Anna Maria has a new city commissioner.
With the withdrawal of Carol Carter’s application for the Anna Maria City Commission to complete the remaining five months of John Quam’s term, only one applicant remained — Doug Copeland.
Commissioners at their June 13 meeting swiftly and unanimously elected Copeland, a former planning and zoning board chair, to fill the vacancy. Copeland also was elected vice chair of the commission, while vice chair Chuck Webb was elected to serve as chair for the next five months.
Carter distributed a letter before the meeting stating she was withdrawing because she believes Copeland — with more than 20 years of experience on P&Z — has the knowledge and expertise to be commissioner.
Carter also said she would run for a commission seat in November, when three commission seats will come up for election.
Copeland is a wood worker by trade, and also has worked in various restaurants and bars.
He was immediately drawn into the business of the commission as Webb introduced several amendments to the city’s construction ordinance. Webb said a change is needed to preempt a property owner from claiming the new ordinance reduced the value of a home if built under the old rule. The amendments would avoid any conflict with the 1994 Bert Harris Jr. Property Act, Webb said.
One suggestion by Webb was to place a variance procedure in the new ordinance for someone who wants to build according to the old guidelines that allow for the second floor of living space to have the same living area as the first floor.
The new city building ordinance allows the second livable floor to have only 33 percent of the first livable floor’s area.
But Webb quickly noted that the Bert Harris Jr. Act has not been interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court. He said he’s studied all the available cases and spoken with a number of attorneys familiar with the act and none have the same opinion on what the act does or doesn’t allow.
“It’s very confusing,” Webb said.
City attorney Jim Dye agreed the law is confusing. He suggested a meeting with Webb to draw up amendments that would keep the city out of court in the event someone claims a loss under the Harris act.
Commissioner Dale Woodland said if someone came to the commission and claimed this was a “taking of value,” the commission should just let them build under the old rules.
But Webb said that’s exactly what he’s trying to prevent.
Commissioner Gene Aubry said he and the other non-attorney commissioners need something plainly written so they can understand.
“I don’t want to play lawyer in this. I don’t want to go down that road,” he said. Other commissioners agreed they need something that’s easy to understand before making a decision.
Webb and Dye will return to the commission with suggestions that are easy to understand, but Webb cautioned that the law is not simple, even for experienced attorneys.
In other commission business, the final reading of the historic preservation ordinance was continued to 6 p.m. Thursday, July 17, as Dye and city planner Alan Garrett said a few more refinements are needed.
Commissioners also welcomed Anna Maria Island Community Center executive director Dawn Stiles, who assumed her duties April 1.
Stiles said she is making an effort to meet the elected officials of the three island cities. She invited commissioners to visit the center, and also to provide suggestions for the planning analysis report she will soon prepare in conjunction with a center committee.
“I’d like to invite all of you to come and see what we do. And, please, give us your input. I hope to see all of you at the center,” Stiles said.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Davis, head of the MCSO-Anna Maria substation, presented a video on what deputies in the city do and how citizens can help reduce crime. Davis acknowledge less crime in Anna Maria than the mainland, but said sometimes people hear or see something unusual, but don’t call in a report.
As a results, some burglaries and thefts go unsolved.
He asked the public to call 941-708-8899 or 911 to report any suspicious activity or a burglar alarm going off for no apparent reason.
Aubry and Mayor SueLynn will work together on a Pine Avenue streetscape beautification plan that was proposed in May by Aubry. The proposed beautification will be staged, and a first phase should be ready in a few weeks, he said.
Building official Bob Welch also asked the public for input on changing the sign ordinance. He recently sent a letter to owners of illegal signs requiring they come into compliance by July 31 or face a citation.
What he’d prefer in the next few weeks are suggestions to amend the sign ordinance. He said if real estate agents would use the old-fashioned signs that stick in the ground, and stop infringing on the rights of way, that would solve many sign issues.
SueLynn scheduled the first work session for the 2013-14 budget for 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 10.