ANNA MARIA – The pending replacement of the Anna Maria City Pier was a big story that became a bigger story when Hurricane Irma damaged the pier in September, leading to its closure. The pier will not reopen until a new pier is built, and that could take at least another year.
Also in 2017, developer Shawn Kaleta agreed to a $1 million lawsuit settlement. Most of the city’s Bert Harris claims were settled. City officials and residents successfully battled the state Legislature’s attempts to prohibit local regulation of short-term vacation rentals. Three key city staffers were replaced and City Pier Park received shade sails.
In September, Mayor Dan Murphy received a structural assessment and damage report on the pier from the Ayers Associates engineering firm.
“We recommend immediate closure of the facility until appropriate repairs are made to the pier and buildings. Until those repairs are complete, the public should not be permitted on the pier,” the report said.
Closing the pier, bait shop and restaurant space leased to Mario Schoenfelder left three dozen pier employees unexpectedly unemployed and many Pine Avenue businesses are now feeling the impact as well.
Ayres recommends the new pier be built with concrete pilings and composite decking, but Commissioner Dale Woodland and others are lobbying for wooden pilings. The mayor and commission must also figure out what to do with the engraved wooden planks that will be removed.
In November, attorneys representing Shawn Kaleta and his Beach to Bay Construction negotiated a $1 million out-of-court settlement in response to a federal lawsuit filed against the mayor and city in 2016.
The lawsuit alleged city officials made unwritten and erroneous interpretations of city codes, policies and practices that were applied solely to Kaleta’s efforts to build vacation rental homes. The suit alleged these actions negatively impact Kaleta and Beach to Bay. An insurance policy the city holds with Florida Municipal Insurance Trust through the Florida League of Cities relieved city taxpayers of the $1 million settlement burden.
Bert Harris settlements
According to City Clerk LeAnne Addy’s December monthly update, 89 of the 112 Bert Harris claims filed against the city in response to vacation rental regulations adopted in 2015 have been settled. The non-monetary settlements resulted in vacation rental owners receiving occupancy exceptions that exceed the eight-person limit established by ordinance in 2015.
The city is still awaiting owner decisions on 19 pending offers and final signatures on four accepted settlements. The city has made an offer on every claim filed.
Last January, the city enlisted the services of lobbyist Chip Case to combat Sen. Greg Steube and other state legislators attempting to eliminate or severely hinder local governments’ ability to regulate short-term vacation rentals.
Anna Maria residents Amy Tripp and Ruth Uecker joined the fight and traveled to Tallahassee to meet with state legislators, as did the mayor. Uecker and Tripp also assisted City Commissioner Nancy Yetter’s efforts to encourage other city and county governments to join the fight. State legislators will resume their deregulatory efforts when the 60-day 2018 Legislative session begins Jan. 9.
In February, Robin Meyer replaced previous City Planner Bruce McLaughlin after he resigned on short notice.
In November, the City Commission terminated Building Official Jimmy Strickland because he failed to provide the documents needed to verify the city’s compliance with the Community Rating System (CRS) program that provides 25 percent flood insurance discounts to policy holders in Anna Maria.
City officials are still awaiting word on whether Strickland’s failures will reduce or eliminate Anna Maria’s CRS discount. Strickland’s replacement, David Greenbaum, begins this week.
In December, Sgt. Mike Jones replaced Sgt. Russell Schnering as the highest-ranking member of the law enforcement division contracted through the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Schnering is now leading the Sheriff’s Marine Division. Code Enforcement Manager Pam Gibbs also announced her plans to retire soon.
City Pier Park
As part of the ongoing efforts to better utilize City Pier Park, the city paid $84,975 to have a shade sail structure installed. The shade structure made its public debut in November during the ceremonies that followed the city’s inaugural Veterans Day parade.