ANNA MARIA ISLAND – As state representatives discuss bypassing Holmes Beach codes to build a parking garage and dissolving the three Island cities, locals aren’t taking it lying down.
Residents, property owners, business owners, visitors and others who love the Island just the way it is have banded together to get the word out and reach out to Manatee County’s state legislative delegation members in an effort to have their voices heard in Tallahassee.
Led by Holmes Beach resident Laurel Nevans, 950 people had joined Save AMI Cities as of Jan. 23. The Facebook group is dedicated to making the people’s voices heard at the local and state level on both issues.
The battle is focused on a parking garage. Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge wants to build one at Manatee Beach, a property owned by the county but located in Holmes Beach. Before those plans got off the ground, city commissioners voted to not allow multi-level parking structures in their city, a stance echoed by city leaders in Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria. Van Ostenbridge warned city leaders at a public meeting that there would be consequences to their actions.
Now the fight has escalated to the state level with Rep. Will Robinson Jr. initiating a bill to not only override the city’s decision to disallow parking garages but also to break the city’s three-story building height restriction, which is in the city charter. Robinson said he wants to see a four-story parking garage built at Manatee Beach. A four-story garage also would violate the three-story height limitation for unincorporated Manatee County, which is what the Island would likely be merged into if all three Island cities were dissolved by the Legislature.
That possibility arose from state legislative delegation discussions earlier this month to consider hiring the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to study the feasibility of dissolving the Island’s three cities.
Protestors speak out
Members of Save AMI Cities are writing letters to state representatives and looking at other ways to make sure their opinions on the proposed measures are heard.
The Sun reached out to those members to see what they have to say about the two proposals.
“This ‘taking’ of our local cities diminishes our votes and our ability to get those little things done in our communities,” Binky Rogers said. “We have owned in Bradenton Beach for 35 years and lived here permanently for 14 years. I feel that our mayor and city commission have our best interests at heart, and they are very approachable. The ‘bully’ county commissioners will not worry too much about our small Island except, of course, bringing in more tax dollars from all the high rises that’ll appear. All I can say at this point is think hard about who you vote for. We can’t just ‘pave over paradise and put up a parking lot.’ ”
“I recognize the value of tourism to our little island, but it’s the vibrant, quaint, simple life that we fell in love with and that is slowly being destroyed by developers,” Holmes Beach resident and local Realtor Kelly Gitt said. “I am strongly against the proposal of a parking garage and an advocate of slower speed limits, safe sidewalks/bike lanes and paying a toll to come out to the island. I don’t believe the parking garage has anything to do with protecting our beaches or the slower pace of life we love and appreciate here.”
“I’m a homeowner and small business owner here on AMI,” Bob Casey said. “A parking garage is not the solution and I think the county commissioners know this. How about finishing the parking lot at Coquina? I could be wrong, but I think they have ulterior motives. If they can overrule our three-story building limit it will be like ringing the dinner bell to all the developers. Then AMI will lose its old-school charm that locals and visitors alike enjoy. Our local governments are not perfect (who is?) but they live among us and have our best interests at heart.”
“The tourist board advertises Anna Maria as ‘a taste of Old Florida,’ then does everything it can to destroy that,” resident Janis Ian said.
“It begs the question of what the motivation is for the county commissioners and legislators to try and control AMI,” part-time Island resident Barbara Trinklein Rinckey said.
Chris Arendt referenced an Urban Land Institute study that notes that additional parking on the Island will not solve issues related to reaching maximum capacity for people and vehicles on the seven-mile Island. Arendt called both proposals by the legislative delegation “sham proposals.”
“It’s intimidation, plain and simple,” Arendt said. “Fact is every single Island conservative I know, and that’s many, are vehemently opposed to both the proposals. That should tell you all you need to know.”
“This is outright intimidation to control our Island towns,” Barbara Quinn said. “A garage won’t help the massive traffic caused by overdevelopment.”
“The Manatee County commission wants to keep their thumb on the cash cow that is AMI,” Laura Siemon Seubert said. “And a certain county commission member didn’t get his way, he essentially ran to ‘daddy’ to step in and make the other kids play with him. The county doesn’t care if we turn into another Panama City Beach or Fort Lauderdale. They only see the dollar signs with each bed tax. The ironic thing is a parking garage won’t help the bottom line. The day trippers that will use the parking garage aren’t spending the night. There is no financial gain from a parking garage. And as far as the three cities becoming one? All the charm and uniqueness of the Island will disappear.”
“I thought we lived in the United States?” Bradenton Beach resident Chris Johnson questioned. “Have any of the commissioners talked to the Islanders to see how we feel on the Island? This Island has been in my family’s blood for four generations, and we have protected the Island for years. The beaches are beautiful but there is more to this Island than beaches.”