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AMI braces for spring break

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Beachgoers flock to the shore of Anna Maria Island March 10. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Time was on Anna Maria Island when spring break wasn’t given much thought by law enforcement.

Spring break thus far this year on the island is mostly composed of crowds of local high school students given a week off from their studies, said Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

Marketing officials with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau have emphasized in promotions that the island is not Panama City Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach or South Beach in Miami. Beach visitors during spring break here would come for the day, then leave as the sun went down.

BACVB marketing director Deb Meihls said the bureau’s marketing program is directed toward families and couples. The island is seen as a place for peace and quiet, away from the noise and bustle of places like Walt Disney World or Miami Beach.

But a few years ago, the marketing image of peace and quiet on AMI also came at a lower price than more popular spring break destinations.

It seemed college students discovered Anna Maria Island’s vacation rental homes were renting for about $2,000 a week — less than a comparable accommodation in Panama City.

In early March 2012, Holmes Beach police were called to a vacation rental house on 73rd Street — in the area zoned for weekly rentals — after neighbors complained of noise in the early morning hours.

Police found 18 people in the house, including eight youths. The adults were warned about Florida’s alcoholic beverage laws, and the property manager saw to it that the group left the following day.

A few days later, HBPD was called to a house in the 200 block of 50th Street on another complaint of loud noise.

They found the house had been rented by a group of female students in a singing club who were practicing vocals in the pool at 2 a.m.

Those incidents and others brought Larry Chatt of Island Real Estate, Mike Brinson of Anna Maria Island Vacation Properties and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn together to compose a “List of Best Practices” for vacation rental companies on the island. The list was adopted by many rental companies by early 2013 and renters were provided with a copy at check-in.

Among the provisions is an agreement that tenants can be evicted for disturbing the peace. Renters also must agree to respect their residential neighbors.

The number of noise complaints and other problems associated with trash and parking were significantly reduced after the best practices were implemented, SueLynn said.

“I think it’s been significant in keeping loud noise complaints and partygoers to a minimum,” she added.

Chatt agreed. “It appears to be a very effective tool.”

But area students will still come to Anna Maria Island for spring break, if for nothing more than a day at the beach.

Tokajer said he would have extra officers on duty to enforce traffic laws, parking regulations, as well as the law against alcohol consumption on the beach.

Tokajer said the department’s ATV would be patrolling the length of beach in Holmes Beach, looking for violations.

“Come and have a good time, but don’t break the law,” he advised people coming to the beach.

That was a sentiment echoed by Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Davis, who heads the Anna Maria substation.

“We’re going to be very busy at Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach,” Speciale said. “Even with beach renourishment at Coquina, I expect a lot of locals that week on the beaches.”

Speciale said just enjoy the beach and drive carefully.

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