The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 21 - February 11, 2009


Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Seagrass on the west side, right, and east side, below, has not recovered
from illegal dredging three years ago. PHOTO/TROY MORGAN

JEWFISH KEY – The restoration of seagrass beds around Jewfish Key remains in the hands of Mother Nature three years after illegal dredging destroyed it.

Despite $85,000 in fines assessed against eight criminal and civil defendants in the dredging, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has not required any of the wrongdoers to replant destroyed seagrass beds.

"They felt they would return on their own," said Ana Gibbs, external affairs coordinator with the DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement. Another DEP spokeswoman previously said the monitoring that number of defendants for a seagrass recovery period that could take up to 10 years was "unrealistic."

The West Coast Inland Navigation District used sand from maintenance dredging in the nearby Intracoastal Waterway to fill the illegal channels, where seagrass should begin to regrow, Gibbs said.

Since then, the Town of Longboat Key has settled a case over an illegal dock that was built on the east side of the key when the illegal dredging occurred, with an agreement that the dock will be removed and the area restored, Code Enforcement Officer Randy Fowler said.

Multifamily dock slips are planned in one location to allow homeowners to access the water, Jewfish Key homeowner Steve Ellis said.

Seven defendants faced criminal charges for illegal dredging around the key, and four of those plus another defendant faced civil charges of dredging and filling without a permit and "causing pollution so as to harm or injure human health or welfare, animal, plant or aquatic life or property."

Civil charges are pending against Raymond L. Guthrie III and Susan Brown, while three other civil co-defendants have settled, according to Gibbs. Randy Broach and Renae Farrah signed a settlement agreement for $38,000 in damages on June 9, 2008 and Farley Blackman signed a settlement agreement for $30,000 on Feb. 20, 2008, she said.

In the criminal cases, Broach, Farrah and Blackman avoided prosecution by signing pretrial intervention agreements and paying fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Guthrie was adjudicated guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $2,500. Brown was not charged criminally.

Other criminal defendants were Raymond L. Guthrie Jr., adjudicated guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $3,307, Carl Mora, who pled to vessel registration violations and was fined $1,750 and Joan Mayers Bergstrom, who developed Jewfish Key in 1988 as La Lenaire Island and pled to misdemeanor dredging with a $1,065 fine.

City faces Pine Ave. decision Thursday
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Michael Coleman (right), the project’s managing partner, sits down with
Neal Eaton, Sally Eaton and Nancy Pedota, all of whom own property on
Spring Avenue and have voiced concerns about the impact the project
will have on their property. SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY

ANNA MARIA – Emotions here have been running high about who should live and do business in the residential/office/retail (ROR) district.

Land regulations for the ROR district, which runs along Pine Avenue from Gulf Drive to Bay Boulevard and including a portion of the north end of Gulf Drive will be the focus of a city commission public hearing Thursday, Feb. 12.

A lot is at stake for the principals in the Pine Avenue Restoration Project (PAR), who have proceeded with a nine-lot, mixed-use development on several parcels along Pine.

When the 1989 comprehensive plan for the city was finally adopted in 1992, a corridor of mom and pop businesses was envisioned where the owners of a ground level shop would live above the business establishment.

But during the state-mandated revision of the comp plan that unfolded over the past five or so years, there was consensus that the ROR district was not evolving as it was envisioned.

"At every stage of the process of revising the comp plan, there was consensus that the reason the ROR district wasn’t working was because of the owner-occupied clause in the plan," Micheal Coleman told his guests at a recent reception. "At the task force level, at the planning and zoning board level and at the city commission, there was consensus that the owner-occupied language had to be eliminated if the ROR district was going to work."

Based upon the actions of the task force, the p&z board, the city commission and the comp plan’s acceptance by the state, Coleman and his partners, Ted LaRoche and Ed Chiles, developed plans and proceeded with their project.

Now, the city is charged with bringing its land development regulations (LDRs) into compliance with the comp plan.

Because of the economic times, the residential portions of the properties may be used as rentals, and since there are currently no rental restrictions in the city, there was widespread alarm that the properties would be used for short term wedding party rentals.

Abutting property owners on Spring Avenue have raised concerns about possible wild parties and disturbances to their enjoyment of their homes and back yards.

"We believe that zoning laws are designed to protect residential properties," Edward Pedota, who owns property on Spring, wrote to the city.

"We always believed that the current law regarding owner or tenant occupancy in the ROR district was the crucial element in protecting us from overdevelopment along Pine Avenue and Gulf Drive. When the 315-317 Pine Avenue development was proposed, we believed the threat to our quiet neighborhood was somewhat minimized."

However, City Attorney Jim Dye and City Planner Alan Garrett say the current LDRs don’t require that the residential portion of a mixed-use structure must be occupied by the owner or an employee of the business element of that structure, as everyone had believed.

"As to your question about splitting up the building, it is permissible today for the building floors to be sold off separately by creating a condominium," Dye wrote in response to a direct question from Coleman. "Even if the building is split, the ordinance still requires that the occupants be related in some way."

Dye said that they could do this by using the same property management firm or the entire building could be rented to the business and the business subleases the residential floor to a tenant.

In addition to the question of occupancy, there is another element to the ordinance.

"My concern lies in what was not changed in regard to coverage and bulk," P&Z Chair Doug Copeland said. "The two structures built by PAR on Pine Ave. can be an example of the problem I hope you will address. Neither is built to the allotted coverage and has not taken advantage of the maximum height allowed."

With complaints from neighbors that the buildings are too big, Copeland pointed out that another developer could come in and legally put up structures that are 40 percent larger.

The discussion and all its elements will play out again at the city commission public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.

Bridge testing next week

Tests next week on the Anna Maria Island Bridge will involve opening and closing the span but should not cause traffic jams any more than normal openings would, according to project spokesperson Audrey Clarke.

Meanwhile, the sidewalk on the south side of the bridge remains closed, but the north sidewalk is open to pedestrians and bicyclists. The speed limit over the bridge is 35 miles per hour and if you are caught speeding, the fine is double if it happens while construction workers are on the bridge.

New band playing at Friday Fest
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Dean Johanesen performs with The Human Condition, one of
the bands that will provide live music at Friday Fest on
Feb.13 at the end of Pine Avenue. PHOTO PROVIDED

The Human Condition, an all-original acoustic/rock band from the Tampa Bay area, makes its first appearance on Anna Maria Island during the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Island Musical Festival, Friday Fest, Feb. 13, on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria from 3 to 10 p.m.

The Human Condition has been compared to Wilco, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Live, as well as Ben Harper, Damien Rice and Jack Johnson Its influences range from Lyle Lovett to Led Zeppelin, the Mars Volta to Miles Davis. It will play between 6 and 7:30 p.m., after the opening act, Firedoor, which starts at 5 p.m. The Michael Mac Band will finish the evening starting at 7:30 p.m.

Sponsored by the Anna Maria Island Sun, Friday Fest is an opportunity to get outdoors after a week at work or play and mingle; shop for some unique gifts from arts, crafts and other retail vendors; enjoy a light dinner from a food vendor with wine, beer, soda or bottled water; and perhaps dance with your honey just before Valentine’s Day.

The event is free and if you live or are staying on the Island, it might be a good idea to take a free trolley due to a potential shortage of parking spaces. Friday Fest will continue once a month through the end of season. For vendor information, call Cindy Thompson at 761-4766 or the Chamber at 778-1541.

Coleman: Project will enhance Pine Ave.

This week, Commissioners will meet to vote on the "ROR Ordinance". This was drafted in order to bring our Land Development Regulations in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan pursuant to unanimous consensus between the city commission and the Planning and Zoning board in it’s joint session on August 21.

Naturally, this process has generated a lot of dialogue. We have welcomed this, engaging with our neighbors both in private and public conversations. When the three minute discourse in official meetings seemed to stifle expression we held open receptions so that proponents and opponents alike could be heard and responded to.

It seems clear that, for the most part, what should be a dialogue about an ordinance designed to enhance and support mixed use development in the district as a whole has been translated, incorrectly we think, into a conversation about the Pine Avenue project.

Fortunately, up to this point, attempts to change the topic have been lost on officials responsible to make decisions based on facts and law, not emotion and subjective preference. The truth of this can be found in the minutes of the last meeting of the Planning and Zoning board in which each of the elements under public discussion right now were sustained with positive consensus.

Just to establish what we are actually talking about, here is a legislative summary, which interested parties may verify in the public record.

1. Ad hoc Committee Meeting 3/08/2005

a. Relative to policy 1.3.5…."to legislatively state the intent"

b. "there was consensus to eliminate the phrase 'where the residential unit is occupied by the owner or tenant or proprietor of the commercial/office establishment.'"

2. Commission Work Session – Comprehensive Plan September 27, 2006

a. Consultant stated Goal 1 as being "the residential character of the city would be protected"

b. Commissioners felt this could be used to obstruct commercial development.

c. Mayor expressed concerns that the district was going straight residential.

d. Commissioners expressed strong need to balance residential and commercial development in the district.

e. Language "while supporting commercial development in the Commercial and ROR land use categories" was added to Goal 1.

f. In support of this goal, consistent with the recommendations of the ad hoc committee, commissioners specifically deleted "occupancy restrictions" from the Comprehensive Plan.

In summary, the comprehensive plan was changed in order to encourage mixed use development. That change was the removal of occupancy restrictions in support of the legislative intent of goal 1 "to support commercial uses."

This left the so-called "existing" LDR an orphan. In recognition of these facts a joint session was held "for the purpose of bringing the LDRs in compliance with the comp plan."

The ordinance in question was unanimously agreed to in that meeting and now should be adopted consistent with all that has gone before it.

Cortez Park open house draws interest
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Recreational vehicles, mobile homes and cottages are among the
homes for sale at Cortez Park, which held an open house and
yard sale Friday and Saturday. SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE

CORTEZ – It’s been nine months since the residents of Cortez Park came out of retirement to protest the mobile home community’s sale to a developer, and saved their homes by buying it instead.

But with 20 of the 79 homes still for sale, they have hired a real estate broker to manage sales and the park’s operations, so they can get back to the sunset socials, shuffleboard and card games they enjoyed before the crisis.

Hundreds of people visited the park at the eastern end of the Cortez Bridge during an open house and yard sale Friday and Saturday, according to community manager Sandra LaBarre. While no sales were closed, the event "generated activity and creates a better atmosphere for sales," she said.

Last year, residents bought the five-acre park for $9.5 million by forming a co-op, allowing them to buy shares in the park. They had been living in fear of losing their homes since 2005, when previous owner Butch Howey put the park on the market for $14.75 million.

The park includes a marina and restaurant and is one of the oldest in Manatee County, dating to 1935. Its community center is more than 100 years old and was the detached kitchen of the Fulford Hotel in the 1880s.

Proceeds from the yard sale are slated for new furniture for the center.

Taking out the trash from Sister Keys
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE From left to right, Max Moneuse, Garrison Clark
and Hunter Parrish found a plastic deck chair while cleaning up the
Sister Keys on Saturday with more than 50 volunteers from Sarasota
Bay Watch, the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, Bay Buddies
and Audubon of Florida.

SISTER KEYS – Restoration work on the Sister Keys may be complete, but the housekeeping is never done.

Volunteers with Sarasota Bay Watch, the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, Bay Buddies and Audubon of Florida removed crab traps, plastic chairs and other debris from the largest of the Sister Keys on Saturday.

Paradise Pointe LLC, a subsidiary of Jacksonville-based developer The St. Joe Co., completed a $1 million restoration project on the key last year in mitigation for environmental damage to mangroves, seagrass beds and oyster beds anticipated during its planned Perico Harbor Marina, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The project has not yet broken ground.

Restoration included removing exotic plant species, planting native trees and creating a two-acre wetland on the north side of the island, said James Linkogle of the town of Longboat Key Public Works Department, who helped supervise the project, now in a five-year maintenance and monitoring period.

The Sister Keys are closed to people, he said, to protect gopher tortoises, birds and other animals on the key.

The restoration raised objections from those who dispute the necessity of destroying Australian pines and other non-native vegetation, including environmental consultant Tom Mayers, who grew up at Land’s End on Longboat Key’s north end, near Sister Keys.

"There is rampant hysteria about removing Australian pines," he said, adding that animals and birds used the trees as habitat on the main key. "When they cleared all that, they destroyed cabbage palms, shefflera, all these plants most people would like to have in their backyards. They took an ax to what they should have used a scalpel for."

Resident threatens lawsuit over parking

BRADENTON BEACH – A resident of Avenue B is threatening legal action because the city is letting people park illegally on the side of the street.

Ron Ockerman spoke at the city commission meeting on Thursday, Feb. 5, calling the angle parking at Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation something he had been trying to get enforced for years.

"It’s prohibited by your code," he said. "I can’t find anywhere in the code where it says it can be waived."

Ockerman showed the commissioners pictures of the parking and said that Mayor Michael Pierce’s car had been parked illegally earlier in the day. Pierce said he had stopped there for only a minute and was gone before Ockerman could get his camera.

"I spoke with the building official and he said the reason we have angle parking there is because he can’t enforce the code," Ockerman said. "Going up and down B Street is like a gauntlet anymore."

He then leveled his warning, "Tonight, I am fulfilling every obligation I have to get this situation changed before I can take legal action," he said. "I will make sure to make the legal action as expensive as I can for the city."

Pierce said that Ockerman had been complaining for years and he would look into situation.

The meeting only ran 20 minutes as the agenda was sparse. Commissioners approved on second reading an ordinance paving the way for a mooring field and another that would allow the city to use its special master to decide cases now handled by the board of adjustment.

Commissioners also approved putting out a request for bids for a planner to help them rewrite the land development code so that it enforces changes being made in the city’s comprehensive plan.

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