State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, greets Jack Smulowitz of Anna Maria Island before a town meeting sponsored by The Islander Feb. 27 at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Concerns about House Bill 883 — a state law widely criticized for usurping home rule authority with respect to rentals — dominated a Feb. 28 town hall meeting in Holmes Beach, featuring state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the status quo is not working,” Galvano said of HB 883.
Galvano listed other challenges going into a new legislative session, including:
• Medicaid funding against the backdrop of the new federal Affordable Care Act.
• The troubled citrus industry.
• Interstate and in-state water issues.
• Revitalizing the housing industry.
• Supporting technology education and businesses.
• Encouraging economic diversification.
Galvano was elected to the senate in November after a two-year hiatus from political office. A Bradenton attorney, he represents 500,000 people in seven counties, including Manatee. He previously served the four-term limit — eight years — in the Florida House of Representatives.
Introducing the topic of HB 883, Galvano said it was time to look at a repeal or modification of the law, balanced with a concern for property rights. He said his main focus will be “working with the people of District 26.”
Galvano told about 25 who gathered in Holmes Beach City Hall that he understood Anna Maria Island’s concerns, having lived on the island, and that he’s spoken to many county and city officials as well as citizens who tell him developers and investors are taking advantage of the island.
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said, “It seems like a small group of people — five or six — are exploiting the rules.”
Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino added, “But the investors are vast in number,” and estimated the cash flow of some rentals at $7,000 a week.
Holmes Beach Commission Chair Jean Peelen said she favored a repeal of House Bill 883 because of its “assault on home rule.”
“It just grabbed the power from everyone in Florida,” and allowed Holmes Beach developers to bust residential neighborhoods, she said.
Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti and Commissioners Judy Titsworth and Marvin Grossman, elected last November, ran on a platform to stop rental abuses and construction-related problems.
After the meeting, Galvano said “it was his inclination” that the bill should be repealed, but before introducing a repeal bill he’d first research how it impacts the rest of the state.
“883 has made it very difficult for communities — especially Anna Maria — to manage its own destiny. I am going to look into the option of repealing the bill,” he said.
Galvano told those gathered Feb. 28, “For me it’s the bigger issue. It drives me crazy when Washington tells you what it wants.”
With 883, “it’s a little different, but the same concept. It goes back to favoring the government closest to the people,” he said.
Monti said he’s hoping to turn around a 20 percent population loss on the island, and said the repeal of HB 883 would assist the city in its quest to maintain and bring back residents.
Titsworth said the cities’ hands were tied by the legislation, that officials can’t rezone to correct the rental imbalance.
She also pointed out the island is supported by one major two-lane road, and increased tourism is causing a loss of winter snowbirds — six-month visitors.
“I don’t see any amendment. I see a repeal that’s needed,” Titsworth said.
Grossman gave Galvano a drawing he made of crowded three-story homes to remind him of the plight of Holmes Beach.
Some in the audience agreed Anna Maria Island might be one of the few remaining areas in Florida lacking high-rises and the transformation to primarily vacation rentals.
At stake is the island’s “small town feel,” with its active community, school, churches, museum and community center, according to an attendee who identified herself as a year-round resident.
Holmes Beach resident Terry Parker said, “The real issue here is our fragile island. We’re losing our permanent population, with people knocking down one house and building two.”
Holmes Beach resident Marie Franklin, owner of a real estate sales and rental company in Anna Maria, favored the repeal of HB 833.
“We’ve disciplined our tenants,” notifying them of city rules, she said. Franklin also favored penalizing owners whose tenants don’t comply.
“We had a nice balance for years, and didn’t need the rules. Something has to change in order to see a return of residents,” she added.
Local investor Miriam Martin of Bradenton, who owns two old Florida homes in Holmes Beach, acknowledged AMI’s rental problems, but worries the pendulum could swing too far in the other direction, and impact local investors who pay taxes, have responsible tenants and contribute to the local economy.