with the process.

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