Growth management tops debate for Bradenton Beach candidates
The largest field of candidates in recent Bradenton Beach history each explained their platforms and answered questions before about 30 residents at The Islander"s candidate roundtable Saturday.
The election is Nov. 4. Candidates for the three vacant ward seats must live within their district but are elected citywide. Mayoral candidates may live anywhere within the city, and are also elected citywide.
Three candidates are seeking the office of mayor: incumbent John Chappie, Vice Mayor Bill Arnold and Commissioner Dawn Baker.
Chappie, 51, is a 30-year resident of the city, and has been involved in a variety of city issues for 19 years, including stints on the planning and zoning board and the city"s Community Redevelopment Agency. He was elected without opposition to the Ward 4 seat in 1997, was re-elected in 1999, and was elected mayor in 2001.
He is owner of a lawn care and landscape company and has been active on city beautification boards and is also a co-founder of the Christmas Prelude.
"Bradenton Beach has always been a small-town residential resort community where the trees are taller than the buildings," Chappie said. "I want us to retain that unique charm. We are faced with growth management issues that we never dreamed of 30 years ago."
Arnold, 73, has been politically active in Bradenton Beach since 1991, serving on the city"s board of adjustment for five years before taking the position as commissioner representing Ward 1 in 1998. He has been vice-mayor for two years.
He retired after 20 years in the aerospace industry, and spent more than two years in the restaurant business.
"We need to have some money allocated to the citizens of Bradenton Beach to upgrade," Arnold said. "The pier is a disgrace and needs updating, money needs to be set aside for drainage, and our parks need attention."
Baker, 53, moved to the city in 1991, and served on the city"s planning and zoning board before taking office to represent Ward 2 four years ago. She previously worked for the Orlando International Airport, in part within the planning and development department.
"I was able to change the city"s recycling center from a cost center to a revenue center," Baker said, "and we will go forward with a curbside recycling program, and I feel I was the impetus for that. I was appalled to see our property values go up 24 percent in one year, and I think it is an artificial increase and that things will flatten out."
The Ward 1 position has Rick Bisio and John Shaughnessy facing each other on the ballot.
Bisio, 38, moved to the city in 2000. He has a business background, working on putting together relationships between corporations and individuals. He has served on the city"s planning and zoning board for 18 months, and was instrumental in receiving $30,000 in in-kind contributions for the redesign of Herb Dolan North Park at 25th Street North.
"My number one priority is implementing the vision plan," Bisio said. "It will be a full-time job."
Shaughnessy, 69, moved to the city last year after vacationing here for 23 years. He was involved in the transportation industry and owned his own travel business and readily admits he has "no political background, but I have a desire to make this place better." Shaughnessy was also involved in the resident purchase of the Sandpiper Mobile Resort earlier this year.
"Everyone has Bradenton Beach in mind for the betterment, we"re just all on different roads to get there," he said, adding that "we need written accountability for how all the money is being spent."
Tricia Otto and Lisa Marie Phillips are candidates seeking the Ward 2 seat on the commission.
Otto, 27, is an interior designer who "lives, works and is a taxpayer in Bradenton Beach." She is a volunteer at Tingley Memorial Library and a member of the Manatee County Art League.
"I"m interesting in seeing a balance between the environment and the economy," Otto said. "My major issue is recycling, and I"d like to make sure that it is something the residents can have. I"m concerned about the tax increase last year, and I would like to see a fair taxation implication."
Phillips, 41, is a 27-year resident of Bradenton Beach and a working mother. She serves on the board of directors for the non-profit Sarasota Manatee Association of Riding Therapy, and is a certified grant writer and project manager.
"I think the city is in a crisis due to overbuilding and overdevelopment," Phillips said. "It needs a real strong shaking up, and that"s why I"m here. Serious and bad precedents have been set, and somebody has to be strong to say no.
"Growth for the sake of growth, with things getting bigger and bigger, is the same definition as cancer," she said, "and cancer, if left unchecked, kills its host."
Ward 3 has incumbent Commissioner Scott Barr facing Peter Barreda for the position.
Barr, 34, is a lifelong Island resident. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission in mid-2002 and has served on the commission since. He is the city"s liaison with the Anna Maria Island Community Center and the Bradenton Beach City Pier. He is involved in the Holiday Heights Civic Association and management committee and is involved in Safe Place Inc. He is a real estate broker.
"The city faces some really scary issues," Barr said. "I want to control growth here. There were times when I was a kid and couldn"t take my bike to Bridge Street for obvious safety reasons, but that has all changed. Some people see changes that are positive, some see changes that are a blemishment. Our taxes have risen, but the city taxes have gone down.
Barreda, 42, moved to the city 30 years ago. He has worked in the hospitality business, starting with the former Trader Jack"s restaurant in Bradenton Beach, and served as a consultant in the industry around the world. He is the owner of Cortez Kitchen.
"I love this city," Barreda said. "I think that our trees are no longer higher than our buildings. I want to keep families intact and not have them run out of the city because our taxes are too high. It was a great place to grow up. If you wonder why no one gets involved in anything, it"s because no one knows each other anymore, and I"d like to change that."
Candidates varied on the stance on a variety of issues posed by The Islander.
The biggest campaign issue in Bradenton Beach is growth management, and the matter has coalesced into a non-binding referendum question: "Are you in favor of eliminating R-3 zoning in the City of Bradenton Beach, in perpetuity? Yes or no."
The R-3 designation is the highest level of residential zoning use in the city. According to city codes, R-3 is a multi-family tourist use which allows up to 28 hotel-motel units per acre, or 22 efficiency, one- or two-bedroom uses per acre, excepting three-bedroom units, which are capped at 16 units per acre.
Candidate responses to the issue were varied.
Mayor candidate Arnold said he still had questions on the matter. "I haven"t made up my mind yet because I still have questions on it. I may not vote at all" on the referendum.
Mayoral candidate Baker said she "did not favor it. The issue of property rights has to be discussed with developers, citizens and lawyers. I don"t know if we want to eliminate it, but I think the question is where the R-3 is located."
Mayoral candidate Chappie said "I will vote against eliminating R-3."
Ward 1's Bisio said "I will vote for it. It is an opinion, a direction we should go into, but the devil is in the details and I expect any execution will be challenging."
Ward 1's Shaughnessy said he "favored eliminating [R-3] unless someone can convince me otherwise."
Ward 2's Otto said she was "not in favor of eliminating all R-3. I think it should be addressed on a case-by-case basis."
Ward 2's Phillips said she was "absolutely in favor of doing away with R-3. You have to take a stand and do away with the end-runs. Anna Maria did it, and it"s time for us to do it."
Ward 3's Barr said "if I had to vote today I would lean toward no. Every time I get an answer to one question, four more pop up."
Ward 3's Barreda said "yes. I want to stop the condos in this city, stop R-3 and stop overdevelopment."
As a corollary to the R-3 debate, should the city compensate property owners within the R-3 zone if the higher density allowed there is diminished?
Arnold said "I"ve been told it will devalue the property and we could have lawsuits" if the R-3 zone is abolished. "I don"t know. That"s why I wanted to have workshops on it."
Baker said "I don"t believe it would diminish anyone"s value and I see no need to compensate."
Chappie said downzoning "could diminish property value. If we do downzone, I would hope we would do so in a proper legal fashion and the city would not have to compensate."
Bisio said "I can"t think of many instances where it would not decrease the value of property. Will the city be liable? I sure hope not. We need to look at this where the city is not liable, otherwise, it could bankrupt the entire city.
Shaughnessy said "I don"t believe it devalues property at all. I don"t plan on selling, and if I"m not going to move, what difference does it make?"
Otto said "it would definitely diminish property values and there would be consequences."
Phillips said "I don"t think you would have to compensate anyone. Perhaps there could be incentives, like tax incentives, for single-family structures."
Barr said "yes, it would devalue property, and yes, it would open the city to liability, and yes, I hope the city takes a direction where we don"t have to compensate."
Barreda said "no. You can build some nice duplexes that would conform to the land codes."
All candidates opposed the creation of another roundabout at the Cortez Road-Gulf Drive intersection, although all agreed that such a traffic device at Gulf Drive near the Leffis Key-Coquina Beach intersection would be worth pursuing.
All candidates also agreed that consolidation of services between the three Island cities Ñ to a point Ñ was a good idea pursuing. The question allowed several people to laud the city"s public works, sanitation and police departments.
To close the roundtable, candidates were given an opportunity to ask their challengers a question. Few availed themselves of the opportunity.
Phillips asked Otto if her connection to the Bradenton Beach Club Ñ she lives, works and pays taxes there Ñ would give her a vested interest in the project as a commissioner. Otto said no.
Barreda asked Barr what he believed was the number one asset of Bradenton Beach. Barr said "ambiance."
Barr asked Barreda if the R-3 zone were abolished, what would replace it? Barreda said he was against R-3.