Despite an impassioned plea from one commissioner and numerous residents to consider “a pause” in duplex construction in the city of Holmes Beach, three commissioners at a Feb. 28 work session weighed in against the measure.
While Anna Maria city commissioners had voted a week earlier to take steps toward a moratorium to address short-term rental problems, Holmes Beach commissioners decided instead to continue studying the issue.
Commission Chair David Zaccagnino told a gallery of about 40 people in city chambers that a moratorium is the “most extreme” action a municipality can take, because it suspends property rights and, if enacted, he feared “threats of lawsuits.”
Zaccagnino said builders informed him there were “less than 20” duplex lots remaining in the city where two new homes could be built. New construction has been blamed for the proliferation in recent years of multiple-story, multi-family short-term rental units.
“A lot of people are not here who pound the nails,” said Commissioner Pat Morton, who with Commissioners Sandy Haas-Martens and Zaccagnino pointed out some people may be intimidated by remarks from the gallery to speak out.
Commission John Monetti said he opposed a moratorium.
Commissioner Jean Peelen, who called for the moratorium along with some speakers who addressed the commission, disputed Zaccagnino’s count of buildable duplex lots.
“I’m horrified that it’s going to keep on happening,” Peelen said, as she called for a moratorium as “a pause in the issuance of permits for multi-story duplexes,” to allow the commission to finish studying the issue and make needed policy changes without a flood of more permit applications.
“My major concern is, while there are no applications in the pipeline now for multi-story duplex new construction, there could be multiple applications for such submitted at any time” before we finish “studying the issue,” she said.
Earlier this year, Zaccagnino asked each commission member to form a focus group to study various problems related to resort housing. The groups are expected to make recommendations regarding changes in the city’s regulations on building, zoning, permitting, code enforcement and rental contracts by the end of April.
“I have a lot of these on my street,” said Barbara Marcheck of 66th Street, in support of Peelen’s position. “I don’t want another one. They are changing our character. Our land development codes are just too lenient. This is a dire situation.”
Pam Leckie of Gulf Drive said she lives across from the R-2 zoned district where multi-story duplexes are allowed. She “implored” commissioners to “fish or cut bait.”
She said increased traffic alone is cause for commissioners to consider imposing a moratorium.
“You’re in a hornet’s nest,” said Tom Sabo of 68th Street. “Builders, for the most part, do a great job. Just a few of the builders ruin it for the rest of us.”
Patty Sabo said she believed the commissioners were trying to pass the buck, and she, like Peelen and several other speakers, challenged Zaccagnino’s count of remaining duplex lots.
They insisted teardowns of existing duplexes also contribute to the issue and there are many more than 20 ground-level, older properties that could be rebuilt as multi-family rental homes.
Zaccagnino appeared to focus on vacant lots.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, formerly mayor and commissioner for 16 years in Holmes Beach, asked the commissioners to reconsider their positions. She recommended commissioners take a “deep breath,” “step back” and listen to its residents because, “all these people are freaking out.”
In other work session matters, commissioners asked the city attorney to prepare an amended outdoor dining ordinance that will require commission review of establishments considering adding more than eight seats for outdoor dining, and to abolish the annual permit and accompanying $100 fee.
The present outdoor dining ordinance was approved in 2008, and requires the mayor or mayor’s designee to approve an initial permit after review of a site plan showing the location of the dining area to be compatible with existing surrounding properties and neighborhood.
Commissioner Morton said he is seeking a change as a result more additions to its outdoor seating by Martini Bistro-Fins Bar, 5337 Gulf Drive, “snarling traffic” and creating a hardship for nearby merchants due to the overflow of parking into their lots.
Also at the work session, the commissioners directed the mayor to move forward on a recent $8,291 fence bid to redesign the city’s Birdie Tebbetts Field at 62nd Street and Flotilla Drive, despite comments from residents that opposed spending city funding to improve a ball field that has seen little use in the past three years.
Zaccagnino proposed a dog park be created by reducing the ball field size and adding a new fence in the outfield after hearing from dog owners in January who wanted a new field policy and signage change to allow them to exercise their dogs at the field.
Zaccagnino claimed shared use of the field by ball players and dog owners and dogs created a greater liability for the city.
Bonner Joy, editor and publisher of The Islander, reminded commissioners dog owners had requested sharing the field, not simultaneous use. She said she’d rather see the $9,000 spent for lights on the field.
Another resident, Dawn Wash, said it’s a Babe Ruth field and those “kids don’t use it” because they get home in the winter-spring baseball season at 4:30 p.m. and “by the time they’re able to use the field, it’s dark.”
Zaccagnino said the commission was not spending money for the kids, but for the dog owners. He claimed sharing the field “is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Commissioner Haas-Martens pointed out the ball field use needed to remain as part of the city’s land development code and comprehensive plan.
“With all due respect, I’m with Bonner on this issue …,” Whitmore said. “This (dog park use) is recreation that would suffice” under both plans, Whitmore said, and “I think you should keep it simple, keep it as it is.”
She also said the city has greater liability at the skate park than from a dog park.