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AM’s planned legal action against vacation rentals fuels heat

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Not everyone is pleased in paradise, particularly with a decision made by Anna Maria city commissioners to proceed with a legal challenge that would determine whether the city’s hotel/motel ordinance applies to vacation rentals.

While the voice vote Aug. 22 was announced as unanimous by Commission Chair Chuck Webb, Commissioner Gene Aubry says he voted against the move.

“I think this is a total waste of time and much ado about nothing,” said Aubry.

Aubry said commissioners, Mayor SueLynn and vacation property owners and managers spent nearly a year working on “best practices” for vacation renters and agents to ease problems associated with noise, trash and parking.

“We worked for a year to get those practices approved and we amended our codes to reduce noise and other actions by renters,” he said. “We’ve already done this. Why are we doing it again? People need to wake up and understand where they live.”

The commission move, introduced by Webb, would engage the city in a legal action to determine whether the city’s hotel/motel ordinance supersedes Florida law, commonly called H.B. 883, effective July 1, 2012. The statute allows any home in Florida to be a vacation rental unless the local governing body had restrictions in place at the time the law went into effect.

If the commission goes to court, Aubry predicted “zillions and zillions of lawsuits.”

“This state law is affecting everyone in the state. To go forward with this would be a waste of money and effort,” he said.

Mayor SueLynn said she and staff had no input into the commission decision, but would do as the commission directs.

“My concern is at what cost the city might be successful. Not just in dollars but in the ill will from vacation renters such action would foster,” she said.

Aubry, who is not running for election in November, has said he would seek another term as commissioner in a future election.

“I do plan to run again and I will bring a slate of candidates that see this legal action as a waste of time,” he said. “That Aug. 22 meeting was embarrassing to me after all the time we spent with best practices and amending ordinances.”

Aubry has support against the legal action from several prominent vacation rental owners and managers in the city.

One local property manager, who asked not to be identified so he “would not be targeted by the commission,” agreed with Aubry.

“This is a waste of city time and money. I don’t understand the way Webb is interpreting this ordinance. I’m baffled.”

The property manager suggested they “mitigate these issues as we did with the best practices.”

Code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon said she has had only seven noise complaints since Jan. 1.

But the commission has voted 4-1 to proceed with the process, a process that city attorney Jim Dye said would likely be long and costly.

First the city must identify the offending vacation property rentals, and, Dye also told commissioners they had to identify rental properties that violate the ordinance.

According to Dye, the city must proceed with the code process. That requires the city to issue a citation to an offending property for operating a hotel/motel in violation of the code. The property owner/manager then has the option of coming “into compliance with the code” by not renting the property, or taking the citation before the city’s special magistrate for a ruling.

If the special magistrate rules in favor of the city, the owner may appeal to the circuit court. If the magistrate rules against the city, the city can appeal the ruling to the district court.

Any district court ruling can be appealed, Dye said.

Webb has said he wants to know if the city’s hotel/motel ordinance applies to vacation rentals and only a judge’s ruling can decide that issue.

Dye estimated it would take between nine and 15 months to obtain a judgment on the validity of the ordinance applying to vacation rentals.

If the city proceeds and loses, a judge could order the city to pay attorney fees for the defendant, Aubry said.

Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue at their Sept. 12 meeting, and again at a Sept. 26 work session.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman had no comment on the commission’s decision, but she will present the commission measure to the chamber’s board of directors for consideration.

14 Responses to AM’s planned legal action against vacation rentals fuels heat

  1. Concerned says:

    The politicians of Anna Maria are becoming more and more foolish, with the exception of Gene Aubry who seems to be one of the only logical commissioner in the bunch.
    When is the next election????
    Citizen’s of Anna Maria…please get out there and vote to remove the politicians who seem to be inviting more and more costs and litigation to the city at your expense! What a waste of time and money!

  2. Toby Eagan says:

    FYI, if you think what you’ve done to date (or plan to do) has helped reduce noise in Anna Maria neighborhoods, guess again. The noise problem gets worse every year as the number of rental properties and backyard swimming pools with plastic fences at those properties continue to proliferate. The horse is out of the barn folks and its not going back.

  3. sharon bishop says:

    you know, you advertise the island day after day, that’s what you get, this is not Daytona Beach or etc. the kids and young adults come down they want to party then you gripe about it. You had to know this would happen.

  4. Ken (UK) says:

    Every week i read this newspaper it is nothing but Anti Tourist, i have been coming to your island for 8 years just returned recently, i always abide by your rules and regulations. I have to wonder why AMI is advertised so much as a tourist destination as it is clearly obvious that tourist are no longer welcome, perhaps some flashing signs up along manatee Avenue and Cortez road stating Tourist not welcome will be on the next agenda.

    • bonnerj says:

      OH NO…. it’s some of the elected officials who are casting doubt, but be assured, The Islander and many of the businesses and residents welcome you. We nearly all came here first as visitors, and we are pleased to share “paradise” with our friends, families and guests! — Bonner Joy

      • Ben Hardin says:

        Bonner is correct. The island is being controlled by a group of selfish residents and over-regulating politicians they elect. Most of us welcome our tourists and day visitors. Unfortunately, many (if not most) of the property owners reside elsewhere and are unable to vote.

      • Ken (UK) says:

        Thank you for the reply Bonner i intend to visit again next year as we do enjoy the island and its people, it is a bit disheartening to read the negative comments though but i guess everyone is entitled to their views.

  5. AMIMom says:

    Are the AMI commissioners abdicating their fiduciary responsibility buy soliciting a lawsuit against the city for which we will all have to pay (legal costs) win or lose? Is the AMI commission trying to take back the ‘CRAZY’ reputation from it’s current owner – Holmes Beach??

  6. Ms Bankhead says:

    It’s only the businesses and people who make money off the tourists who have pushed all the tourism advertising. All these vacation rentals and day visitors are nothing but a headache to the residents who pay a heck of a lot in taxes to live here.

    • Ben Hardin says:

      You are wrong. I have had a second home on the island for 13 plus years. I have never rented it. I support the local businesses, enjoy the day visitors (which I was one of for 30 years), and appreciate the tourists. What I do not like is selfish people, like you, who think they have superior rights to others. Taxes are paid by the businesses, the tourists, Manatee County residents, state residents, and the federal government.

    • AMIMom says:

      WOW, the businesses and the vacation rental owners pay a lot more in taxes than homeowners/homesteaders. As a resident I love having businesses nearby, and I don’t mind sharing them with the tourists.
      The extra 5% ‘bed tax’ from accommodations (not sales tax from businesses) funds the advertising of the island. Why not try to get rid of or reduce the bed tax?

    • Regular Visitor says:

      I’m glad all residents do not see visitors as “a headache” and most are welcoming. That attitude is totally unnecessary

      • bonnerj says:

        So true. I recall riding the trolley near Christmas and all the riders were singing carols. And the group behind me commented how they were pleased to find the “locals” so friendly. Maybe it’s politicians we need rid of…. — Bonner Joy

  7. Randy says:

    Please consider that Venice spent $700k trying to ban vacation rentals all before the state law and they ended up with an ordinance that they can’t afford to enforce….

    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20120214/ARTICLE/120219731

    It’s impossible now after the state law.

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