Rental management company drops VRO appeal

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Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy stands by the podium in the city commission chambers during a Feb. 10 interview. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Chalk up a win for Anna Maria.

A challenge to the city’s limit of eight guests in a vacation rental unit has been withdrawn.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said Feb. 10 he was “very pleased” with the withdrawal of the appeal and expects the case will return to the circuit court for a hearing on the attorney fees.

He said the judge will consider: “Was this a frivolous claim and, if so, what will the remedy be.”

The Feb. 7 withdrawal of Anna Maria Vacations v. the City of Anna Maria in the 2nd District Court of Appeal leaves in place an April 8, 2016, decision by 12th Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. that upheld the local regulation because it did not prohibit rentals “that have historically been rented to more guests.”

The vacation rental ordinance that became effective November 2015 has a grandfathering provision.

“It’s good news for the city,” city attorney Becky Vose said Feb. 10 of the dismissal.

“I feel certain we would have won the appeal for the city, but now we won’t need to go to the expense,” she said.

Vose also said she’ll be working with the court to set a hearing on a fee-shifting motion she filed after the April 2016 decision, seeking city attorney fees to be paid “in equal amounts by plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel.”

Plaintiff’s attorneys, Aaron Thomas and Randall Smith of Najmy Thompson LLP of Bradenton, filed the appeal in September 2016, challenging the circuit court rulings on the ordinance.

The plaintiff, Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes LLC, dba Anna Maria Vacations, is an agent for some 236 rentals on Anna Maria Island — 64 of them in Anna Maria.

The Najmy attorneys set the 2nd DCA’s dismissal in motion, filing for a voluntary dismissal Feb. 6 on behalf of the company and its corporate managers Joe and Kelly Varner of Holmes Beach.

Thomas said Feb. 10 he had no comment on why the firm withdrew the appeal or whether their arguments were frivolous. He said he may have “more to say” if the city fee-shifting motion is noticed for a hearing.

The Najmy attorneys had argued the occupancy restriction “prohibited” rentals under the state preemption law by limiting them.

Vose warned the attorneys in a March 2016 letter about her intention to file the fee-shifting motion, calling the preemption count in their complaint a “spurious allegation,” unsupported under state law and asked for the case to be withdrawn.

The Vose Law Firm has worked on the case since it was filed a year ago.

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