An email circulating among Anna Maria Island vacation property owners and managers from Joe Varner of Anna Maria Vacations, 5702 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, contains numerous inaccuracies and misstatements, said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn.
The email is doing nothing but causing a riff between accommodation owners, managers and city residents, she said.
The email is being sent to island accommodation owners as a Florida House subcommittee considers a bill that would return control of vacation rentals to local governments. A companion bill heard in a Senate subcommittee was approved 8-0.
Currently, under a Florida law that went into effect July 1, 2011, local governments cannot enact laws that would further restrict vacation rental areas beyond the regulations that existed at that time unless the rules applied to all residential properties.
While HB307 has stirred some controversy, SueLynn said Varner’s accusations are simply not true.
In his two-page email, Varner wrote: “There is a group of local Florida municipal politicians (which includes SueLynn and Chuck Webb from the City of Anna Maria as well as Jean Peelen and Carmel Monti from the city of Holmes Beach) who have persuaded a Florida state Senator to sponsor a bill to repeal and replace FL HB 883.” Varner said the state senator is John Thrasher.
“Totally untrue,” said SueLynn. “I’ve never even met Thrasher.”
The impetus for HB307 came from the Florida League of Cities, which had its passage on its legislative agenda, SueLynn said.
She acknowledged that she and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen were part of a group of elected officials that met with the FLC after Thrasher proposed his legislation.
Thrasher represents Daytona Beach and St. Augustine.
“Varner is a bit off base with this accusation,” Peelen said.
“We never met with Thrasher and I didn’t even know his name until he introduced his bill. I was delighted that he did,” she said.
Peelen called Varner’s email outrageous, filled with lies and scare tactics.
“We, the commission, are trying to find a balance between residents and visitors and Varner’s email does nothing but cause trouble,” she said.
Varner continued in his email that “Nine months ago, the city of Anna Maria, unannounced at a regular board meeting of commissioners and the mayor, voted (to) change all rentals to a 30-day minimum, and it passed unanimously! And this was even though they were not allowed to do so by state law!
“Fortunately their attorney stepped in and had them reverse this as it was illegal but if they do gain the power to do so, well…”
SueLynn said Varner’s statement about the commission approving such action is another falsehood.
“Absolutely untrue. You can look it up in the minutes. It is statements like this that don’t help relations between governments and the accommodation rental industry.”
She said it’s possible Varner was referring to a motion by Webb about a year ago to have city attorney Jim Dye determine if the city’s hotel/motel ordinance had any control over vacation rentals and if a lawsuit could be filed under that ordinance.
That motion passed 4-0, but SueLynn said there was never any mention of imposing a 30-day minimum.
At the following meeting, Dye reported the city could take legal action in circuit court to determine if its hotel/motel ordinance applied to vacation rentals, but the city would have to choose individual rentals as defendants in any lawsuit, and any decision would apply only to those defendants.
Commissioners rejected pursuing any legal action, 4-1.
“I don’t know where Varner got his information, but it is just totally wrong. This is disinformation and not helping cooperation among the vacation rental industry, the city, and residents,” SueLynn said.
Efforts to reach Varner by telephone and email were unsuccessful.
Pine Avenue Restoration principal Mike Coleman of Anna Maria took a different approach than Varner.
Coleman emailed small-business owners in the city, asking them to contact members of the House committee to disapprove of HB 307 as written.
He said cooperation between accommodation owners and local governments would go a lot further to controlling the rental situation than any political battle that might ensue if HB 307 passed.
He noted Anna Maria’s problems with vacation rentals started several years ago from too many “party rentals” for several nights. This caused a number of noise complaints, but resulted in the creation of the “best practices list” used by accommodation owners, managers and guests.
“These best practices have been working in Anna Maria and there are fewer noise complaints than ever. It just shows that a little cooperation will go a lot further toward harmony among residents, the city and vacation renters than a government statute or regulation,” he said.
Varner, however, might be a bit premature in putting elected officials against the vacation rental industry.
A person at the office of state Rep. Greg Steube, R.-Bradenton said the bill must pass multiple committees before it is presented to the full House for consideration.
The legislative will begin March 4 and there is no timetable for action on HB 307.
Florida Association of Vacation Rental Managers lobbyist Brian Hughes said if HB 307 passed as proposed it would give local governments the ability to institute a 30-day minimum stay for a vacation rental.
“Obviously, it does not mean every local government would enact such an ordinance, but it would give them the right to enact such a law, or something similar. This would really harm Florida’s tourism industry,” Hughes said.
SueLynn said all Anna Maria wants to do is be able to control those vacation rental properties that are rented to “party groups” for the weekend.
“We’ve had good success with our best practices campaign by vacation rental agents and implementing procedures to limit noise. But we do want to have home rule returned to the local governments,” she said.
Anna Maria is not looking to put a 30-day restriction on every vacation rental, SueLynn said, only in ensuring that vacationers respect the rights of residents and other visitors who come to the city to enjoy its peace and quiet.
Efforts to reach FVRMA president Steve Milo in Ponte Vedra Beach for comment were unsuccessful.