The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 15 - January 25, 2012


Unpaving Paradise
Carol Whitmore


Slowing down traffic on Pine Avenue by removing the yellow lines and narrowing the lanes is the goal of the city's environmental committee members.

"We're trying to unpave paradise and reclaim the ambiance of our city," member Jane Coleman said.

The suggestions on how to do that came from Dan Burden, a nationally known planner who helps towns become walkable communities. He has told city commissioners that enhancements to Pine Avenue could go a long way toward achieving that goal.

"I think we need to have a clear understanding of what we're trying to achieve," Jane Coleman said.

She added that she asked her husband, Micheal, to present a synopsis of Burden's suggestions to other Environmental Education and Enhancement Committee members and noted, "He spent time with Dan Burden and understands the minor tweaks we can make to change people's attitude and thinking."

"It starts with removing those yellow lines," Coleman said. "He said yellow lines say, 'Highway' and 'Go fast.' He said the speed should be about 20 mph, and he clocked them at 30 to 32 mph.

"It's all psychological," Jane added. "When they turn the corner on Pine to first come into Anna Maria, they have to think, 'I slow down now. There's bikes; there's children; there's walkers.' It has to be automatic."

Narrow the street

"The second thing is to narrow the street, not by narrowing the pavement, but by narrowing the (distance between) the white lines, so the street would be 20 feet wide instead of 25 feet wide," Coleman said.

Another Burden suggestion is for vehicles to share the road with bicycles rather than having a separate bicycle lane.

"As we get older and we get out of our cars, at some point, we stop going anywhere," Coleman continued. "People get isolated inside their houses because they don't want to drive or can't drive.

"By creating a walkable community, you give those people more longevity. They can go out and walk around and visit each other on the street corners. When we get them there, it has to be safe."

Coleman said the message to drivers is, 'You don't own the road. You're sharing this road with everybody.'

Jane added, "We need to create a situation where the people riding their bicycles and the kids riding their skateboards are safe doing that.

"The bottom line is the visual, the experience that the visitors have needs to say, 'Slow down,' and they have to see that. We could even be cute and say it's a no wake zone."

EEEC members agreed to invite Mayor Mike Selby and Public Works Supervisor George McKay to their next meeting to discuss removing the yellow lines as the first step in calming traffic.

Resident calls for moratorium on 'big box' construction
Carol Whitmore

HOLMES BEACH – A resident heartbroken about her neighborhood's transition to rentals asked the Holmes Beach Commission to institute a moratorium on "barns with bedrooms" last week, a request that has been voiced more than once in recent months.

Short-term vacation rentals have produced noise, trash, parking and other quality of life issues that have recently packed commission chambers with residents urging officials to crack down on code violations and slow down on tourism marketing.

Two large duplexes have been under construction on 66th Street since July, where a "lovely little darling duplex" once stood, neighbor Barbara Marcheck said, describing the new, six-bedroom, four-bathroom buildings as "barns" that will likely be used for multifamily rentals.

She questioned the "sanity" of the city allowing 12 bedrooms and eight bathrooms to replace a three-bedroom, two-bath home.

"This is like having a small motel built on your street," she said, echoing the frustration the commission has heard from other residents that their quiet, safe, residential neighborhoods are being redeveloped out of existence.

"It's turning into a rental zone," she said.

The area is zoned for rentals, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino responded.

"This is a residential area," Marcheck retorted.

Resident Marguerite Carrick also asked the commission to consider a moratorium on permits for "big box duplexes," which Ron Travis, of ReMax Alliance, had requested at a previous meeting.

A moratorium, often a last resort for a runaway construction problem, is allowable on a certain type of structures, like a duplex, with a time limit, like nine months, and could be extended, according to City Attorney Patricia Petruff.

"I'm not willing to pull the trigger on any moratorium right now," Zaccagnino said.

While the city is prohibited by a new state law from banning vacation rentals or increasing regulations on them, it could tighten city construction codes, for example, by redefining bedrooms as sleeping rooms, Petruff told commissioners.

Bedrooms are currently defined as having closets, but rooms without closets are routinely furnished with sofa beds and rented as bedrooms, Commissioner Pat Morton said.

The city has been unable to successfully prosecute short-term rental complaints because they are generally anonymous, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said, adding that without witnesses on the record, a complaint cannot be investigated properly.

A code enforcement officer seldom arrives at the scene while a violation is occurring and usually needs to interview the complainant about what happened, Commissioner Sandra Haas-Martens said.

Resident Patty Sabow urged commissioners not to abdicate responsibility for pursuing complaints even if they are anonymous.

Work groups formed

Zaccagnino suggested the commission create five advisory subcommittees, each led by one of the commissioners and including local builders, rental agents, citizens and others, to investigate aspects of the issue, such as building codes, parking, setbacks, fines and lot coverage.

Another issue, business licensing, could be eliminated on July 1 if proposed state legislation passes repealing the Local Business Tax Act, which allows cities to collect business taxes.

The commission is expected to consider guidelines for the committees at its next meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. at city hall.

Sunshine request

Also frustrated by the vacation rental problem, resident Mary Buonagura made a public records request for six years' worth of city records, including new construction applications, inspection records, certificates of occupancy and complaints regarding new construction and land use, by Feb. 18.

"What's been lacking is enforcement," she said, adding that she is particularly interested in inspection records.

Retrieving and copying the records would take much longer than Feb. 18, and would cost more than the $300 that Buonagura volunteered to pay for copies, Petruff said, suggesting that Buonagura work with a city employee to view the records and select the ones she wants to copy.

Taking a city employee away from regular duties would be expensive, Bohnenberger said.

Haas-Martens suggested that Buonagura make a list of addresses of houses she is concerned about and submit those in her request. Buonagura agreed, requesting that a staff member walk her through the entire permitting process on a sample of addresses.

Petruff suggested the commission allow her to act as a liaison to satisfy the public records request efficiently without unduly burdening the staff.

Buonagura also asked for the identities of the rental agents described at the Dec. 13 commission meeting by Larry Chatt of Island Real Estate. Chat had said that agents from five large firms representing about 65 percent of the firms on the Island had agreed to follow best practices such as notifying renters in writing about noise, parking, trash and other regulations upon check-in, verifying the number of people in a party and providing police with a list of their properties.

Tourism frustrations aired

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby

BRADENTON BEACH – Island elected officials did not let lack of attendance deter them from sharing their frustration with issues regarding residential rentals, including local efforts to increase tourism.

Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby and Commissioner SueLynn and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler expressed their frustration with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors' Bureau and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC).

"The TDC tells tourists to come, but we get no support from them," Shaughnessy said. "They're going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg."

"I talked to two county commissioners after Memorial Day and said they're doing a great job of bringing in people here, but it's like an unfunded mandate," Selby added.

"People come here because it's clean and beautiful, but it's finite thing," Sue Lynn said. "We only can handle so many people and then things begin to break down. They need to help us maintain the golden egg, and keep it that way."

She said the Island cities should work together on the issues that affect all of them, and Island elected officials should attend TDC meetings to express their views.

Selby some of the measures that his city is taking to help with the rental problem are requiring non-homesteaded property owners to have rear door garbage pick up and working with property managers to develop guidelines to alleviate the problems of trash, noise and overcrowding..

Gate border quarrel widens
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Cindy Lane | Sun
The controversy over this gate in a fence
at Sandpiper Resort is growing.

HOLMES BEACH – The dispute over the gate in the fence bordering Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach at 27th Street has widened, involving a mortgage bank, a title company and the FDIC in addition to the two cities and a mobile home park.

The issue is now too large to be settled between the two cities in an intergovernmental conflict resolution proceeding, Bradenton Beach City Attorney Ricinda Perry told officials from both cities last week at a dispute resolution conference.

The dispute began when Sandpiper Resort installed the gate in a fence along 27th Street last year to keep out wheeled vehicles. Holmes Beach Commissioner John Monetti, who owns property next to the fence, raised an objection to the resulting restricted public access.

Holmes Beach contends that Sandpiper had no right to install the gate because Bradenton Beach had no authority to quitclaim the property to Sandpiper in 2008. The Holmes Beach Commission voted in October to initiate a dispute resolution proceeding against Bradenton Beach, and suggested earlier this month that Sandpiper quitclaim the northern 30 feet of the 50-foot right of way on 27th Street back to Bradenton Beach, and remove no trespassing signs and the gate.

A program for the players

That proposal will not work, because Cadence Bank, which holds Sandpiper Resort's mortgage, has advised that it will not relinquish its collateral even if the Sandpiper board agreed to the deal, Perry said, adding that the bank has retained an attorney.

The bank also has advised that the FDIC would have to sign off on any resolution involving quitclaiming a portion of the property back to Bradenton Beach, she said, adding that a title company and Sandpiper's board of directors also would have to be parties in any resolution.

Sandpiper directors had no comment on the issue, saying their board, with some newly-elected members, would meet next month. Perry said they have so far expressed an unwillingness to give up the property.

Other surrounding property owners also would have to be at the negotiating table, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said.

"It really doesn't appear that the matter can be resolved between the two municipalities," Holmes Beach City Attorney Patricia Petruff said. "No matter how much good faith we put into this, we're not going to be able to solve it."

Monetti asked Petruff to review Perry's communications with Cadence Bank before Holmes Beach officials consider the possibility of halting the intergovernmental dispute resolution process and pursuing litigation involving all parties.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen suggested that if quitclaiming the property is non-negotiable, the city and Sandpiper could negotiate for public access.

The two cities could discuss an easement as an alternative to relinquishing the property, Perry said.

Manatee County Commission Chair and former Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore suggested that Holmes Beach commissioners work out their differences with Bradenton Beach officials, saying that she had not seen this much friction between the cities in her 42 years on the Island.

Following the money

Peelen requested at a Holmes Beach Commission meeting last week that Petruff provide an accounting of how much money the city has spent on the issue so far.

The gate issue affects about 30 people, but the city is not spending the same amount of money on short-term rental problems, which have upset hundreds of residents, said Peelen, who estimated that the city had spent $3,000 as of Oct. 1 on the gate dispute.

"I think we have to know how we're spending our citizens' dollars," Peelen said.

It will cost money to answer the question, said Petruff, whose fee is $180 an hour.

Commissioners, reluctant to go to the additional expense of an accounting, asked Petruff to begin sending a separate bill to the city for work done on the gate issue beginning Jan. 1 so that commissioners can easily track spending.

Quorum problem solved

The Bradenton Beach Commission solved one problem last week by appointing Rick Gatehouse as a new commissioner.

The board had been unable to take any action on the gate issue because of the empty seat, with two of its five voting commissioners, Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler, unable to vote because they own property at Sandpiper.

Two members of the Holmes Beach commission also abstain from voting on the issue: Peelen, who owns property at Sandpiper, and Monetti, who owns property adjacent to the fence.

Cortez Bridge still on FDOT's list
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

sun phoTo/tom vaught
The Florida Department of Transportation wants
to start work this year on choosing a replacement
for the Cortez Bridge.


With the fate of the Anna Maria Island Bridge sealed, the Florida Department of Transportation is now eyeing the Cortez Bridge.

Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Executive Director Michael Howe reminded everybody an initial study of the 54-year-old drawbridge is in the works.

"A project development and environmental study (PDE) is in the works," he said. "We'll first look at a rehabilitation to make it last 10 or more years and then later a study on its replacement."

As first reported by the Anna Maria Island Sun last April, funding for a replacement PDE is in the five year MPO plan for this year.

The two drawbridges were built in 1957 and the Anna Maria Bridge, on State Road 64, was rehabbed in 2008. After that, FDOT held public hearings on its PDE on that drawbridge. The study recommended replacing it with a fixed-span bridge.

Both bridges have been the focus of strong public sentiment for more than 20 years. The local FDOT chief first came to the Island in 1993 and said the replacement of the Anna Maria Bridge with a fixed-span was imminent. The public set up an independent group, call Save Anna Maria (SAM), which fought the project in court, winning its case a year later. One reason for their victory was the state ruled FDOT had not informed the public living near the bridge of the plans.

In 2009, FDOT held hearings at St. Bernard Church on the future of the Anna Maria Bridge and concluded the 65-foot-high, fixed span would be best.

While the fate of the Anna Maria Bridge is sealed, Howe said no money was in the budget to fund the replacement. In the past, FDOT said permitting and purchasing right of way would add 10 years to the project and that is also not in the budget at this point.

Howe did not have dates or times for the Cortez Bridge hearings. He said that information would come later, possibly in the spring of this year.

Last year's news of the Cortez Bridge study drew a number of tall bridge opponents to a Manatee County Commission hearing. The Cortez Bridge is much shorter than the Anna Maria Bridge and a number of people urged FDOT to keep its replacement dimensions the same or construct a 45-foot-high drawbridge that would open to boat traffic fewer times per day, since more boats would be able to pass under it when it was not open.

City denies beach market extension
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

sun photo/Tom Vaught
This Sunday is the last day for the Beach
Market inside this chickee hut.


BRADENTON BEACH – The Beach Market held in the chickee hut at Bridge Street Café on Sundays will not be around after this Sunday.

After listening to 10 people talk for and against the market, the city commission failed to get a motion to extend permission for the market past its January trial period.

Complaints about the market, which operates at about the same time as the Bridge Street Market each Sunday, outnumbered the pro comments during public discussion, but there were eight letters in favor of the market presented to commissioners at the meeting last Thursday afternoon.

Barbara Hook, who lives in a condo across the street from the café, spoke about seeing strangers on their property. She said they saw kids testing door locks on parked cars late at night and feels it is fallout from the strangers the market brings. Hook said they also had problems with people parking illegally.

Caryn Hodge, a members of the Bridge Street Merchants, which sponsors the Bridge Street Market, said she saw a car almost cause an accident two weeks ago by making an illegal u-turn in the street to be able to park on the side of Gulf Drive and unload merchandise for the market.

"One policeman said it was an accident waiting to happen," she said, adding she saw people crossing the street in four different locations, including the crosswalk.

"I think it's hurting all the businesses in Bradenton Beach because it's keeping people from wanting to come down here," Hodge added.

Jennifer Kambitsis, co-owner of The Gathering Place restaurant across the street, said they were seeing people park illegally in their lot and when she tried to get them to move, they got nasty with her.

"They told me they would never eat at my restaurant again, and I told them I didn't care where they ate as long as they moved their cars," she said.

Eileen Suhre, who complained to the city commission at an earlier meeting about the addition of establishments that sell alcohol on Bridge Street, said she is in favor of keeping the beach market.

"You can take those people who are walking by your property and replace them with our Bridge Street Drunks," she said.

Bridge Street Merchants President JoAnn Meilner said she had gotten calls from people complaining about the traffic. She said her husband tried to drive to the Bridge Street Market once and had to turn around, go home and use their boat to get there.

Former City Commissioner Janie Robertson said she observed people littering the area, including the beach, and using the bathrooms of neighboring businesses.

Gulf Drive Café Manager Peter Barreda summed up his opinion.

"Gulf Drive Café has done everything asked of it," he said. "We clean the beach, we keep our restaurant clean, we have restrooms," he said. "Bridge Street Market has none.

"I'm a citizen of this city, and I'm very proud of my city," he added. "Everything we do is for the city. It's all about competition. We have a right to operate."

Following the competition, Commissioner Jan Vosburgh moved to deny the extension. Commissioner Ed Straight seconded the motion, but the motion failed for a lack of a second. Commissioner Gay Breuler moved to allow the extension, but there was no second. According to City Attorney Ricinda Perry, the commission failed to extend the deadline, so the market ends on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Market organizer Nancy Ambrose expressed disappointment in the vote.

"During the public comment, I kept wondering what event they are talking about as I have been there every Sunday, and I have never seen some of the things that were mentioned as problems," she said. "I also strongly feel that the market does not bring a bad element to the area; the people that have come to the market are terrific, and I appreciate each and every person that has come out."

She said she was thankful to the city commission and mayor for letting them try the market for December and January.

"I feel that Gulf Drive Cafe is really trying to make the Island an even more special place for our residents and visitors," she said. "I applaud them for that and thank them also for asking me to help them with the market."

Concerts in the Park begin Friday

HOLMES BEACH – The first in a series of free, monthly Concerts in the Park begins Friday, Jan. 27, from 5 to 10 p.m. at the Holmes Beach Pavilion in the field next to city hall.

Concertgoers will enjoy live music by Highway 41 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Shotgun Justice from 7 to 10 p.m., with D.J. Chris Grumley from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and in between sets.

The event also will feature an arts and crafts show with 18 artists, a children's area with a rock wall, bounce house, inflatable slide and an outdoor showing of "Finding Nemo" and seven food vendors, including Paradise Bagels & Café, The Waterfront, Island Gourmet, Fusion, Pete's A Place, Philly's Finest Bakers, Johnny's Bad Dogs, Tyler's Ice Cream and Miller Snack Foods, according to event organizer Cindy Thompson.

The concerts will feature a variety of music, including string, jazz, big band, southern rock, blues, reggae and appropriate rap, she said, adding that local musicians, including school bands, will have a place to showcase their talent.

"We can support our local artists, crafters, retail, restaurants and more by creating an event that will drive business to their 'bricks and mortar' businesses throughout the year," Thompson said.

Eighty percent of the net proceeds of the event will be donated to not-for-profit organizations "important to sustaining and responsibly promoting our unique little slice of paradise," said Thompson, who is organizing the event with John Secor through Islandfestivals Inc., a new event planning business, which will keep the other 20 percent of the net proceeds.

Islandfestivals will partner with different not-for-profit groups for each concert, she said. In addition to 80 percent of the proceeds after expenses, which include a city permit fee, wages for bands, an off-duty law enforcement officer, alcoholic beverages, insurance, electricity and children's area equipment, all tips will be donated to the not-for-profit group, which this month is the Bridge Street Merchants, she said.

Non-alcoholic beverage sales proceeds will be donated to the Anna Maria Island Community Center teen program, Thompson said.

The idea for Concerts in the Park came from people who expressed a desire for a monthly event in Holmes Beach similar to Music on Main in Lakewood Ranch and First Fridays in Bradenton, Thompson said, adding, "I enjoy organizing these events. I have a decade of contacts and a desire to do it."

Thompson previously worked for 15 years planning events for the Anna Maria Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, and is the owner of Paradise Bagels in Holmes Beach.

Concerts in the Park will be held the last Friday of each month from 5-10 p.m. at the Holmes Beach Pavilion. The event is sponsored by The Anna Maria Island Sun.

Music sponsors are Walsh Productions, Bullseye Indoor Pistol Range, SteamDesigns and 12th and East Home.

The city of Holmes Beach will not supply any funding for the event, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said.

The city commission voted last October to refuse to allow a flea market in front of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce each Sunday from November through April.

Val Gratias, of Bradenton, who had planned to sell jewelry at the flea market, declined to participate in Concerts in the Park because "the commission was unanimous that Holmes Beach has enough events. The commission is opposed to the traffic drawn to the area by these events, especially any events scheduled on a regular basis," she wrote in an e-mail to the city commission on Jan. 5, which Commissioner Jean Peelen brought up at a commission meeting last week, saying, "We voted against one, but not the other."

The two events differ because the flea market would have been once a week, downtown, where parking is a concern, while Concerts in the Park is once a month, with more room for parking, Commissioner John Monetti said.

Going to the dogs?

Cindy Lane | Sun
A pack of Havanese takes a break at Birdie
Tebbetts Field, from left, Tia, Kirby, Teddy and Darby.

HOLMES BEACH – Dog owners want to change Birdie Tebbetts Field from a ball field/dog park to a dog park/ball field.

The fenced field, named for the late Anna Maria Island resident George "Birdie" Tebbetts, a professional baseball player, manager and scout, is designated as a ball field, but if no one is playing ball, dogs are allowed to run off leash.

Ball players should not be allowed to chase dogs and their owners off the field, Holmes Beach resident Forest Longworth told the Holmes Beach Commission last week.

"Our dogs need exercise," agreed Barbara Parkman, whose Shih Tzu enjoys the park.

"Maybe it is time to take a second look," said former Holmes Beach mayor and present Manatee County Commission Chair Carol Whitmore, whose husband takes their dog to the park daily.

Dogs are as much recreation as baseball, said Whitmore, urging both dog owners and ball players to "play nice in the sandbox."

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen offered a solution, suggesting that dog owners should not have to leave for a couple of ball players, but only for a game scheduled by reservation at city hall.

Ball teams, not individual players, could be required to sign up to use the field for a certain length of time, and the dates and times could be posted on the fence, Commissioner Pat Morton suggested.

The Holmes Beach Police Department could take reservations, similar to signing up skateboard park users, Commissioner Sandra Haas-Martens said.

Resident Renee Ferguson suggested requiring ball reservations for a year's trial period, and if there are no reservations, the city could save money by discontinuing fertilizer and pesticide application on the field.

Dog park user Sean Doogan suggested reserving the field for ball in spring, and as a dog park in summer, fall and winter.

Holmes Beach resident Jeannie Hudkins wrote the commission recently asking the city to designate the field as a dog park.

"At least 100 people (and their dogs) use that field every single day for exercise and interaction," she wrote.

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger has said that the ball field must maintain its status because it is listed in the city's comprehensive plan as part of its recreational element, and private donors and the Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department contributed funds for the field with the agreement that people would always be able to play ball there.

Rex Hagen, who, with his late wife Helen, provided funds for the park, should be consulted about any change in use, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said.

The commission made no decision on the issue, but plans to continue discussions at an upcoming meeting.

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