Former Anna Maria Mayor Gary Deffenbaugh implores commissioners at the Jan. 31 city meeting to reduce height limits on new construction to 27 feet. Deffenbaugh was mayor 1999-2001. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
The past week was a roller coaster ride for Anna Maria commissioners and residents. Some longtime residents said it’s just the city getting back to its wild and crazy past.
On Jan. 24, commissioners approved a motion to enforce a minimum of 30-day stay for vacation homes, among other limits.
Following an uproar from those who own vacation homes, commissioners held an emergency meeting Jan. 29 and rescinded the restriction. At the same meeting, commissioners agreed to meet weekly until they find solutions to the myriad issues surrounding rentals and new construction in the city.
The first of the weekly meetings took place Jan. 31 and commissioners reached a consensus for an immediate administrative moratorium on new construction, while city attorney Jim Dye prepares an ordinance to enact a moratorium.
Commissioner Nancy Yetter was not at the meeting, but she had sent an email asking that moratorium discussion be delayed.
The commission’s action preempted her request.
Commissioners agreed that building permit applications already “in the pipeline” at city hall would not be affected by the moratorium.
After hearing numerous residents plead for a reduction from the present 37 feet to a 27-foot building height restriction, commissioners agreed, telling city planner Alan Garrett to prepare an ordinance reducing the limit for future permitting, essentially eliminating new three-story homes.
Mayor SueLynn was concerned that would be considered a “taking” of property rights and, with city attorney Jim Dye absent, asked Commissioner Chuck Webb, an attorney, for his opinion.
Webb said “each case is different” and it would be difficult to give an opinion on how a height restriction might affect someone. Essentially, he said, a private citizen would have to prove the height limit resulted in “a taking” of his or her property rights.
If current building permit applications stay in the pipeline and the city moves fast with a new height ordinance, Webb said it would halt future mega-homes, but he could not definitively say the city would never be sued.
“It’s a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Future homes could also be limited to a living area of 40 percent of the lot size, said Garrett, and commissioners agreed. For a 5,000-square-foot lot, that would provide 2,000 square feet of living area, Garrett noted.
“That’s big enough,” said Commissioner Gene Aubry, an architect.
One resident after another, including former Mayor Gary Deffenbaugh, spoke in favor of a 27-foot height limit.
Commission Chair John Quam agreed that changing the height limit is a good start to halting the influx of multi-bedroom vacation rentals.
“People have been coming here and building mega-homes, living in them for a year and then selling them,” he said. Those large houses were then turned into vacation rentals, attracting more than the usual number of guests to an accommodation, he said.
Commissioner Dale Woodland also was concerned with rowdy renters, who create noise and nuisance problems for city residents living adjacent to party houses.
“That’s what we’re trying to solve,” Quam said, but the issues are inter-related and not all can be solved at one meeting.
Woodland wanted the commission to establish a priority list of problems, and to direct code enforcement to immediately address them.
Quam, however, said that’s the mayor’s job. Commissioners can go directly to the mayor with complaints, he noted, adding SueLynn has been working with Sgt. Paul Davis, the new head of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria substation, to improve enforcement.
Webb said he was involved with Dye and the MCSO in establishing new guidelines for deputies to handle complaints.
He said deputies will respond to a complaint of loud noise or a rowdy party. If necessary, deputies will issue a citation and pass the violation to code enforcement.
Resident Mike Coleman, principal with Pine Avenue Restorations, including vacation rental properties, suggested property managers and owners should be liable for code citations.
Webb said many rental agencies, including those operated by Larry Chatt and Mike Brinson, are willing to work with the city, but a few are ignoring the policies established in November and adopted by Chatt, Brinson, the mayor and others.
The city might consider establishing a licensing ordinance to track vacation homes because, Webb said, renting a home is a commercial venture and the city can require businesses to obtain a license and have it posted in a conspicuous location on the property.
Code enforcement officers already have a database of almost 500 rental properties and corresponding owners and managers, but requiring a license for each vacation rental would provide names and contact information for owners of vacation rentals.
SueLynn said she would look at a license code for businesses and report back to the commission.
“But we need the public to help,” Webb said, and the mayor noted the new attitude of MCSO deputies toward nuisances.
Webb urged the public to call the MCSO number with complaints. The new policy will result in action by deputies and code enforcement officers. If a member of the public feels they were ignored in making a complaint, he urged them to come to city hall and make that known.
Other issues related to vacation rentals and new construction will be addressed at the next workshop, Quam said, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria.