Tag Archives: 01-23-2013

AM mayor calls times ‘critical’ for city

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn is urging residents and property owners to attend the commission meeting Jan. 24, when commissioners will discuss ordinances that will tie delegated parking spaces at family residences with the number of bedrooms, and also examine living-area limits for residences.

“It’s a critical meeting for our future,” the mayor said. “If we want to maintain our quality of life, we need to take control before we are flooded with multiple bedroom houses that can be rented to two or three families, or 10-20 people, at the same time.”

The city can’t regulate the number of bedrooms at a residence, she said, but it can regulate parking to ensure the city isn’t overrun by “multi-bedroom vacation rentals” that accommodate 15-20 people or several families at the same time, SueLynn said.

She made it clear she has nothing against tourism to the city. In fact, she welcomes visitors who come for the right reasons.

“We are always going to have tourists and they are the backbone of our economy. Tourism is great for our city and the city pier is the county’s number one attraction,” she said. “I love the visitors who come here to enjoy our lifestyle, obey our laws, and respect the residents and the peace and quiet we enjoy.”

But problems have surfaced in the past two years in the vacation rental industry on Anna Maria Island, problems the city never foresaw.

Developers began turning vacation homes into multiple bedroom rentals, advertising online that several families, or large groups of people, could rent the house at the same time because it had four, five or six bedrooms, the mayor said.

“That’s when we started getting noise complaints. These were not real tourists, but people from Tampa or elsewhere that just wanted a party place. Anna Maria is not a party town and we’re not going to become one,” she said.

“It’s happened in Holmes Beach and it’s already happening here,” she said.

“This is not about good tourism. I have no problem with people and families who come here, enjoy our city and respect our laws,” she said. “This is about greed.”

She said she’s heard that Bon Eau Enterprises LLC, owners of the Villa Rosa property on South Bay Boulevard, may be interested in developing the 11 lots in the subdivision. Each lot is about 7,500 square feet.

“Without proper ordinances, each Villa Rosa house could become a six- or eight-bedroom home,” the mayor said.

Villa Rosa at one time was owned by the now bankrupt GSR Development LLC, the same company that planned to develop the Rosa del Mar condominiums in Bradenton Beach, SueLynn noted.

The mayor said she worries that “a lot of residents think this problem isn’t here. I’m sorry to tell you, but the developers are already in Anna Maria, and looking to maximize investments in a vacation rental with multiple-bedroom properties, including bedrooms on the ground floor. We have to do something quick or future generations will have lost the quality and ambiance of life in Anna Maria.”

Commissioner Chuck Webb agreed some multiple bedroom homes are just motels. He said he observed 15 cars in front of a house where a party was taking place. “They’re running a motel there,” he suggested.

SueLynn said residents who want to see an example of what developers plan for the cities, they should review the Internet website 9solutions.net.

“After you read this website, you can decide if some developers don’t care one whit about the quality of life for our residents, or the three- and six-month residents and families who come here to enjoy peace and quiet during the season. In my opinion, all they care about is making more money,” she said.

SueLynn said 9solutions.net advertises for investors in Anna Maria Island properties that will be developed with multiple bedrooms.

The 9solutions.net website says that with a large island tourism increase in recent years, “solutions began to purchase old duplexes and replace them with larger townhouses with a view to accommodating more and more visitors.”

The website states families can vacation together at a lower cost compared to renting several small accommodations.

The website also says the company is “finalizing negotiations to purchase a unique site and construct 16 new, direct Gulffront, luxury condos on Anna Maria.”

SueLynn said she’s unaware of any condo project in Anna Maria, and does not think there is vacant land for such a project in the city.

Steve Hanson, the corporate manager of 9Solutions LLC, purchased the Rosa del Mar property two years ago, but has not submitted any site plans for development.

According to sunbiz.org, Florida’s website for information on corporations, 9Solutions maintains an office at 444 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key.

Hanson was interviewed about his plans when he bought Rosa del Mar in Bradenton Beach, but nothing has materialized at that site.

SueLynn said she felt “terrible” for Anna Maria after reading the website and similar promotions.

“This is happening now in our city. Drastic action is needed by the commission. Some people aren’t going to like it, but we must stop this now or we’ve lost the village we love. This is the price of greed,” she added. “We’ve got to bite the bullet.”

Commissioner Gene Aubry agreed. He said he didn’t need to read the website to know what’s happening.

“We’re not going to take this lying down,” he said. “These vacation rentals are not residences. They are subject to a different set of regulations, and we need to enforce those.” He said would propose several measures to “take control” of the situation.

Efforts to reach Hanson for comment were unsuccessful..

AMI fish kill spawns debate: red tide or not

Red tide is being blamed for a Jan. 16 fish kill on parts of the Anna Maria shoreline, but there is no official confirmation of the cause.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Kevin Baxter, FWC believes the kill is red tide-related.

“Basically we have a lot of new reports of fish kills associated with red tide and we believe the one on Anna Maria Island also is related to the other kills,” said Baxter. “We’ve had fish kills throughout this bloom, which started around the end of September.”

Baxter said the heaviest concentration of red tide is in Sarasota County and moderate levels of the bacteria that causes the appearance of red tide have been reported in Manatee County.

While the Anna Maria fish kill did contain a variety of species, the majority of the dead fish found north of the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach were mullet. The kill coincides with the annual mullet run and boats swarmed the waters near shore of where the dead fish were found the following morning.

Some locals believe the fish kill is related to the mullet run — a concerted effort by commercial fishers to catch roe-filled mullet — saying the consistency in size of the dead mullet may relate to the net size. There also is some suspicion a fisher may have used an illegal gill net to catch large quantities of mullet.

Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish House, Cortez, said Mote Marine Laboratory is telling her there is no red tide in the area where the dead fish were found, but she is siding with FWC in its findings.

“I rode down the beach with my windows down and started coughing and I don’t have a cold,” she said. “Also, fishers who are pulling up mullet are reporting the fish are gasping for air as they come up, which is indicative of what happens during red tide.”

The prize of the mullet run is females. The female’s roe is more valuable than the fish itself, so male mullet are often discarded.

Bell said that’s another reason why the fish kill on Anna Maria is likely caused by red tide.

“The county called me and asked if fishers were throwing fish overboard, and I told them absolutely not,” she said. “I saw those fish and there were both male and female involved in the kill. There is no way fishers would throw females away.”

Baxter said it’s not the first report of a mullet kill.

“We’ve had calls on mullet,” he said. “It appears that the mullet are spawning in areas that have been impacted by the red tide. Fish kills are being reported all along the Southwest coast.”

When asked if FWC would test the fish to confirm the cause of the kill, Baxter said it can be difficult to assign blame to a single cause.

“A lot of the fish have been dead for a while before they wash ashore, so they are already decomposing,” he said. “We have had reports of multiple species in the Anna Maria kill, but it is difficult to determine the exact number of species for that same reason.”

 

FWC confirms red tide in Manatee County

According to the Jan. 16 FWC red tide update, a bloom of the organism Karenia brevis, which makes up the red tide algae, ranges from low to high along the shore of Manatee County.

Baxter said testing is ongoing as scientists try to keep up with the outbreak.

“It’s really hard to predict the length of an outbreak or even where it’s going,” said Baxter. “We can do pretty good estimating within a three-day period with our satellite imagery, but long-term forecasting is difficult.”

Concentrations of red tide exist in Manatee County southward through Lee County, and low concentrations have been found offshore in Collier County.

The algae bloom, which has been growing in mass, extends from southern Manatee County through Lee County, with patches now present off the Florida Keys.

Baxter said fish kills have increased throughout the red tide areas in recent weeks and respiratory issues in humans are increasing.

To report a fish kill, call 800-636-0511.

Mote reports ‘slight’ red tide

Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota issued a red tide report Jan. 18 and said it found only “slight respiratory irritation” among beachgoers tested at Coquina Beach.

The report notes only mild irritation from red tide for people on Jan. 19, and no dead fish at Coquina.

However, Coquina Beach may be the farthest north of Mote’s test sites. Beachgoers reported irritation and dead fish on the Gulf of Mexico shore in Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, and on Tampa Bay at the Anna Maria City Pier. Mote’s report indicated increasing numbers of beachgoers at several southwest Florida beaches have recently experienced respiratory irritation caused by red tide’s airborne toxins.

The Jan. 18 testing resulted in “a marked increase in red tide algae (Karenia brevis) over tests results from last week.”

The beaches with the largest increase in red tide levels were in Sarasota or Lee counties.

Anna Maria checking ground-floor uses

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said the city’s three certified code enforcement officers will be looking closely at ground- floor garages at three-story homes the next few weeks.

She said the city has received several complaints that some property owners may have enclosed the ground-floor parking area without a permit, and may have added living space.

“We don’t know what’s true, but we are going to be checking downstairs walled garages over living space,” the mayor said.

The city follows the Federal Emergency Management Agency regulation that calls for all residential structures, or remodel work at a cost of more than 50 percent of the appraised value, to have elevated living space. The ground level can contain only storage, parking and entry, and may not be used as a livable area in Anna Maria.

“If you’re caught using your ground floor as living space when it should only be for parking and storage, you may be issued a citation and may have to appear in the special magistrate’s court,” the SueLynn said.

Some ground-floor living space might have been grandfathered for use since the city adopted the FEMA requirement in 1974, building official Bob Welch said.

The mayor emphasized that enclosing the garage floor to gain additional living space in violation of the regulation is “not going to work in Anna Maria. Sooner or later you will be caught.”

Bradenton Beach’s Church Avenue becomes official

No one seems to remember when a Church Avenue sign at the intersection of Second Street North in Bradenton Beach was changed to Church Street.

Church Avenue has three intersections, but the Second Street North intersection is the only one that reads Church Street. It’s been that way as long as anyone can remember, which is why on Dec. 6 city commissioners opted not to take a vote to change it to Church Avenue.

It’s listed as Church Avenue by the Manatee County emergency system, U.S. Postal Service and even Google maps. Residents of Church Avenue, named after Harvey Memorial Church, have been complaining to the city since late last year to change it from Church Street to Church Avenue.

Church Avenue resident Michael Harrington sent a formal request to the city to have the sign changed and spoke at the Jan. 17 commission meeting.

“It is incorrect,” said Harrington. “I have spoken to many residents and they agree it needs to be changed back.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse brought the subject up at the Dec. 6 meeting and commissioners initially provided a consensus to have it changed to Church Avenue.

But during the course of discussion, commissioners changed their mind, saying everyone knows it as Church Street.

Gatehouse submitted an agenda item request to bring the matter up for an official vote for the Jan. 17 meeting.

“As you know, a couple of meetings ago, I brought up the issue of the sign on Church Avenue and Second Street North. The sign is in error, as per every agency I had public works director Tom Woodard check with,” he said.

Gatehouse said the commission’s reversal on the Dec. 6 consensus was based on an opinion provided by a person who has not worked for the city in years that there may be public opposition to changing the sign.

“Not only does every agency we’ve talked to have it as Church Avenue, so does Bradenton Beach,” he said.

Gatehouse motioned to have the sign changed, but during discussion, Vice Mayor Ed Straight disagreed with Gatehouse’s assessment that Bradenton Beach considers it Church Avenue.

“It’s Church Street on my map,” he said. “I don’t know if it was ever changed. My argument is that named streets can be called anything you want. As far as I’m concerned, just leave it that way.”

Gatehouse said he was suggesting a name correction, not a name change.

“People can still call it Church Street if they want,” he said. “They can call it Interstate Church if they like. Right now, it looks silly because two of the streets are named Church Avenue. The whole thing makes us look silly.”

Commissioner Gay Breuler seconded Gatehouse’s motion, which passed 4-1 to authorize Woodard to change the sign to Church Avenue. Straight was the dissenting vote.

The Jan. 17 meeting started with Mayor John Shaughnessy thanking commissioners and city staff for the hard work they do and going “above and beyond” by working within the community whether it be for the city or charity.

In other matters, citizens continue to complain about noise coming from Bridge Street businesses at night.

The city is in progress of reviewing its noise ordinance and Shaughnessy reminded citizens that “we are working on it.”

He said citizens need to do more than just call police to complain about the noise.

“When you do have a complaint, file it with the police department so we have a paper trail,” he said. “We are working the noise ordinance, but it’s a very touchy thing. We want it, but we want to do it right.”

Shaughnessy said he is working with Police Chief Sam Speciale and city planner Alan Garrett. Commissioners also plan to hold work sessions in the coming weeks.

In attorney business, Ricinda Perry announced that a contract with ZNS Engineering, the firm hired for the Historic Bridge Street Pier reconstruction project, should be presented at the Feb. 4 meeting.

Perry also announced that she is finalizing details of a contract that would secure the services of Rusty “Lawrence” Monroe, of Municipal Solutions, to review cell tower applications.

The announcement is a change in direction from previous meetings where Gatehouse wished to put distance between the city and Monroe, and emails from Monroe, who wrote he no longer wished to do business with Bradenton Beach.

Tensions rose when Gatehouse questioned the city’s cell tower ordinance that financially benefitted Monroe. Gatehouse said he would attempt to have the ordinance repealed or, at least amended, but that effort never came to fruition.

Gatehouse had cited where Monroe’s ordinance was challenged in the courts in other states, but Monroe insisted in that example that the city had gone against his advice.

Correction

Comments attributed to Florida Maritime Museum director Karen Riley-Love in a story regarding the resignation of Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court R.B. “Chips” Shore from the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board of directors should have been attributed to FISH board member Karen Bell.

Court to appoint third doctor on competency in sex case

Yet another doctor will be asked for an opinion on whether a Bradenton Beach man alleged to have sex with a 15-year-old is fit to stand trial.

Joseph Edmund Chiquet is in his third year in Manatee County jail awaiting trial on felony charges of having sex with a minor, child pornography and witness tampering.

By a Dec. 3 order, 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas Krug appointed psychologists Eddy Regnier and Mary Elizabeth Kasper of Sarasota to evaluate Chiquet’s mental capacity.

“Two doctors were appointed,” said assistant State Attorney Anthony DaFonseca after a Jan. 16 docket sounding. “One came back competent. One came back incompetent. So we’re going to have a third doctor appointed.”

The psychologists were asked to evaluate the defendant’s understanding of the charges against him; his capacity to disclose pertinent facts; his ability to exhibit appropriate courtroom behavior; and capacity to testify relevantly and cope with the stress of incarceration prior to trial.

The doctors’ reports were sealed Jan. 8 by the court.

Chiquet’s attorney Mark Lipinski raised the competency issue June 27, and filed a prior report by Regnier, which he said found his client incompetent. Regnier’s report described Chiquet as severely depressed, homicidal and suicidal. It also concluded, “He should be hospitalized in a state hospital where he can be medicated involuntarily.”

Chiquet was arrested in 2009 after he allegedly had sex with a teenager and took sexual photographs of her in his Bradenton Beach apartment. Search warrants yielded additional child pornography from his computers, according to police records.

While out on bond in 2010, Chiquet was charged with offering $10,000 to a former girlfriend to tell police she was depicted in the photographs and not, as prosecutors allege, the 15-year-old girl. After adding the bribery charge, the court revoked Chiquet’s bond and he was returned to jail.

Two appeals have further prolonged the case — one by the defense and one by the prosecution — regarding the discovery of evidence.

The case was originally scheduled for a July 2012 trial, and postponed to Jan. 28. At the Jan. 16 docket sounding, the trial date was set for April 1.

The competency issue must be determined before a trial. DaFonseca said he’ll be meeting with Chiquet’s attorney Mark Lipinski to recommend another doctor to evaluate Chiquet’s competency.

A 10 a.m. March 20 docket sounding will be the next hearing.

All hearings are held in Courtroom 6A at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

April hearing date set in Musil-Buehler murder case

The 12th Judicial Circuit Court last week reset a hearing in the case of William J. Cumber, charged with second-degree murder in the case of a missing Anna Maria Island woman.

To manage what is expected to involve voluminous pre-trial discovery, the court set April 17 for attorneys to report on case discovery and trial preparation, and possibly set a trial date.

Cumber is accused of killing Sabine Musil-Buehler, who he shared an apartment with in Anna Maria and who went missing in November 2008.

On Jan. 15, assistant State Attorney Art Brown filed a four-page synopsis of items given to Cumber’s attorney, Carolyn Schlemmer, including witness statements, polygraph reports, crime scene contamination logs, consents to search and phone records. In December 2012, he filed a one-page list of people who may have evidence pertaining to the case.

Schlemmer is expected to reciprocate with similar disclosures.

Brown said he expects the defense to take a number of depositions in preparing the case.

Musil-Buehler had lived with Cumber in the 200 block of Magnolia Avenue, Anna Maria, when she was discovered missing Nov. 6, 2008. She and her estranged husband, Tom Buehler, owned and operated Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach.

An MCSO investigation began that day with a traffic stop of Musil-Buehler’s car being driven in Bradenton by Robert Corona. Deputies checked the car registration and began looking for Musil-Buehler. They interviewed Tom Buehler, who told them his estranged wife was missing. He then filed a missing person’s report.

An MCSO detective spoke to Cumber the same day in the Magnolia Avenue apartment, and became suspicious after smelling bleach during the interview.

On Oct. 15, 2012, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube announced Cumber’s arrest for his girlfriend’s murder. Two days later he pleaded not guilty and filed a demand for a jury trial.

Cumber is being held in the Manatee County jail without bond. He was serving time related to a previous arson case and parole violation at the time of his arrest.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on the murder charge.

The case management hearing is set for 9 a.m. before Judge Thomas Krug in 6A at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Choice to reject museum offer ‘wasn’t vindictive’

Board members of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage say there was nothing personal in rejecting an offer from the Florida Maritime Museum to host FISH educational exhibits during the Feb. 16-17 Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.

The decision to reject the offer forced Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court R.B. “Chips” Shore to institute a mandatory user fee for FISH to use museum property, as outlined in the Florida Communities Trust agreement, which helped complete the county purchase of the 1912 Cortez schoolhouse, now the museum.

The agreement’s terms were unknown to FISH and the museum until an audit occurred last year. The discovery that FISH would have to pay the museum to use its property and no longer split revenue with the museum created a deep riff between the two entities.

Some appear to think that riff never healed and Shore’s Jan. 3 resignation from the FISH board of directors was due to the decision to reject the museum’s offer.

FISH treasurer Jane von Hahmann explained in a series of emails that she could not recommend Shore’s offer based solely on the financial gains FISH incurs by using the museum grounds for their own exhibits.

However, FISH festival chair Linda Molto said it goes beyond financials.

“Chips suggested the museum would coordinate and plan all educational programs for the festival at no cost to FISH,” she said. “He said it benefits FISH to provide education to the greater community.”

But Molto said Shore’s offer meant moving up to 20 planned FISH exhibits and booths off of museum grounds to make way for what the museum wanted to do.

“There is not a square inch of room left to move one exhibit, much less the number of exhibits and artists we have already planned at the museum,” said Molto.

Shore claimed in his emails that last year’s exhibits on museum property raised $1,500. According to FISH financials, the profit was substantially more and Molto said FISH would lose a lot of money if it accepted the museum’s offer.

Financials show that artist fees to have a booth at the festival raised $1,885, food vendors stationed at the museum raised $902 and raffle ticket sales for a boat generated $2,130.

Children’s entertainment booths generated $1,448, “so what he said is simply not true,” said Molto.

“He said we could move all the artists, children’s entertainment, a ticket booth and the entertainment we have planned for the stage at the Bratton Store elsewhere,” she said. “That’s impossible. The only way to accommodate his offer is to cut these people out of the festival and that’s something we cannot do.”

Molto said vendors have been applying for festival space since November and they already have received their acceptance papers.

“And besides that, I have known these artists and food vendors for years,” she said. “We are like a family, so to tell them at the last minute they don’t have a place in our festival would be unprofessional and impossible.”

Because FISH rejected the museum’s offer, Shore instituted a $500 a day user fee for FISH to use museum property per the Florida Communities Trust agreement, which states any fundraising activities on museum grounds must be charged the fee.

“But this will be the first time we’ve ever had to pay that fee,” Molto. “We didn’t pay it last year when this agreement became known and we never paid it before, so why is it coming up now?”

Molto is concerned about the fee, but she is more concerned with the continued divisive nature between FISH and the museum.

“It’s important that we work together,” she said. “We know that the festival brings people to the museum. We just need to understand that we can better benefit one another by working together.”

Shore’s emails indicated his unhappiness with FISH’s decision to reject his offer, but his reason for resigning from the board of directors had more to do with what Shore called “inflammatory language and rhetoric” used by FISH board members toward his office and the museum staff, in particular.

Molto acknowledged the riff between FISH and the museum, but it was Shore’s efforts to hire a facilitator to bring the two entities together that she points to as a hope that Shore will reconsider his resignation and continue to have FISH and the museum show a spirit of cooperation.

Shore was particularly upset with FISH secretary Joe Kane’s minutes from a November festival committee. When Shore announced that he had no choice to implement the mandatory user fee for FISH to use museum property, Kane referred to the $500 a day fee as a “tax” in the minutes.

Forty-four days after those minutes were written, Shore announced his resignation, saying “FISH continues to incite a negative image of my office in the press and in its’ minutes.”

FISH opted not to vote on Shore’s resignation at its Jan. 7 meeting in hopes Shore would reconsider. FISH has not received any word on Shore’s decision. If Shore does not contact the board before its Feb. 4 meeting, the board is expected to take up Shore’s resignation and vote whether or not to accept it.

In the meantime, Molto said festival planning is moving forward and is all but finalized. The festival draws an estimated 25,000 people a year and the proceeds go to FISH’s mission of rehabilitating its 95-acre preserve and preserving the Cortez coastline and way of life as a commercial fishing community.

Festival volunteers are still needed. To volunteer, call 941-254-4972 and leave a message with your name and contact information. Molto said a festival crew member will return all calls.

Fire chief to Holmes Beach: Consider sprinklers in R-2

West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price recommended sprinklers last week to protect against fire hazards in Holmes Beach duplexes.

        At a Jan. 10 city commission meeting, Price told commissioners worried about the safety of those living in more than 1,000 units across the city to consider an ordinance requiring sprinkler installation with any new duplex construction in the Residential-2 zone.

        “Back in 2004-05, when these buildings started popping up, we had issues with them because they were so close,” Price said. “There was almost no access.”

        He said fences, power lines and the closeness of the homes allow “absolutely no access to some of these structures.”

        Commission Chair Jean Peelen said, “I am horrified that these buildings can be, and continue to be built.”

        Mayor Carmel Monti asked Price if he knew of precedence for retrofitting buildings with sprinklers, and Price replied he did not.

        Commissioner Pat Morton said, “My thing is safety.” He asked for Price’s recommendations in homes of six to eight bedrooms.

        Price recommended smoke detectors. He said smoke detectors woke up and saved the lives of homeowners in a recent Key Royale fire.

        Price said later that sprinkler ordinances have been enacted in numerous jurisdictions, but knew of none locally. He believes Longboat Key has relied on the state building code to require sprinklers in three-story buildings.

        Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked if the city could have existing duplexes inspected by the fire department.

        Price said state law exempts residential one- and two-family construction from the fire department’s inspection requirements, although there can be life hazard or voluntary inspections.

        Zaccagnino concluded it was up to the city’s building department to make sure the code is met, and that a proposed ordinance limiting living-area ratio will prevent the close construction of residences.

        Peelen said that the building department in the past didn’t do proper inspections, which contributed to the problem.

        Commissioner Judy Titsworth said the problem stemmed from the building department not requiring the plans with the proper fire assemblies to meet the code.

        When she recommended the proper engineering to former public works director Joe Duennes, Titsworth said he told her “it would be a pretty good idea if we did.”

        “But we didn’t,” she continued. “Now we have a ton of them.”

        Jim Greenamoyer, manager of the fire sprinkler division of McDonough WMF Plumbing of Sarasota, estimated it would cost $2 per square foot for new duplex construction and $3 per square foot to retrofit structures. The average duplex is about 2,613 square feet.