Monthly Archives: November 2016

Commissioners agree to revise Anna Maria’s liquor ordinance

Anna Maria commissioners agreed May 23 to change the city liquor ordinance, which presently prohibits restaurants that opened after 1987 from selling mixed drinks and alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine.

Waterfront Restaurant owner Jason Suzor proposed that restaurants allowed to only serve beer and wine be given a five-year probationary period to sell liquor.

Suzor suggested that restaurants be required to maintain a minimum of 60 percent of sales from food and no more than 40 percent from liquor.

Suzor, who has owned the Waterfront since 2002, said the city presently only allows restaurants — with the exception of the Sandbar — to serve beer and wine. He said many of his customers have expressed a desire to have a mixed drink, such as martinis and margaritas, but his restaurant is limited by the city as to what it serves.

The state, not the city, regulates liquor licenses. A special SRX license allows restaurants with 150 seats and meeting a number of other provisions, including deriving 51 percent of its revenue from food and non-alcoholic beverages, to qualify for a license.

Other restaurants obtain a quota license, which are limited in quantity according to county population, and are bought and sold much like real estate.

The city further limits the locations and hours of liquor service.

Commissioners agreed that changes are needed and they will discuss Suzor’s ideas in a workshop with the goal to allow city attorney Jim Dye and city planner Alan Garrett to draft an ordinance.

Dye said it likely would be a long process to reach a final ordinance, but Suzor said anything is better than the present situation.

Neighbors of the Waterfront expressed concern that Suzor might sell liquor until midnight, creating a noise issue. But Suzor said the restaurant closes at 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends and he has no plans to change his hours.

Commissioner Chuck Webb suggested a three-strike rule — if the city receives three complaints about loud noise or rowdy behavior on the premises, the restaurant could lose the right to sell liquor.

Even if the city adopts a new ordinance, Suzor said the cost of a quota liquor license in Manatee County is now about $150,000.

“I’m pleased the city is moving forward on this, and I look forward to providing input,” Suzor said. “I don’t think it’s something that can be done in a short time, but the ordinance would be for all restaurants that qualify to apply for a liquor license. I’m not just talking for the Waterfront,” Suzor said.

A number of people spoke in support of Suzor’s request, referring to him a responsible business owner.

Resident Doug Copeland, who served in 1987 on the planning and zoning board, said the city adopted the ordinance to halt a proliferation of bars and restaurants that were more interested in loud music than food. Only the Sandbar Restaurant remains grandfathered as other locations have since closed.

Copeland agreed that Suzor would be a responsible restaurant owner if allowed to have a liquor license.

In other business, commissioners:

• Denied a four-part variance request from Ed and Becky Kobel of North Shore Drive.

• Continued the second reading of the historic preservation ordinance to 6 p.m. June 13.

• Adopted an ordinance establishing the living-area ratio-to-lot-size. Passage of the LAR ordinance ended the building moratorium in the city.

The ordinance states that living area is defined as that area under air conditioning, and is the total living space of all habitable floors, Garrett said.

Under the LAR ordinance, new homes on lots of 5,000-square-feet to 10,000 square feet could have the first floor of living space 40 percent building coverage, with the second habitable floor under air at 33 percent of the 40 percent total.

The building coverage in the ordinance declines as the size of the lot increases.

The ordinance was clarified to define total living area as the sum of the habitable floors under air conditioning.

Dye also included a variance process for anyone who wants to build under the previous building code or wants an exception to the ordinance. He said this would supersede anyone claiming the city was taking away property values under the 1995 Bert Harris Jr. property rights act adopted by the Florida Legislature.

In another matter, commissioners agreed with Mayor SueLynn and building official Bob Welch that the city must issue citations to business sign owners whose signs don’t comply with city code.

Welch said real estate signs are the biggest problem, and he will contact real estate agents about coming into compliance.

Commissioners also agreed to discuss sign limits.

Regarding Pine Avenue, Commissioner Gene Aubry presented a view of how the street might look if the commission put the rulebook away. Aubry would have landscaping and crosswalks at every intersection and 90-degree parking.

He said his plan could make Anna Maria the greenest city in Florida, and promised more tweaks if a work session took place.

The next commission meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

AM commission chair shocks city with resignation

Anna Maria Commission Chair John Quam dealt a shock to his fellow commissioners and the large gallery of concerned citizens attending the May 23 city meeting at city hall.

Quam circulated a memo just before the meeting, stating he was resigning his seat effective June 1.

While commissioners had a number of issues on the agenda to address, perhaps their biggest consideration became finding someone to serve in Quam’s place, not only as chair, but to fill his seat on the commission.

An 11-year veteran of the commission, Quam said he had promised his wife he would not seek re-election in November and they would move this year to the mainland. The house they wanted became available and they had to act quickly to secure a deal.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve the city of Anna Maria for the past 11 years,” wrote Quam in his resignation letter.

“Thanks to the city staff for their excellent support,” he added.

Quam received a standing ovation from commissioners and the public at the end of the meeting, upon handing the gavel to Commission Vice Chair Chuck Webb.

“Thank you all,” Quam said, noting he began on the commission in 2002 with Webb and, the following year, Commissioner Dale Woodland was first elected.

“I’ve enjoyed every year. Thank you, and it’s time to move forward,” Quam said.

SueLynn said Quam would be missed, especially for his quiet leadership.

“I am sorry to see him leave. He was here when I was first elected mayor in 2002, and still here when I became mayor in 2012. He has been a great help and I’ve enjoyed our discussions about the direction of the city. He and his fellow commissioners accomplished a lot in the past 11 years.”

Woodland, who served with Quam for nearly 10 years, said he was surprised to read the resignation letter.

“He will be missed. He’s done a lot for the community. We didn’t always agree on issues, but he was a great compromiser and his chief concern was the quality of life in Anna Maria. I’ll miss him as a commissioner and friend,” Woodland said.

Before adjournment, SueLynn raised the question of filling Quam’s seat.

The charter calls for the four remaining commissioners to elect a city resident to serve the remainder of Quam’s term, which expires this November.

Webb said the process should be the same as SueLynn’s replacement in November 2012, and commissioners agreed.

 

Seeking a commissioner

Anyone interested in serving out Quam’s term should submit his or her name and along with the signatures of 10 residents supporting his or her candidacy, a short biography and reasons for seeking the post, Webb said.

The deadline to apply to be a candidate is June 10.

The commission will select a new commissioner as the first item of business at the June 13 meeting.

Already, public works employee and environmental education and enhancement committee chair Bill Malfese has announced he wants to be considered for the seat. Planning and zoning board member Carol Carter also plans to put her name in the hat.

For a candidate to be elected, he or she will need a minimum of three of the four votes on the commission.

The new commissioner will serve until Nov. 5, the next city election.

AME parents protest teacher, budget cuts

Karen Riley-Love started an online petition, which has collected more than 1,000 signatures since it was posted on Facebook May 22.

She and another parent also launched a Facebook page titled Manatee County Schools: Teacher Eliminations Are Not An Option.

The petition states in part: “The data reported by Manatee County to the Florida Department of Education proves that we have the highest class size averages in Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida. According to a Harvard study, students in small classes are significantly more likely to attend college and exhibit improvements on other outcomes that will help the community, such as home ownership and retirement savings.

“Our teachers promote critical thinking skills, and teach our children to think of the best solution, not just the easiest one. We need our school superintendent to do the same. We would like the school board to first cut administrative personnel and provide incentives for early retirement.

“We do not want our children’s education to be compromised by the elimination of professional educators.”

The website and Facebook page ask readers to sign the petition and demand that Superintendent Rick Mills and the School Board of Manatee County develop a better solution to its financial problems.

The petition can be found online at www.change.org/petitions/school-board-of-manatee-county-teacher-eliminations-are-not-an-option-for-our-children.

Riley-love says she has more than 26 pages of names on the petition, which she hopes to present to Mills at the Soup With the Supe: Food for Thought luncheon hosted by Mills Wednesday, May 29.

Mills plans to speak on “Building Leadership Capacity.” Using the school district as an example, Mills said in a statement he plans to discuss how building leadership capacity is an essential element for organizations to succeed and flourish. In addition, Mills said he will engage in a question and answer session with guests at the event.

 

Editor’s note: Karen Riley-Love is a frequent contributor of event photographs and school news to the Islander.

BB plans for new pier restaurant bids

Bradenton Beach officials have acknowledged the possibility that a poorly written lease agreement and a lack of oversight played a part in ending Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant five-year run on the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

While concessionaire Dave Russell maintains it was the terms of his lease with the city that made it impossible to maintain a long-term relationship, all parties also agree that Russell signed the lease.

Russell fell behind in his $9,000-a-month rent following the June 2012 arrival of Tropical Storm Debby, which temporarily shut down the pier, but more importantly caused a long-term closure of the adjacent floating dock used by boaters bringing passengers to the pier.

Rotten Ralph’s began to recover a few months later but, according to Russell, who said he tried to make his monthly payment after a couple of months, the city could not accept partial payments under the terms of the lease.

The debt spiraled to more than $65,000 and, according to city attorney Ricinda Perry, late fees, maintenance fees and utility payments pushed the debt to more than $250,000.

Russell also revealed that the lease required him to pay the city about 40 percent of the pier’s maintenance costs. Under those terms, Rotten Ralph’s would have been required to pay for 40 percent of the upcoming pier renovation project to replace 151 pilings and the wood deck.

Perry later confirmed that obligation, but said she could not recall the exact percentage.

After weeks of negotiations, the city and Russell officially parted ways May 18 with a settlement agreement for Russell to pay up to date his utility bills, a $14,000 Waste Pro bill and a $15,000 settlement fee to the city.

In exchange, Russell agreed to amicably accept the termination of his lease and close the doors to Rotten Ralph’s.

At a May 21 department head meeting, Ric Gatehouse, the only commissioner to support the city working with Russell to keep Ralph’s open, asked city clerk Nora Idso how the restaurant’s overdue fees went unnoticed for so long.

Idso, who has been battling health problems, took responsibility.

“I take full responsibility as the city’s chief financial officer,” she said. “In the future, someone is going to be designated to monitor that.”

However, Idso said it was a previous commission and city attorney who drafted and approved the lease and she urged commissioners to pursue a more workable lease for a new tenant.

“This commission needs to see what they charge and how they charge,” she said. “I’m not making excuses on my end, but when it comes to you, I urge you to look closely at a new agreement and make sure we aren’t leaving anything out.”

Idso said there has been a lot of interest in the vacated restaurant and said the city will issue a request for proposal to see what interested parties “can offer the city.”

Idso said sending out an RFP enhances competition.

A lot of discussion then focused on how to get the word out to potential new tenants to bid for the pier restaurant lease.

Idso listened to several ideas from commissioners before suggesting a workshop with a single focus on drawing business interest to the pier.

Police Chief Sam Speciale said the final walkthrough of the restaurant with Russell went well and that the facility, for the most part, is in good shape.

“There are no major construction issues,” he said. “There are some minor things to address. Someone is going to have to clean the kitchen and grease hood professionally. The carpeting is trash, and there are some things in the attic that looks like junk.”

The air conditioner also needs some attention, but Speciale said as far as the carpet and painting goes, “It will be up to the new tenant because we have no idea what kind of motif they will want.”

The bait kiosk next to the restaurant’s front door also was run by Rotten Ralph’s and is closed.

Speciale has previously said water taxi businesses are interested in using the pier now that the adjacent floating dock is repaired.

Repairs to the floating dock were completed May 22 and commissioners held a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 24 to celebrate the reopening after more than a year of the dock being closed.

Speciale said one of the water taxi companies has expressed interest in leasing the bait kiosk.

Russell has closed the doors of Rotten Ralph’s on the pier and a chapter of his life, but will open new doors and a new chapter soon.

He said he has secured a new location at 34th Street West and 59th Avenue in Bradenton in what used to be Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant.

Russell said he likes the location and his overhead costs will be a third of what they were on the pier.

“All of the equipment is moved,” he said. “Considering how upset I was and feel the city did not and would not negotiate in good faith with me, it couldn’t have turned out better.”

Russell said he has retained all of his Rotten Ralph’s employees and it’s back to business.

“We are right back at things without the politics,” he said.

Beach renourishment planned to begin in late September

Manatee County Natural Resources Department director Charlie Hunsicker held a beach and dune restoration update May 20 at Holmes Beach City Hall, but only about 10 people attended to learn about the projects and what they can do to prevent sand erosion and promote dune growth. About half the attendees were elected or appointed city officials.

Hunsicker said renourishment projects are set to begin in September.

The first phase is what Hunsicker called the central zone, which extends from the Anna Maria city limit to Coquina Beach. Bids for the project are expected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this summer, Hunsicker said.

Phase 2 will come immediately after Phase 1 and involve renourishing Coquina Beach.

By piggybacking the projects, Manatee County, the state of Florida and the federal government will save about $2 million in mobilization costs, Hunsicker said.

Phase 2 was not scheduled to begin until 2014-15, but Hunsicker convinced the Corps it made sense to save money and do both phases consecutively.

Tom Pierro of Coastal Planning and Engineering also spoke at the meeting about beach erosion, outlining how the island’s last major beach renourishment was planned to last 10 years. That was in 2002 and it’s now 2012, Pierro said, so major beach renourishment is right on schedule.

Marine biologist Lauren Floyd, also from Coastal P&E, discussed the beach ecosystem and how beach sand protects and promotes the natural habitat of many birds and animals found along Anna Maria Island shores.

Also on the agenda was Don Ross of Earth Balance Inc. His company plants vegetation along beaches to promote the growth of dunes and keep sand from blowing away. About 85 percent of people ask for sea oats to be planted, he said.

The sea oats grow quickly and in one six-month growing season can be several feet high and protecting the dunes and animal habitat, Ross said.

The company will be working with beachfront homeowners to assist in planting sea oats and other beach vegetation after renourishment, and will have a Florida Department of Environmental Protection agent on-hand to issue an on-site permit for plantings. Interested parties can contact Ross through the natural resources department at 941-742-5980.

Hunsicker said he wanted to spread the word that Ross and his company are available to private property owners and municipal governments interested in planting sea oats or other beach vegetation.

“Maybe we can get 10-15 beachfront property owners in a row to combine and have sea oats planted. This makes the process easier and gives a wider area of dunes and habitat,” Hunsicker said.

Hunsicker will be returning to the island in late summer to give another update, before renourishment begins.

“This show will go on the road and be presented again,” he said.

Hunsicker hopes for more attendance at the next meetings and for beachfront owners to bind together for planting beach vegetation, considering the importance of renourishment, dunes and the beach environment.

 

Renourishment funding

Funding for Phase 1 of the upcoming Anna Maria Island beach renourishment project comes from $16 million in federal funds available to beaches damaged by Tropical Storm Debby in 2011, plus $5.4 million shared equally by the state and Manatee County. Total cost of the first phase is estimated at about $21.4 million.

The second phase, estimated to cost $6.4 million, is funded equally by Manatee County and the state of Florida for $3.2 million each. Manatee County’s costs for beach renourishment come from the resort tax, the 5 percent collected on accommodation rentals of six months or less.

Federal funds for beach renourishment were approved in the 2012 budget.

Red snapper season begins June 1

The recreational red snapper season begins June 1 in state and federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The state season is 44 days long and will be open through July 14, with the first day of the closure being July 15.

The federal season off Florida will be 26 days long.

State waters are from shore to 9 nautical miles in Gulf waters; federal waters extend beyond that line to 200 nautical miles.

State and federal regulations require all commercial fishers and recreational anglers fishing for any reef fish species in the Gulf of Mexico to use circle hooks, venting tools and dehooking devices.

In Gulf state and federal waters, the minimum size limit is 16 inches total length and the bag limit is two fish per person, per day, within a 10-fish snapper aggregate limit.

Active 2013 hurricane season predicted

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration May 23 released its 2013 Atlantic Basin hurricane season predictions.

The 2013 hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

NOAA is predicting another active season, reporting a 70-percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms. A storm receives a name when winds reach a sustained level of 39 mph or higher.

NOAA predicts seven to 11 storms will reach hurricane strength with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher and three to six major hurricanes. NOAA classifies a major storm as a category 3 or higher or a storm with sustained winds of 111 mph or higher.

The season average is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major storms.

NOAA reports three climate factors that maintain control over Atlantic hurricane activity are expected to come together to produce an active or extremely active 2013 hurricane season.

According to the NOAA website, a strong west African monsoon season will continue its activity that has produced higher-than-average hurricane seasons since 1995.

Warmer-than-average water temperatures and a lack of El Nino, which helps to suppress hurricane formation are all factors in NOAA’s prediction.

NOAA reports improvements to local forecast models and data gathering capability this year. In July, NOAA will bring online a new supercomputer capable of providing significantly enhanced depiction of storm structure and improved storm intensity forecast guidance.

NOAA reminds the public that May 26 began Hurricane Preparedness week.

As part of the focus, it is important to remember a storm of any strength can be dangerous, as proven by Superstorm Sandy in the northeast and Tropical Storm Debby, which hit the island during the 2012 hurricane season.

NOAA advises completing necessary preparations before a storm is forecasted and heed all warnings from emergency management personnel.

With an active season beginning this week, “Everyone at NOAA is committed to providing life-saving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time,” wrote Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA acting administrator on the NOAA website.

For more information, visit www.noaa.gov.

Holmes Beach man convicted of fraud

A 39-year-old former Holmes Beach resident faces 87 months in prison, plus fines and a large restitution amount for health care fraud and filing a false tax return.

In December 2012, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized sports cars and a luxury boat from 5311 Sunrise Lane, Holmes Beach.

The vehicles belonged to Jason Syrek. The seizure stemmed from a complaint filed against Syrek with the FBI on Oct. 3 in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan.

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, Syrek pleaded guilty to health care fraud and filing a false tax return May 15.

According to court records, Syrek engaged in health care fraud from May 2008 to December 2010 while operating CAS Resources of Adrian, Mich.

The company provided human resources outsourcing, such as payroll, taxes and employee benefits.

CAS collected $1.75 million in premiums from clients in the latter part of 2010. The premiums were due to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, but Syrek admitted diverting the funds for personal use.

Syrek filed a tax return for the third quarter of 2010 claiming CAS paid more than $1.8 million in payroll taxes, knowing he had diverted the bulk of those funds to himself, and had actually only paid $633,332.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, which assisted in the investigation, Syrek owes taxes in excess of $13.4 million.

U.S. Attorney Barbra McQuade said Syrek’s crimes may have been sophisticated in nature, “but they are nothing more than stealing. This defendant robbed health care programs and taxpayers for his personal benefit.”

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Syrek faces up to 87 months in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and will pay restitution in excess of $15 million.

According to Florida and Manatee County records, Syrek was the registered agent of the AMI Beach Inn LLC at the Sunrise address raided by the FBI. The property was under a government protective order, as well as Unit 5 of the Mainsail Beach Inn, 101 66th St., Holmes Beach, both co-owned with Suzanne Burrow.

Earlier this year, a company in Atlanta made inquiries into Syrek based on The Islander newspaper’s reporting, telling staff Syrek was soliciting HR services from an office in Holmes Beach. He also was observed last week in Holmes Beach, driving a new, white convertible Porsche Turbo.

He is scheduled for sentencing in August.

According to the complaint, the health care scheme began in 2007-08 while Syrek was jailed for more than $800,000 in bank fraud at Morgantown Federal Correctional Facility in West Virginia while operating an employee services company, One Source Management of Maumee, Ohio. According to an April 17, 2007, article in the Toledo Blade, he repaid the client.

According to the Manatee County clerk’s office, an Internal Revenue Service notice of $11,030,158 in federal tax liens was recorded against Syrek.

In 2012, another IRS notice of $5,831,664 in tax liens was recorded against AMI Beach Inn LLC.

In the current scheme, according to the complaint in U.S. District Court, Syrek, through his ex-wife, Kristie Kneuve, allegedly submitted a group enrollment form to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 2008 to secure group coverage for 10 employees of CAS, including Syrek, Kneuve and eight fictitious employees, and then added their clients’ employees.

Also according to the complaint, Syrek admitted to taking the premiums for personal use, including the purchase of beachfront properties, cars, a boat and millions of dollars worth of other investments and purchases.

MCSO arrests 2 in morning theft

Quick action by the crew of a Waste Management truck making its morning rounds in Anna Maria May 23 resulted in the arrest of two suspects on charges of grand theft and violation of parole.

Sgt. Paul Davis, the officer in charge of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Anna Maria substation, said the incident was a perfect example of the “Waste Watch” program in action. WMI crews now are trained to observe and report suspicious activity to police.

Davis said that around 9:50 a.m. May 23, a WMI trash hauler was on Kumquat Lane in Anna Maria when a crewmember saw a man and woman in a late-model Chrysler pull up behind a lawn maintenance truck with an open trailer of equipment. The man exited the car, took some of the equipment from the trailer to the car, and then the driver sped away, heading out of Anna Maria.

“The WMI crew observed suspicious activity and contacted law enforcement, which put out a bulletin to be on the lookout for a late-model, black, four-door Chrysler 300,” Davis said.

“That’s how the Waste Watch program is supposed to work and this is a perfect example,” Davis said, because HBPD, acting on the BOLO, turned up a man and woman in a vehicle matching the description a short time later.

When HBPD caught up with the suspects at Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue west of the Anna Maria Island Bridge, they had run out of gas as they attempted to leave the island.

MCSO Deputy Matt Kiernan made the arrest. .

Davis said the identities of the suspects are being withheld while the investigation continues.

“I can tell you that a 28-year-old male and a 27-year-old female were arrested. Both gave addresses in Seffner, Fla., but the investigation has moved beyond just grand theft and parole violation,” Davis said.

 

“This shows what can happen when people call us to report suspicious activity. We’ll check it out, even if the report comes to nothing,” Davis said.

Davis praised the cooperation among the island law enforcement agencies and the WMI crew.

Two weeks ago, an Anna Maria resident heard strange noises coming from a neighbor’s house in the evening. She did not call police, Davis said, and the following day, MCSO deputies responded to a burglary call at that residence.

“Please, call us. It benefits the community when people let us know what’s going on that doesn’t look right,” Davis said.

The direct line for calls to MCSO in Anna Maria is 941-708-8899.

In an emergency, people should call 911, Davis said.

Dogs saved in Palma Sola fire

Six dogs trapped inside a burning home in the 1100 block of Palma Sola Boulevard May 17, were saved by firefighters from West Manatee Fire Rescue when they arrived, entered the home and pulled all the animals to safety.

A press release from WMFR said roofers at a nearby home saw smoke coming from the dwelling and called 911. The release said the roofers’ quick action and a similar quick response from a nearby WMFR station likely saved the dogs and prevented further damage to the home.

The owners were not home when the fire occurred.

WMFR firefighters used oxygen masks made for dogs to help the animals out of the fire. One dog suffered severe smoke inhalation and was treated at the scene.

Bradenton also sent firefighters and EMS personnel responded.

WMFR Deputy Fire Marshall Jim Davis said the house had about $120,000 in damages.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, although Davis said he believed it might have started in the kitchen.