Tag Archives: 01-08-2014

Meet ‘everyman,’ Islander of the Year

He came to Anna Maria Island with talent. How he uses it makes him exceptional. He is a career architect, musician, artist and he readily gives his talents for the good of others. He stepped up to serve his city in a time of extreme crisis. He gives his talents readily and reaps little reward beyond self-satisfaction.

He sees the importance of where we are, whether it’s the landscape or the place in time, and has a keen intuition for where we go and how we get there. He sees our potential.

He’s the future. He relishes our past.

He has 20-20 insight and a crystal ball view of the future.

He’s a neighbor. Volunteer. Giver.

He’s everyman. He’s also a renaissance man.

He’s Gene Aubry.

He’s empowered with seemingly limitless knowledge, embracing the sort of great thinking that we so seldom see, so much so that less accomplished people often fail to recognize his significance.

It’s not his job, it’s his life.

If you haven’t seen or heard him play guitar, you may not recognize his range of talent. If you don’t know of his many architectural achievements, you might doubt this quiet man had reached such heights. If you don’t know of his art — the simple, fine lines and subtle colors that capture moments in time like no photograph could — you may not appreciate his refined taste.

He often volunteers his talents. He plays guitar at various venues, most often Beach Bistro — on his own schedule. He blends seamlessly into dinner conversations, adding to the ambiance with his enjoyment, and he never accepts tips or a fee.

He draws instinctively, perfecting perception on paper, putting what he sees — reality — combined with his passion into scale.

He came forward to put his name on the ballot when the city was polarized by ideas from a man named Harry, and he narrowly won election to the Anna Maria City Commission.

He served by offering solutions. He was pragmatic, practical and philosophical in his service to the city. And he put his ideas to work by putting them on paper, demonstrating how improvements don’t have to mean great changes for the less visionary of his contemporaries.

Unfortunately, putting ideas to work can be frustrating when the people are scared of what the future may bring. May bring? It’s only certain that people want improvements but fear change.

Counted among his lasting architectural visions are the Selby Public Library in downtown Sarasota, the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, private residences, schools and museums. His hotel credits include the posh Windsor Court in New Orleans and the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen.

Many projects fill the skyline in Houston where he once had an office, and architectural journals refer to him as “the man who rebuilt Houston.”

He may no longer serve Anna Maria on the commission, but he isn’t giving up on this place he loves. Surrender is not in his character.

Aubry holds the course.

He still has vision, hope and a gift to give…

For these reasons, he is our choice for Islander of the Year. — Publisher Bonner Joy

Foggy conditions good for birds

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Great Lakes Dock and Dredge workers were back on the job Jan. 6, renourishing the beach in Holmes Beach, where headlights were needed to navigate in the morning fog. A cold front was expected to bring cooler than normal temperatures, but there was no forecast for whether the dredge and pumping operation would be halted by rough Gulf of Mexico waters. Islander Photo: Jo Anne Meilner

High winds, choppy surf slow beach renourishment

A strong west wind Dec. 26-29 forced Great Lakes Dock and Dredge to move its barge and pumping station from the Gulf of Mexico to calmer waters in Tampa Bay, halting beach renourishment efforts.

The company resumed operations Dec. 30, but a cold front Jan. 2 again brought a strong west wind and 5-6 foot choppy surf, halting operations. The company did some work on Jan. 1.

Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker said that although the project was expected to go 24/7 from the start, weather is the deciding factor for Great Lakes to halt its operations.

Strong westerly winds and high waves would do more harm to the project than good, Hunsicker said. Those conditions could easily disrupt dredging and separate the pipes bringing sand to the beach.

Great Lakes currently is nourishing the beach from its starting point at the 60th Street beach access northward to the 72nd Street beach access. The company will pump and smooth sand up to 79th Street, then begin work south of the 60th Street access.

Under its contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes is supposed to finish the project — builiding the beach southward to Coquina Beach — within 60 days of its Dec. 20 start. The company started pumping sand Dec. 21.

Coquina Beach then will be renourished under a separate contract with Great Lakes.

Hunsicker estimated the total cost of the project, including Coquina Beach, at $15 million. Renourishing Coquina Beach will cost about $3 million of that total.

Coquina Beach is being funded by the state and county, he said. Federal, state and county funds are paying for renourishing the beach from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Coquina Beach.

Corps spokesperson Laurel Reichold said Great Lakes is averaging 1,000 feet of new beach per day when the weather cooperates.

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Marine engineer Michelle Pfeiffer, foreground, of Coastal Planning and Engineering, and Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, inspect the beach project Dec. 30 near the 67th Street beach access in Holmes Beach.

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Marine engineer Michelle Pfeiffer, left, of Coastal Planning and Engineering, and Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, inspect the beach project Dec. 30 near the 67th Street beach access in Holmes Beach.

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Great Lakes Dredge and Dock resume the Anna Maria Island beach renourishment project Dec. 30, pumping and leveling sand dredged from the barge in the background. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

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Beachwalkers in Holmes Beach between the 60th Street and 72nd Street beach accesses are separated by a contractor’s fence from equipment used by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock for beach renourishment. Islander Photos: Rick Catlin

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The Heisel family from Germany walks the beach Jan. 1, despite the presence of renourishment equipment on the shoreline. David Heisel said they also visited during the 2005 beach renourishment project. From left are Gisela, AnnaLisa and David Heisel. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

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AnnaLisa Heisel, 13, from Germany, takes a photo of beach renourishment activity Jan. 1 near the 66th Street beach access in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Beach builders take steps to accommodate resorts

So often the ads for island accommodations say, “Steps to the beach.”

      But steps to the beach can be a block or more to the beach at the beachfront resorts that have renourishment equipment blocking their guests from the most direct path from their door to the shore.

      Great Lakes Dredge and Dock has said it is working as fast as possible to renourish Anna Maria Island beaches and move its equipment south, but high winds from the west temporarily halted pumping operations in early January.

      Unfortunately for White Sands Beach Resort co-owners Jeff Geary and Ken Geary, the project was halted directly in front of the beach access at the resort, 6504 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. And that hurt business.

      “We’re losing about $10,000 a week because guests show up, see the equipment on the beach, and go elsewhere,” Jeff Geary said.

      But the Gearys were not without resources to have the equipment moved.

      Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker and Michelle Pfeiffer of Coastal Planning and Engineering made efforts to have Great Lakes move its equipment to another location and away from the resort.

      Hunsicker wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “The owner has been highly impacted by the project and is not at all satisfied with the situation and the duration of beach closure followed by staging directly in front of his resort.”

      Hunsicker suggested there were other nearby areas where the equipment could be staged to “greatly reduce the impact to the beach properties.”

      With some down time because of weather, Hunsicker said the next few days would be “a great opportunity to relocate” the equipment and materials.

      Hunsicker also said it’s likely the same issue “will arise from other property owners as the project moves south since the island is lined with beachfront homes and resorts.”

      Pfeiffer also wrote to the Corps, suggested designating staging areas for equipment in advance of movement to reduce the impact to beach properties.

      Pfeiffer and Hunsicker plan to coordinate the locations of future staging areas in advance with Great Lakes.

      Jeff Geary said he understood the need for beach renourishment, he just didn’t understand why the equipment was blocking his resort.

            “Unfortunately, it looks to me like it will be about 10 days before Great Lakes resumes pumping, and that means more than 10 days before we can expect the equipment to be moved,” he said Jan. 3. “I just hope Hunsicker can get some action quickly. We’re grateful for the help.”

Tree trimming causes concern in Anna Maria, but no citations

Anna Maria Commissioner Nancy Yetter and Park Avenue resident Betty Yanger became concerned at the end of 2013 when workers trimmed a banyan tree on two vacant lots on Park Avenue.

Yetter was concerned enough to go to the site with several area residents to determine if any city codes were violated.

“They were trimming on private property and it appeared no trees were being removed,” the commissioner said.

Yanger said it was a shame that the tree had to be trimmed so severely.

“It’s always been a community tree. I wish it could have been turned into a park, but I guess they had to make room for a house,” she said.

Yetter was more upset when she discovered some sea grape trees and shrubs along the shore, only 100 yards from the Park Avenue Banyan Tree Estates where the tree was cut, had either been burned down, cut down or were destroyed by a chemical.

“I would really like to know who did that,” she said.

Yetter said the arborist who supervised the banyan tree trimming had no idea what happened to the sea grape trees.

“Destroying sea grapes on the beach I believe is against the law in Florida,” Yetter said. “The (trees) look like someone just cut them down or burned them.”

Mayor SueLynn said she spoke with the arborist who supervised the work.

“He was a bit reluctant to talk at first, but later opened up. He said no trees are being removed, but he knew nothing about the sea grapes. We’ll keep an eye open to make sure no trees are removed,” she said.

“At this point, I don’t see any city or state violations,” she added.

The destroyed sea grapes are along the beachfront between 101 Maple Avenue and 102 Park Avenue, an area of property that belongs to the city.

Real estate sales agent David Teitelbaum of Island Real Estate, who put together Banyan Tree Estates for owner Stephen Walker, said the contract states that no banyan trees will be trimmed or removed without approval of a licensed arborist.

“That was specific in the contract. The owner is to save as many trees as possible,” Teitelbaum said.

Still, Yanger was sad to see the tree trimmed.

“It’s such a community tree, I hate to see any part of it trimmed,” she said.

Calls to Whitehead Construction, the contractor for Banyan Tree Estates, were not returned by press time for The Islander.

 

Sea grape, dune protection

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection provides guidelines for protecting the small number of plant species that endure the extreme conditions encountered along our state’s coastline.

According to the DEP, dune species, such as sea grape trees and shrubs, thrive in the harsh beach environment, acting as a continuous sand trap. The accumulation of sand by the leaves, limbs and stalks play a major role in the construction of a healthy dune system. Without sea grapes and other salt-tolerant plants, the beach and dunes are more vulnerable to erosion.

The Florida Legislature enacted a law that states, “no person, firm, corporation, or governmental agency shall damage or cause to be damaged sand dunes or the vegetation growing on the dune system.”

Property owners and their agents who want to alter native vegetation seaward of the DEP Coastal Construction Control Line must apply for a permit if the alteration can be expected to damage the plants.

Damages include “trampling, crushing, breaking, digging up, or excessive cutting of roots, stems or branches of native salt tolerant plants naturally occurring or planted for dune restoration.”

However, vegetation maintenance that does not damage plants, including trimming, is exempt from permit requirements.

Exemption from permitting by the DEP does not shield the property owner from enforcement by local, state or federal agencies.

For more information, contact the Florida Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems at 850-488-7708. Information also can be found at www.dep.state.fl.us/beaches/publications.

New year, old battles for city of Bradenton Beach

Only two days into 2014 and Bradenton Beach commissioners found themselves embroiled in old issues involving a proposed cellular communications tower and a lawsuit filed against the city regarding an agreement with ELRA, the restaurant corporation spearheaded by Ed Chiles.

Kevin Barille, of Florida Tower Partners, submitted easement requests as part of the rights afforded to the company upon an October approval of the land-lease agreement for a cellular communications tower at the public works building, at the end of Church Avenue.

The land-lease agreement was approved by the prior administration, and adjustments to the lease were expected once the agreement was signed and the company began surveys of the parcel.

Barille explained that companies like Florida Power & Light won’t come on the site without a secured lease, so the lease has to come first.

While it was only some technical adjustments to allow fiber installation and power flow to the proposed tower, the mere listing of the cell tower on the Jan. 2 agenda brought out the opposition that appears to be joined by Vice Mayor Janie Robertson.

“I won’t be supporting any vote for a cell tower at that location,” said Robertson, who doesn’t believe enough was done to find an alternative location. “This is going to impact a residential neighborhood.”

Barille said the site is the best location for the eventual carriers as far as coverage for the targeted areas, stretching southward to Longboat Key, northward to Holmes Beach and east toward Cortez.

He said all other locations would leave coverage concerns and could lead to a need for a second tower.

Robertson isn’t convinced and neither are residents who live in the Church Avenue area.

Paul Georges, who resides near the proposed tower location, presented a petition with 70 signatures that he claims are residents, voters and visitors who oppose the cell tower. He believes the former elected officials lost their bids for re-election due to passing the land-lease agreement just weeks before the voters made their decision.

Georges listed several reasons why he opposes the cell tower, but Barille said the reason for the easement requests have nothing to do with the land-lease agreement.

“I’m happy to discuss the concerns raised here, but I’m here for a totally different reason,” said Barille, who explained that certain legal descriptions to the land-lease agreement were expected to allow proper service to the site.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to grant the necessary easements with Robertson dissenting.

Mayor Bill Shearon acknowledged the concerns raised by citizens and pledged to look closely at Georges’ complaint. Shearon scheduled additional discussion for 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at a work session with city department heads.

Barille was invited to attend the work session to address citizen concerns, and Shearon pledged to put the cell tower issue to rest as soon as possible, “one way or the other.”

 

New commissioners: Fresh eyes on lot lawsuit

One of two people suing the city to nullify a joint development agreement between the city and ELRA over development plans at the BeachHouse Restaurant across from city hall broke a long silence at the Jan. 2 city commission meeting.

Jo Ann Meilner has remained somewhat quiet regarding ongoing litigation.

The case has not made much movement within the courts, but with a new commission in place, the aging dispute may find itself back in the public eye.

Meilner agreed with Georges’ cell tower argument and stated other reasons she believes why the voters of Bradenton Beach opted for change on the dais.

“The past commission, on advice of city staff, was encouraged to reject the decisions of planning and zoning,” said Meilner, who was a member of the P&Z that rejected the joint development agreement before later resigning when the matter turned contentious between city officials and P&Z members.

Meilner, along with Shearon, who also was a member of P&Z when the subject became heated, filed the suit in June 2012 with co-plaintiff Tjet Martin, Shearon’s life partner.

Shearon withdrew his name from the lawsuit following his November victory at the polls, acknowledging he was essentially suing himself as the new mayor.

Meilner reiterated the P&Z arguments that the agreement violates the city charter and comprehensive plan. She also called out city attorney Ricinda Perry for comments made at meetings dating back to 2008 that imply the deal with ELRA was already in the works at a time when Perry also was representing Chiles in his business interests.

While Shearon implied he would not get involved in the decision-making process due to his ties to the case, he said it was another issue that “needs closure.”

Shearon suggested a work session be devoted to the joint development agreement and Robertson agreed.

“I think that would be a fair idea,” she said. “There are three people up here with no knowledge of this situation other than knowing it’s a problem. We all need to understand the argument that is being made.”

Commissioner Ed Straight, who has been part of the city’s legal defense process, cautioned against having a public meeting in the midst of ongoing litigation.

Perry agreed and said to have Meilner present her argument to the commissioners in an open setting would be inappropriate without providing the other side of the story.

“So how do we close this out?” asked Shearon.

Perry said the joint development agreement was voted on and approved by elected officials, “and it’s my opinion that once a decision is made, it’s made. The decision on the cell tower and ELRA is a legal decision. I do not prefer to handle city business in that manner.”

Robertson disagreed and said the new elected officials needed to be brought up to speed on the information discussed at prior shade meetings. She said the agreement also has an exit clause that the city could use if the commission deemed in necessary.

Perry said she needed to review the exit clause to evaluate its viability.

Shearon stopped short of scheduling a work session, but said the subject would be raised again, “so we know how we want to proceed. This is another issue that needs a final decision, one way or the other.”

Island roadwatch

The Florida Department of Transportation will conduct a maintenance project over two nights on the Longboat Pass Bridge-State Road 789 from 9 p.m.-5 a.m. Jan. 7-8.

Some lane closures are expected and a flagger will be present. Motorists are advised to abide by lower speed limits, use caution and expect possible delays.

HB mayor: Flood insurance biggest concern for 2014

Of all the challenges that face a municipality year in and year out, it’s one that that has Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti the most concerned for 2014.

“The biggest challenge facing all island residents is the cost of flood insurance,” said Monti, who has scheduled a town hall meeting with insurance experts at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

“It’s not something we can control as an administration, but we can still do our part by giving our citizens as much knowledge about their options as we can,” he said.

Monti said property owners with ground-level homes are likely to lose subsidies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which “seems to change the rules after every storm.”

The mayor said he received calls from people who reported yearly flood insurance bills going from several thousand dollars to $30,000.

“But the experts I have coming in for the Jan. 9 meeting specialize in this and I know one case in particular where they were able to get that $30,000 flood insurance bill back down to almost where it was.”

Monti said he and other local officials also will lobby congressional representatives “to make sure we get a reprieve from this deal that is going to cause a massive increase.”

The cost for flood insurance isn’t under local control, but there are issues facing the city that are, according to Monti. He said continuing to improve drainage in the city is something his administration will make a priority.

“I see us making some end roads there,” he said. “In reality, I see more opportunities for Holmes Beach than I see problems. I’m really optimistic that we can attack a lot of our problems just by enforcing the rules.”

Monti said an example of that happened at the end of the year, when the city issued a stop-work order on a property owner who was exceeding the permitted renovations.

“Once the word gets around that we are going to enforce our rules, people who have taken advantage of the city in the past are going to say, ‘Hey, these guys are serious now,’” he said. “We have and will continue to tighten the laws on the books when needed, but we have a lot of good laws already in place. They just need to be enforced and that’s what we started doing this past year.”

Monti said he’s proud of what his administration accomplished in 2013. Monti won office in November 2012 along with two new commissioners.

“We put a lot of new systems in place,” he said. “Review processes, job descriptions, major hires with a new police chief and building official and both have done an excellent job. We are doing exactly what we said we would do when we were elected. I’m very happy and believe we are on the right path.”

There is much to do in the coming year. Monti said he will be happy to see the Mainsail Lodge development plan get solidified because it will open the door to improvements for downtown.

“It’s nice to put the things behind us that needed to get done and now we can concentrate on the things we want to do that will create a positive experience on the island,” he said.

Monti said his primary goal as mayor is to ensure Holmes Beach remains a community and “not just another tourist town. I think we’re doing the things we can do and I’m very proud of that.”

Anna Maria clerk resigns

Anna Maria city clerk Alice Baird submitted a retirement letter Jan. 2 to Mayor SueLynn.am-baird

Her last day of work will be Feb. 11, Baird said in her letter.

Baird came to Anna Maria as city clerk in 2000 after a short hiatus following 14 years as clerk in Bradenton Beach.

She was the city clerk during the recall election of then-Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus. It was the first-ever successful recall election in Manatee County, according to the supervisor of elections office. It also was the first in the state since the 1970s.

Baird requested an independent audit of the city’s books prior to her last day of work.

“We shall really miss her,” SueLynn said. “She’s been such a pleasure to work with and invaluable to the city. She’ll be hard to replace.”

Islander archive 24/7

Several years ago, The Islander was invited to take part in a digital newspaper pilot project with the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.

We started by sending all the electronically produced copies of the newspaper to library technicians, who then included The Islander — from 2005 forward — in the library database.

Next, we donated our collection of printed newspapers covering the beginning, from the first edition in 1992 up to the electronic era of 2005. It took a few years, but it’s all on the UofF digital library site now, all searchable by key word, name or date.

It’s simple, easy and available 24/7.

This prompted us to reduce our storage of dead newspapers — what we publishers call a “morgue.”

The next step in our quest to be the “best” news on Anna Maria Island is a digital photo library. Soon, you’ll be able to find archived photos going back to the first editions of The Islander preserved on the state’s website, Floridamemory.com.

Kids at school, news photos, pictures from events and the hallmarks in the lives of islanders.

As for now, there’s 21 years, 52 weeks a year, cover to back, the complete collection of The Islander, online.

You’ll find The Islander at the UofF library among the digital stacks, now and into the future. Weekly.