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Anna Maria postpones discussion on controversial issues

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Members of the public attending the Sept. 12 Anna Maria commission meeting who came expecting a discussion on a paid-parking proposal and a possible lawsuit against some vacation rentals left the meeting room early and disappointed.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb said those issues would be discussed in future, single-topic work sessions.

Mayor SueLynn said her paid-parking plan was not yet ready for commission review and Webb set a special meeting on the topic for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24.

But no date was set to discuss the commission’s decision to seek declaratory relief in court to apply the hotel/motel ordinance to vacation rentals, expected by many attending the meeting, including attorney Scott Rudacille of the law firm of Blalock Walters in Bradenton, who says he represents at least 40 Anna Maria vacation rental owners prepared to challenge the city initiative.

Commissioner Gene Aubry said he was offended by the use of the term “day-trippers” by some city officials. He called it discriminatory and embarrassing to the city, especially since Anna Maria has just been named one of the most picturesque small towns in America.

Mayor SueLynn agreed and said she now refers to short-term visitors to the city as “day visitors.”

The commission did discuss other issues and ordinances.

A final public hearing for the historic preservation ordinance was continued to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26. City planner Alan Garrett assured commissioners the ordinance would be ready.

“Good,” said Commissioner Dale Woodland. “My original copy is gathering dust waiting for the final public hearing.”

The hearing has been postponed a number of times while Garrett and city attorney Jim Dye worked on ironing out the ordinance language.

Garrett suggested commissioners consider a “grand tree” ordinance, which would make destruction of trees identified in the ordinance illegal without a permit.

Anna Maria is one of the few cities in Florida without a tree ordinance, he said. At present, a developer can come in and completely remove all existing trees and vegetation on a lot.

A grand tree ordinance would define a grand tree based on federal regulations, make it illegal to remove native trees and grand trees without a variance, and ensure protection of the environment.

The ordinance would apply to new development. Trees defined as a “nuisance” would be species that invade neighboring properties.

Garrett said the ordinance would not take away anyone’s building rights, and would provide mitigation if a non-invasive nuisance tree had to be removed. He added that people who “just want to change their landscape” could apply for a permit to remove native trees.

“We could make them plant two trees for removing one, and new trees would be native species,” he said.

“I hope there is a positive influence to move forward with a tree ordinance,” Garrett said.

Woodland suggested severe penalties for someone removing mangroves or native trees without a permit.

Webb said a $10,000 fine would make people think twice before removing a native tree.

Garrett suggested more discussion before he prepares a draft ordinance.

Dye and Welch updated commissioners on the progress of the cell tower, which will be constructed on city property adjacent to city hall.

Dye said there have been some discussions with Jim Eatrides of Ridan Industries about allowing storage space for the city in the tower equipment room. He also told Eatrides the city could “sign a lease as soon as these last few comments are added.”

SueLynn said only one cabbage palm would have to be removed to accommodate the 30-by-90-foot ground-level cell-tower facility.

At the signing of the lease, the city expects to receive a one-time payment of $350,000 from Ridan, and the company would then begin making monthly rent payments to the city.

SueLynn updated commissioners on the progress of what she called the “Anna Maria City Pier Park” on Pine Avenue, saying the next phase will be to put in the sprinkler system and start installing the trees.

The next regular commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

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