Vacation property owners and managers in Anna Maria can call off their attack dogs. There won’t be a legal battle over vacation rentals after all.
In a 3-2 vote at the Oct. 24 meeting, commissioners reversed a September decision to file a court action for declaratory relief to determine if the city’s hotel/motel ordinance could be applied to single-family home vacation rentals.
In September, commissioners voted 4-1 to proceed with declaratory relief, but city attorney Jim Dye said the city would need specific examples of code violations to pursue the owners of those properties as defendants in a declaratory relief judgment.
Commission Chair Chuck Webb, who brought the concept to the dais, said he researched the city’s database of code violations for examples of two or more complaints against a vacation home in the past year.
Locations that fit that criteria were 111 Gulf Drive, 780 Jacaranda St., 804 N. Shore Drive, and 314, 505, 509 and 514 Magnolia Ave., Webb said.
Webb said he found a few other properties with two or more violations written the past year, but the owners were foreign nationals. It would be difficult to proceed with a court case against them, he said.
Commissioner Dale Woodland, however, said he was no longer in favor of “moving forward” with legal action.
He agreed there were some problems at a few vacation rental properties, particularly noise issues. But the use of best practices by owners and managers of vacation rentals seems to be working, Woodland said.
“I applaud the effort, but is this where we want to go?” he asked of the legal action.
Attorney Scott Rudacille of the Bradenton law firm of Blalock Walters P.A. said he represents the owners of several properties identified by Webb as problem rentals.
But, Rudacille said, all of the complaints were settled amicably and no violation letters were sent from the city to owners about the complaints, which were made against tenants at the properties.
Seeking judicial relief is “just wrong,” he said, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Additionally, if the city were to obtain a favorable declaratory relief, it would only be against the specific property owners named as defendants. Each time the city wanted to enforce the hotel/motel code against an owner, it would have to file another declaratory relief action.
Rudacille also said the commission voted in January to encourage use by property owners and managers of the best practices rules and those seem to be working well.
Commissioner Doug Copeland, who originally wanted to postpone any vote while he had a chance to study the issue, said he was against pursuing court action.
“I’m torn,” he said. “I’m just not sure it’s the right approach to the problem.”
Commissioner Gene Aubry, who voted against the measure when it was presented in September, remained opposed.
But Commissioner Nancy Yetter disagreed.
“We have to protect what we have. Let’s stand firm and do it,” she said.
Resident Larry Albert, who owns a vacation rental, called the issue an enforcement problem, noting that one rental unit had amassed half the complaints on Webb’s list.
Mike Coleman of Pine Avenue Restoration, a resident and vacation property owner, suggested it’s the approach — threatening a lawsuit — to the problem of noisy vacation renters that appears wrong.
Webb said the city has been “kicking this can down the road” for a long time. “We’re just not enforcing our own codes.”
Following the 3-2 vote not to proceed, Woodland wanted to make another motion about vacation rentals, but Webb said, “It’s a dead issue.”
The commission then moved on to other matters.
Commissioners unanimously adopted a master plan prepared for Gulf Front Park by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
With adoption of the plan, Copeland said he will pursue a $30,000 matching grant to clean out invasive plant species in the park. He also said there are some private donors who might assist the city. However, Copeland emphasized, no mature Australian pines will be removed.
Mayor SueLynn then honored planning and zoning board chair Tom Turner on the occasion of his 90th birthday with a proclamation and plaque. She named Oct. 25 as “Tom Turner Day” in the city.
The city staff also prepared a banner in Turner’s honor. Turner first bought property in Anna Maria in 1968 and has been on the P&Z board for more than 20 years.
City officials also honored Aubry with a standing ovation, as this was his final meeting as commissioner. Aubry, whose term is up, is not seeking re-election.
SueLynn thanked him for all the volunteer architecture work he’s done for the city. He promised to stay involved with the development of the city park at the east end of Pine Avenue.
Commissioners then continued the second reading of the off-street parking ordinance and the stormwater management ordinance amendment to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14.
The November meeting will be preceded by the newly elected commission’s swearing into office and an organizational meeting, following the results of the Nov. 5 municipal election.