Former Anna Maria City Commissioner Gene Aubry surveys the undeveloped lots Nov. 30 that are set to become a city park at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard. Aubry, an architect, volunteered his time to design the park to include new mature oak trees, 15 parking spaces and restrooms. The amenities, to be provided with funds donated by resident Rex Hagen and Pine Avenue Restoration, have come under fire from Commissioner Chuck Webb. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Filling seats at a city meeting in Anna Maria is seldom a problem. With hot-button topics such as parking and rental solutions, the gallery is often SRO.
Such will be the case for the Dec. 5 Anna Maria City Commission meeting.
That’s when residents should learn the fate of what city planner Alan Garrett calls the “Anna Maria City Pier Park” on the vacant lots at the east end of Pine Avenue.
Commissioners on June 27 approved by a 3-1 vote a plan for the park drawn by then-Commissioner Gene Aubry.
That approval came with a $50,000 donation from Holmes Beach resident Rex Hagen, and a pledge of $100,000 from Pine Avenue Restoration LLC principals Ed Chiles and Mike Coleman. Aubry’s plan included public restrooms and a 15-space public parking lot at the south end of the park. The park perimeter already is lined with newly planted 15-20 foot oak trees, while the remainder of the park will be landscaped open space with benches.
Mayor SueLynn figured the park would be smooth sailing after commission approval and proceeded to purchase trees and shrubbery, dig a well and build an irrigation system, all attributed to Hagen’s donation.
At the same time, Garrett prepared a site plan for commission approval. Even though the park is on city property and the plan is prepared by the city, the city administration must follow code and hold a review for the site plan by the planning and zoning board and, if it meets code requirements, eventual approval by the city commission.
Enter Commission Chair Chuck Webb, who was not at the June 27 meeting where the 3-1 vote was held.
At the site plan hearing Nov. 21, Webb said he wanted to know about any conditions attached to the donations, saying he is opposed to the city’s acceptance of private funds with contingencies.
Webb said at the Nov. 21 meeting he was learning for the first time about the conditions attached to the donations, and he thought his colleagues would never approve a plan that included conditions from a private donor.
Since the June 27 approval, stories about the park and the donations, including a photo of tree installations, have appeared in The Islander.
Commissioners voted Nov. 21 to continue the public hearing on the park site plan to 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
Since the Nov. 21 meeting, however, several people, including Coleman, have claimed Webb deviated from established site-plan review procedures by calling for a continuation.
Coleman said the code is specific, that if the site plan meets all requirements established by the code, the commission must approve the plan. The park site plan does meet those requirements, Garrett said Nov. 21.
At the June 27 meeting, city attorney Jim Dye had reviewed the conditions without objection.
On Nov. 21, however, Dye said he would again review the conditions and bring them to the Dec. 5 continuation of the public hearing.
After learning of Webb’s objections, Hagen said it was a “tempest in a teapot.” He also said he expected all would be resolved at the Dec. 5 continuation.
Mayor SueLynn said she was stunned when Webb voiced his objections. She said she had asked commissioners at the June 27 meeting to be “sure this is what you want,” and she was assured when the commission majority favored the plan.
Since the Nov. 21 continuation, the mayor has halted work at the park until the commission approves the site plan.
Hagen said the city needs a park, parking and public restrooms near the pier, which is considered by Manatee County’s tourism officials to be the No. 1 non-retail tourist attraction.
If the commission votes down the park, Hagen said he wants his money back. Coleman said PAR has not made a decision pending the outcome of the public hearing.
SueLynn said no city funds have been spent at the park. All trees and shrubs and the irrigation system were installed using money from Hagen’s donation.
Since the June 27 vote, the commission has a new member, Carol Carter, who replaced the seat previously occupied by Aubry, who chose not to seek re-election.
Carter said Nov. 21 that she voted against the park plan as a member of the P&Z. Commissioner Nancy Yetter voted against the plan at the June 27 meeting.
Park plan askew
While former Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry and others await the city’s site plan decision amid delays on the park being developed at Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard, Aubry says there are new problems that need to addressed at the park.
Among the 15 15- to 20-foot tall, semi-mature oak trees, several appear to be dead or dying, showing signs of damage from salt spray and possibly underwatering.
Aubry said he had a qualified irrigation company lined up to install a watering system for trees, which need attention while getting established in the new location. He said the plans changed and the irrigation system became the work of Mike Miller, a city resident who specializes in native plants.
“It’s all wrong,” said Aubry. The line is too small and at the far end the water only trickles, and the trees are showing the result, he said.
Aubry also said the trees were not planted “as designed,” meaning the oak trees have not been planted in the locations shown on the drawings.
He indicated Miller told him the trees had to be relocated because they “didn’t want to go where they were planned.”