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Vol. 16 No. 30 - May 25, 2016


More Bert Harrris claims filed

ANNA MARIA – On Monday, the city of Anna Maria was presented with 20 additional Bert Harris claims seeking compensation for occupancy limits placed on vacation rentals.

The new claims were filed by attorney Louis Najmy, who had not filed any of the previous 25 claims recently filed against the city.

A total of 15 new claimants are seeking an additional $5 million in compensation, on top of the $7.5 million already sought in previous claims.

Those filing multiple claims included Robert Moberger, Ronald Breteler and Wendy Patricia Nelson, Lawson Macartney and DSB RE Holdings Inc.

The city has 150 days to negotiate settlements before lawsuits can be filed.

Island cities want their share of proposed surtax

LONGBOAT KEY – Island elected officials plan to make their own recommendation to the county regarding the disposition of a proposed half-cent surtax.

Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac told the group at last week’s meeting of barrier island elected officials that county commissioners have not decided on whether to join with the School Board on the tax or whether to put it on November’s ballot.

“We have not voted on it,” Benac said. “We wanted input from the cities on how they feel about it before we vote on it. We want to hear if the cities would support it,” adding that the money would be used for capital improvement projects, not health care.

One proposal put forth by the county shows the following distribution of the tax: Manatee County, $22,833,877; Bradenton, $3,704,085; Palmetto, $927,416; Holmes Beach, $278,174; Longboat Key (Manatee County portion), $171, 803; Anna Maria, $110,357; and Bradenton Beach, $84,488.

Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock said the four island mayors have met twice to discuss the tax. They learned that approximately 30 percent of the tax would be contributed by tourists and that 58 percent of the tourist bed tax money comes from the four island cities.

“We met with (Manatee County Administrator) Ed Hunzeker and talked about how the disproportionate impact of tourists on the island cities’ infrastructure might be dealt with. We hope to put together something that we can collectively present to the county.

“Given that disproportionate tourism impact, what would be fair and equitable to everyone? We all have to be on the same page.”

Planning board discusses vacation rentals

BRADENTON BEACH – Last week, the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board members engaged in a wide-ranging conversation on lessening the impact of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Some members felt the best approach would be the development of regulations that address guest behavior. This could be done by incorporating any desirable elements contained in the city’s dormant quality of life ordinance and combining them with elements taken from ordinances and regulations adopted in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria.

Other members favored an approach that focused on structural elements, design, lot coverage and allowed livable space. The thought process here was that smaller structures hold fewer people who in turn create few problems in regard to noise, parking and trash accumulation.

In the end, the general consensus was that a two-pronged approach is needed. Behavioral issues could be addressed in the short-term by enacting new rental regulations and structural concerns could be addressed later as more long-range planning solutions.

Board member Jim Lynch supported tackling behavioral issues first by looking at the regulations already developed by the three Island cities, including the quality of life ordinance adopted by the previous Bradenton Beach City Commission, which was then scrapped by the current commission that contains three new members.

Lynch stressed the need to include representatives from the vacation rental industry in these preliminary conversations and he invites anyone from the industry, including members of the Anna Maria Island Vacation Property Association, to attend the board’s next meeting on Wednesday, June 22. The meeting will take place at Bradenton Beach City Hall at 1 p.m.

By involving vacation rental industry representatives in the process, the hope is to avoid lawsuits and/or Bert Harris claims like those filed against the other cities.

Member Frank Harrison said he would like to look at parking, more specifically parking by contractors and service providers that crowd neighborhood streets during the day.

Member John Burns leaned more toward the structural ends of the debate, calling for tiered structures that offer smaller second story spaces, which in theory would hold fewer occupants, while also creating more aesthetically pleasing skylines. He also expressed support for limiting lot size and allowable living space, and encouraging more patios and decks.

Burns suggested following the city of Anna Maria’s lead in counting swimming pools as impervious space when calculating lot coverage.

Member John Metz agreed with Burns and expressed his opinion that the planning board should focus its efforts on elements contained in or added to the city’s land development code. He feels the city commission is the body that should address behavioral issues and enforcement.

Member Patricia Shay also expressed support for the tiered structure approach, and she said she likes the effect it has had in the city of Anna Maria.

Chair Dan DeBaun supported addressing behavioral issues and adopting rental regulations first, and he was adamant that any grand considerations pertaining to design aesthetics be limited solely to their ability to address vacation rental concerns.

At the suggestion of City Planner Alan Garrett, the next step will be to review the quality of life ordinance to see what can be salvaged before reviewing the Anna Maria and Holmes Beach ordinances.

On Tuesday, June 7, at 7 p.m., a vacation rental town hall meeting will take place at the Annie Silver Community Center. All interested parties are encouraged to attend and provide their perspective on these complex issues.

Pier settlement floated

joe hendricks | sun

Paradise Boat Tours owner Sherman Baldwin suggests
a settlement might be reached.

BRADENTON BEACH – Confidence in the city’s legal position left at least one commissioner questioning the need to pursue a potential settlement in the lawsuit involving the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

During general public comment at the Thursday, May 19, Bradenton Beach City Commission meeting, Paradise Boat Tours owner Sherman Baldwin said private conversations with Bradenton Beach Marina owners Allan and Michael Bazzy may have produced an opportunity to settle the lawsuit the Bazzys filed in November.

The lawsuit names Baldwin as a co-defendant, along with the city of Bradenton Beach, the Anna Maria Oyster Bar (AMOB) ownership group and unnamed subtenants AnnMarie Nicholas and Laura Shely.

Baldwin, Nicholas and Shely sublease city-owned commercial space from AMOB, who occupies the largest of the three structures west of the fishing pier.

“If there was a way to make any current and future litigation about the pier, the anchorage and the mooring field go away, I’d like to present that to you. I would like to know who to discuss that with,” Baldwin told the commission.

Baldwin did not provide any details and the commission posed no follow-up questions during general public comment, which is common commission policy.

The lawsuit alleges Sunshine violations occurred during the preliminary lease discussions and questions whether separate bidding processes should have occurred for each of the three spaces leased to AMOB.

When contacted later, Baldwin said the settlement would require his tour boat business to utilize marina services provided by the Bazzys and a commitment from the city to pursue a managed anchorage. Baldwin said he does not currently use Bradenton Beach Marina services and has mixed feelings about doing so. He planned to meet with Mayor Bill Shearon on Monday to engage in further discussion.

Commission conversation

Without knowing the details of the settlement Baldwin spoke of earlier, the commission later discussed the pier suit during the Bazzy litigation update listed on the agenda.

Shearon said he supported the pursuit of a settlement that could help avoid additional attorney fees. He told the commission the Bazzys’ attorney intends to file an amended complaint in response to the motion for summary judgement attorney Fred Moore recently filed on behalf of the city. Shearon said a court hearing could take place as early as June, barring additional delays, and offered to engage in settlement discussions with all parties involved.

Commissioner Ralph Cole reminded Shearon that the commission previously asked him to obtain from Moore a written summary of the case that stated the city’s legal position.

“We asked for it in writing and I don’t think I ever received it,” Cole said. “I think we need to get a clear path on how to end this, whether it’s negotiating or it goes to court. We need to know what our options are so we can make a decision.”

In regard to Baldwin’s comments, Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said, “I’d like to know what his proposition is,” but he had already left.

Participating from afar using Skype teleconferencing technology, vacationing Commissioner Jake Spooner questioned the need to negotiate.

“Am I missing something? I thought we got the letter from DEP that says were fine; and the Sunshine violation I don’t think has any legs. I don’t understand why we’re talking about settling. It seems to me we just need the judge to make a ruling.”

City Attorney Ricinda Perry said, “Commissioner Spooner’s point is well taken. The city has won every step of the way. Anything that the Bazzys have done, the city has prevailed on. The latest was they tried a red herring argument up to the DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) and we won again.

“While we keep winning every battle they wage, there’s nothing in the court system that stops them from bringing something new into the game, which is what they are threatening to do with an amended complaint. It’s incredibly frustrating for the city,” Perry said.

The commission directed Shearon and/or Moore to discuss settlement possibilities with Baldwin and the other co-defendants, but directed Shearon to refrain from settlement discussions with the Bazzys.

Island officials to respond to FDOT letter

LONGBOAT KEY – Island elected officials last week expressed displeasure with a response they received from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) regarding their list of suggestions to immediately impact traffic congestion on the islands.

In March, the four island mayors submitted the list to various entities that could implement changes such as the FDOT, neighboring cities, Manatee and Sarasota counties and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The received two replies – one from Sarasota County and one from FDOT. FDOT District Secretary Billy Hattaway said improvements would be developed from the list as part of the planned Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Island traffic study.

Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock, representing Mayor Jack Duncan, who was ill, said Duncan was disappointed in the reply and noted, “We were hoping that FDOT could see some of those things they could work on in the immediate term.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon also expressed disappointment in the reply and said, “The idea was to pick the low hanging fruit, and it’s sad that it’s rotten and falling off the tree. The main objective was to get something we could move forward with.”

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy suggested a letter asking for a time frame and deliverables. Bullock said he would include that in a letter to Hattaway and also prioritize the list and ask Hattaway to meet with the four mayors.

License plate recognition cameras proposed

LONGBOAT KEY – Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek proposed that the Island cities work together to install license plate recognition cameras on the Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges like those on Longboat Key.

“We should think about doing it for the Island,” she said at last week’s meeting of barrier island elected officials. “The Island is not utopia. There are a lot of people with problems who come here.”

Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock said the town installed five cameras, three on one end and two on the other end, three years ago. He said the startup cost, including cameras, was $70,000 to $75,000.

“They read every license plate that comes across north or south and run them against local and state data bases,” he explained. “The greatest value to us has been the ability to solve crimes that we didn’t think we could have solved nearly as quickly.

“We have used them in everything from boat thefts to wanted felons. They have been an investigative and alerting tool for us. Not all people who come across the bridges are good people.”

He said the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) does not allow the cameras in FDOT right of way. The cameras have to be monitored, which Longboat Key does through the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center, and there are some operating costs and maintenance issues.

“It’s a win-win for both islands,” Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon declared.

Bullock said he would ask the town’s police chief to address the issue at the next meeting of the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials in Anna Maria City Hall on Wednesday, June 15, at 2 p.m.

City and fire district approve dock agreement

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners authorized the mayor at the May 10 City Commission meeting to sign an interlocal agreement with West Manatee Fire Rescue (WMFR) for a boat dock and lift at the 63rd Street boat ramp.

WMFR Chief Tom Sousa said the district has been launching its boat from a trailer for 16 years, and the dock would allow it to move the boat out of Station 1 in Holmes Beach and free up the space for fire apparatus.

He said the district has applied for a federal grant to hire more firefighters, which will enable it to have four firefighters at Station 1 to better serve the Island, especially during season.

“It will enable us to launch quicker and get out on the water faster,” he said.

The agreement states that:

• The district will be responsible for construction, permitting and funding;

• The city will assist in securing permits;

• The district shall provide funding not to exceed $60,000;

• The district and city shall share the costs of utilities and maintenance;

• The title shall be in the city’s name, but the district has the right to use the dock for 99 years with a 50-year renewal.

Commissioner Carol Soustek asked who has the liability on the dock, and City Attorney Patricia Petruff replied, “It will be on city property. It will be up to the city to notify the insurance agent of the upgrade.”

At their May 19 meeting, WMFR fire commissioners approved the agreement and awarded the bid for construction of the boat dock and two lifts to Wood Dock and Seawall for $58,020. The fire district’s portion is $29,010, and the remainder is grant funded.

Metz issues new threat

BRADENTON BEACH – Planning and Zoning Board member John Metz has made accusations against Building Official Steve Gilbert and City Attorney Ricinda Perry.

These allegations appear atop an e-mail Metz sent to the Mayor and city commissioners on Friday, May 20, in response to the denial of his request to appeal a building department decision. The appeal hearing Metz sought pertained to his demands that the city declare a neighboring vacation rental property abandoned. Metz based his demand on the fact that the two-story structure located at 308 Gulf Dr. S. has remained unoccupied by renters for more than 18 months after being sold to George and Wendy Kokolis in late 2014.

On May 13, Metz received a letter from Perry that was e-mailed to him via the city’s building department, of which Gilbert serves as the department head.

The letter informed Metz that his request for an appeal had been denied because it was filed in an untimely manner. Perry’s letter noted that Gilbert issued the Kokolis’ a building permit in June of 2015, and Metz had 30 days after that to file an appeal, which he did not do. In a previous e-mail to Metz, Gilbert said the permit application for foundation repairs indicated to the city that the associated use of the building as vacation rental, while unoccupied, was never abandoned.

Metz, a former attorney whose California Bar privileges were suspended in 2006, disputes Perry legal opinion. He also disputes the timeline Perry provided in regard to appeal-related e-mail correspondence he and Gilbert engaged in over the past few months.

Metz’s letter accuses Perry of having a “reckless disregard for the facts or truth,” and condemns Gilbert for transmitting a letter which “he knew contained false information.”

His letter to the mayor and commissioners says, “This outrageous conduct has occurred on your watch. I expect that you will take appropriate action promptly to reinstate my appeal and discipline these contract employees for their lack of honesty and integrity. The failure to promptly remedy this situation by June 1 will result in a court’s resolution of these false and fraudulent misrepresentations.”

In 2015, Metz subjected the city to more than $11,000 in legal fees as a result of his failed efforts to have Jack Clarke removed from the recall election ballot. As a planning board member, Metz, in 2014, was part of a 3-2 planning board majority that recommended denial of a variance request the commission later approved for a small property the Kokolis’ own on Ninth Street North.

When asked about Metz’s response, Perry noted that his appeal request was filed and stamped as received by city clerk’s office on April 28, although he referred to an April 1 filing date in his letter.

When Metz first attempted to file his appeal request on April 1 he was informed in an April 11 e-mail from Gilbert that his request lacked the necessary supporting documents, the $500 appeal fee and demonstration that the Kokolis property created a direct adverse impact that exceeds the general interest of the community good shared by all persons.

“Besides that, he was untimely in the fact that it has been nearly a year since the permit was issued and the administrative determination was made,” Perry said.

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