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Date of Issue: March 12, 2008

Anna Maria P&Z recommends Center communications

If Anna Maria residents complain loud and long enough about the Anna Maria Island Community Center to generate a series of public meetings, some heated debate, countless city staff hours devoted to paperwork and a change to the city’s public recreation ordinance, imagine if the complaint was about holiday decorations at Christmas?

Wait a minute. The holiday complaint was made several years ago and resulted in city action.

This complaint about the Center, however, was made to city hall in January regarding a “bring-your-own-bottle” affair that the Center hosted. The end result was that the city’s planning and zoning board at its March 4 meeting recommended to the city commission that it require the Center to inform the city by letter at least one week in advance of events with alcohol or when more than 200 people are expected.

City planner Alan Garrett had originally asked the board to recommend simply that the Center be added as a permitted use in the public recreation area ordinance.

That recommendation came after Garrett, Mayor Fran Barford and other city staff discussed with the commission whether or not the Center needed to apply for a special event permit for numerous functions because those events at Center are not included in the PRA ordinance.

The brouhaha started in January when a resident living near the Center complained about a Center event where patrons brought their own alcohol. Concerned about the issue, Barford began having the Center staff submit a special event permit application for just about every event hosted by the Center until she had direction from the commission on procedures for Center activities.

The net result of that action was a considerable amount of staff time - both city and Center - spent on preparation, submission and analysis of the appropriate documents.

Ultimately, commissioners realized that they and the city have not informed when the Center hosts events where alcohol is consumed - or any event for that matter - and directed Garrett, upon advice from city attorney Jim Dye, to prepare an ordinance amendment allowing the Center as a permitted use in the PRA.

For board member Frank Pytel, however, Garrett’s submission appeared to be a “blanket authorization” for the Center to hold just about any event it wants, and as often as it wants. “I’m just concerned about the neighbors” around the Center, he said, adding that the board should be “looking out for their rights.”

He also questioned whether or not it was appropriate for the Center to have liquor “whenever they wanted.”

Board member Jim Conoly indicated agreement.

“I don’t believe the city should give the community center the ‘go-ahead’ to do what they (sic) want without limits,” noting that alcoholic consumption is a “good example” of limitations.

Garrett, however, pointed out that alcohol is a permitted use at the Center and noted that the Center has been conducting large events and activities for a number of years.

Board member Sandy Mattick chimed in that consumption of alcohol at Center events has “not been a problem,” and board member Margaret Jenkins agreed.

But what if the Center has an activity where 10,000 people want to attend, intoned board member Randall Stover? The board needs to recommend that the commission “set controls” on the Center, he said.

Pytel asked what would happen if the Center hosted a wine-tasting event?

That would not be in keeping with the mission of the Center, responded Center executive director Pierrette Kelly, who attended the meeting.

For an event to be held at the Center, it has to “provide for the general good of the community,” she said.

And Garrett noted that when the commission approved the Center’s site plan for its remodeled facility, it also approved its usage. The addition to the ordinance just simplifies the issue and eliminates the need for a special event permit for every Center event.

Kelly added that the Center provides security - usually off-duty Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies - at events where alcohol is present. The Center also purchases a $1 million special insurance policy before an event where alcohol.

The discussion about events the Center has been hosting for the past 40-plus years prompted resident Mike Coleman to ask just “What problem is it we are trying to solve?”

The Center is very “pro-active” for the city, he said. “As far as I can tell, the Center has never been a problem.

Coleman said that, as a taxpayer, he’s concerned that “one person can pick up the phone and call the city and get everyone riled up. One phone call from one neighbor got everything in an uproar.”

But Pytel lobbied for specific language so that the amendment “doesn’t open Pandora’s box” at the Center.

Board members eventually agreed to approve a recommendation to the commission that the Center be added as a use in the PRA, but if it’s going to hold any event with alcohol or more than 200 people, it has to notify the city at least one week before the event.

“This keeps communication open with the city,” Pytel promised, and the city will have some record of events held at the Center.

The motion was approved by a 7-0 vote.