Anna Maria meeting is ‘wild about Harry’
Anna Maria City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus got his wish Jan. 21 with a special commission meeting he requested the previous day. He may also have gotten his wish to discuss the Pine Avenue Restoration LLC site plan for 216 Pine Ave. Although not an agenda item, discussion of the plan took up a considerable amount of meeting time.
The meeting was not without other controversy as are many Anna Maria meetings now. Not everyone was “Wild about Harry,” as tempers flared at the start.
Mayor Fran Barford read a prepared statement, saying in part that the short-notice of the meeting was very “troublesome” to a small city staff that was required to stop regular work on Wednesday to prepare for a special meeting on Thursday.
“This is cumbersome and time-consuming on the staff and, in my opinion, as the mayor/city manager, this agenda doesn’t seem to be an emergency issue.”
But the staff is dedicated to adhering to commission requests and regulations, and is “committed and willing to work with the elected officials” on any changes the commission desires.
That didn’t sit well with Stoltzfus, who said he was “not going to accept this explanation from the administration.”
Stoltzfus called for the firing of city planner Alan Garrett, claiming that for the past three years, Garrett wrote codes and made decisions that were improper or incorrect. He alleged that Garrett made mistakes on the last six site-plan applications.
“I’m not saying he’s incompetent, I’m saying I’d like to call for Mr. Garrett’s resignation,” Stoltzfus said. Failing that, he called upon the mayor to dismiss Garrett.
Barford said that was not going to happen.
Garrett was not invited to the meeting.
Commissioner Chuck Webb jumped into the fray, expressing concerns about proper notice of the meeting.
More time is given to notice a meeting as the issue becomes more important, Webb said. Twenty-four hours is insufficient notice for such important issues as revising land-development regulations to be consistent with the comp plan, he said.
Webb, an attorney, said he had appointments with clients throughout the day. He moved to continue the discussions to another day and time, but the motion failed. Webb and Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick voted for continuance, while Stoltzfus, Commission Chair John Quam and Commissioner Dale Woodland were against.
Webb said the special meeting by Stoltzfus was a “tactic” and a “waste of time.” He closed his notebook and left the dais.
Stoltzfus responded that it was not a tactic or a waste of his time, and he was exercising his right as a city commissioner.
He told Webb, “You may leave,” which prompted Webb to stop in his steps halfway to the door and stare back at Stoltzfus for several seconds. Quam used the gavel to ask for the meeting to continue.
216 Pine discussion
Stoltzfus then moved to Pine Avenue Restoration’s site-plan application at 216 Pine Ave., although that issue was not on the meeting agenda. The plan is presently under consideration by the planning and zoning board, which continued a public hearing from Jan. 19 to Feb. 23.
“We narrowly dodged a bullet” at the P&Z board’s hearing, Stoltzfus claimed.
The P&Z board voted 4-3 to continue the hearing on 216 Pine Ave., rather than vote on the plan that night.
Stoltzfus said the city is in a “total mess” with a number of issues to address quickly, including parking at ROR projects on Pine Avenue.
He said the city has to institute land-development regulations to protect its residents, and the commission can’t allow any more site-plan approvals that do not comply with the comp plan. He said he hopes the site plan for 216 Pine will come to the commission for approval rather than the P&Z board.
Quam suggested the commission stick to the agenda, but asked city attorney Jim Dye about halting P&Z approval or denial of all site plans until the city code has been reviewed and changed. The city commission previously discussed taking back from P&Z final approval of site plans of major impact.
Dye said the commission could do that through the ordinance procedures, but, as he did many times during the meeting, he also said any change would likely not apply to 216 Pine Ave.
That site plan calls for back-out parking, which Stoltzfus maintains is not allowed under city code. Dye said the commission policy since 1996 has been to allow back-out parking in all zoning districts.
Woodland said he was concerned that the codes are not being followed, but was not interested in halting the process for 216 Pine Ave.
If the code does not allow backing out across a right of way, it should be followed, he said.
Dye again pointed out that back-out parking has been allowed since 1996, likely even longer. The code applies to not just the retail-office-residential district, but residential areas. Many areas in Florida allow back-out parking across a right of way, he said.
“Have we gone wrong?” asked Woodland.
Not really, responded Dye. Talking about whether back-out parking should be continued is a good policy discussion, he said.
Dye said the commission could consider what has changed with parking that makes back-out parking unacceptable.
What has changed, Quam indicated, that the number of ROR developments and site plans have increased in recent years.
Woodland agreed he was not interested in addressing previously approved projects, but said the city “can’t continue what we’ve been doing since 1996. We need to address it and address it now and see the code revised.”
Dye said the current code does not define “backing out” or a “backing maneuver” for parking. This issue and others with parking are policy decisions the commission can make.
Stoltzfus brought up site-plan approvals for PAR projects at 315 and 317 Pine Ave., noting that both of these have back-out parking. In his opinion, the site-plan should not have been approved and the project is “illegal,” although he later modified that to say “not in compliance” with city code.
Stoltzfus also questioned how sidewalks were approved at various ROR site-plans submitted by PAR. He claimed that the city “got scammed” at 315 and 317 Pine Ave. by Garrett.
But city building official Bob Welch explained that paths leading from parking spots to the building are not the same as the sidewalks defined and required in city codes.
Vehicles should have been required to enter and park into a parking space and back out in a parking lot, not across the right of way, Stoltzfus said.
And he again asked the commission to address the driveway issue at 216 Pine Ave. “I don’t think time is on our side. We are going to see 216 being done before the policy changes. We need to make a policy change before it comes back to P&Z.”
Dye, however, again said it was not likely that any changes made to the site-plan review process by the commission would apply to 216 Pine Ave.
Quam next expressed his concerns about discussing 216 Pine at the meeting.
He asked Dye if it was appropriate for the commission to be talking about 216 Pine Ave., when the commission might have to hear an appeal if the P&Z board denies approval of the site plan.
Yes, that could be a problem, said Dye.
Stoltzfus, however, did not want to relent. “We are at risk” if 216 Pine Ave. gets approved, he indicated.
Attorney Ricinda Perry, representing PAR, said if the city changes its policy now and applies it to PAR, there could be legal issues.
She said she has worked with the commission on many previous issues and never encountered a “personal vendetta.” The direction of the discussion against PAR and the 216 site-plan, however, was “not fair” to her client, she said.
And Mike Coleman of PAR spoke, defending his site plan.
“We have done everything to comply. We have done less than we could build. I live in this city full-time and I want to move forward” and not into a lawsuit, he said.
Quam said the commission already has plans to discuss the parking and traffic circulation elements of Chapter 90 of the land-development regulations at its Feb. 11 meeting.
Lobeck law firm wants to help city
Attorney Jeremy Anderson of the law firm of Lobeck and Hanson, who represents Fred and Barbara Nally of 110 Spring Ave., Anna Maria, sent a letter by fax to Anna Maria Jan. 21 offering assistance.
Anderson said the position of city planner Alan Garrett and city attorney Jim Dye is “completely unreasonable and contrary to law” with regard to residential density in the retail-office-residential district.
“If the city continues down this path, it risks exposure to expensive legal action,” Anderson wrote.
To avoid “such action,” Anderson recommended the city retain the services of a third-party attorney and planner to review the issue.
“In order to ensure a fair and balanced review of this issue, I recommend that the city choose an attorney and planner with the assistance of this firm,” Anderson wrote.
That would eliminate the “appearance of bias as is currently being felt throughout your community,” he concluded.
Lobeck and Hanson is based in Sarasota.
The letter was offered to Dye for review.