Tag Archives: 03-26-2014

BB commission agrees to tolerate higher-decibel music

Kool and the Gang played from two speakers outside Bradenton Beach City Hall on the afternoon of March 20.

Spectators swayed to the music as Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale took the microphone. “Sound check,” he said. “Testing. One. Two. Three.”

But Speciale wasn’t preparing for karaoke. Instead, he was conducting a decibel-level demonstration during the final public hearing for a sound ordinance.

About 50 residents attended to voice opinions on the proposed measure — largely in opposition to changing the commercial decibel levels at night to a sliding scale that would decrease in volume every few hours from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.

The main purpose of the ordinance is to address resident’s concerns related to live entertainment and amplified music offered at businesses in the Bridge Street area. The city planning and zoning board held several meetings on the topic and recommended lowering the decibel levels in the commercial district.

After hearing the demonstration in the parking lot and following more than an hour of public comment on the topic inside chambers, commissioners unanimously approved the new ordinance with a clause allowing the decibel levels to be measured from the property line of the complainant rather than at the source of the sound.

Some say the change could end up increasing the decibel levels of music instead of lowering it.

“For two years I’ve been trying to get the sound ordinance changed,” said Doreen Flynn, manager of the Drift-In tavern, 120 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. “So what do they do? They decide to measure it from my property. If it’s 75 decibels where I am, it’s going to be 120 decibels from the source. I just can’t believe they did that.”

Bridge Street has established a reputation as a hub of entertainment on Anna Maria Island, especially after 10 p.m., when many restaurants in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach close.

However, some residents with homes near Bridge Street, like Terry Winford, have complained about noise.

The back of Winford’s home in the Pines Trailer Park at Bridge Street and Church Avenue is about 2 feet from the parking lot of the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

“We are very close and the music can be a nuisance,” she said. “Sometimes it even shakes the trailer.”

The sound demonstration in the parking lot of city hall was intended to provide a better understanding of decibel levels and readings, said city planner Alan Garrett.

“Today, primarily, we are looking at what type of decibel levels to allow within the commercial district,” he said. “We want to give you examples of different levels of music and see what kind of readings we get.”

People stood about 40 feet from the speakers to approximate the distance from a property line of a business.

Speciale experimented with different levels of volume and many of those attending agreed that music played that rated 65 decibels was too low for live entertainment.

Then people were asked to move to the Tingley Memorial Library parking lot adjacent to the city parking lot, about 100 feet from the speakers. Garrett said that if a decibel reading could not be taken from the property line of a business, it would be taken at a distance of 100 feet. The added distance between speakers and listeners allowed for a decrease in sound equal to about 10 decibels.

At one point, people were asked to clap hands and the sound meter registered 90 decibels.

“For music, 75 is tolerable, but 65 is just too low,” said Margie Motzer, who said she frequents Bridge Street for the music scene. “I wish they would consider making it higher because people come there to enjoy themselves.”

Under the new noise ordinance, outdoor music will be allowed until 10 p.m., and live indoor music can take place until 1 p.m. Establishments can play music at 85 decibels 7 a.m.-7 p.m., but that number shrinks to 75 decibels between the hours of 7 p.m.-10 p.m., and then must be turned down to 65 decibels 10 p.m.-2 a.m. It decreases again to 55 decibels 2 a.m.-7 a.m.

After the demonstration, the crowd gathered outdoors went into the cramped quarters of city hall chambers to comment on the record about the ordinance.

Most of those who spoke took issue with the restrictions between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., because they said it was prime time for live entertainment.

Adam Jenkins, president of the Bridge Street Merchants, presented the city commission with a petition and two pages of signatures opposing the change. Jenkins said he also conducted a survey of real estate agencies with rental properties in Bradenton Beach, asking property managers if they had complaints within the past three months. Most of them, he said, rarely had grievances regarding music or noise.

Other business owners said losing live music could be detrimental to their business and threaten their livelihoods.

Following public comment, commissioners voted to change several key factors in the ordinance.

While commissioners were in favor of the sliding scale, they said they would allow the sound to be read from the complainant’s property line rather than from the source.

“After hearing the demonstration, I think the decibel level in the ordinance is too low,” Vice Mayor Janie Robertson said.

The commission also voted to strike a clause from the ordinance that required indoor speakers to be placed 15 feet from any wall, which many residents felt was an unrealistic space constraint considering some establishments may not be 30 feet wide.

But the biggest argument against the ordinance was that it could jeopardize commercial success.

Many of the people who spoke own businesses on Bridge Street.

Fred Bartizal, owner of the Bridge Tender Inn, 135 Bridge St., said he started coming to the island in the 1950s and, during the past decade, his restaurant has evolved to employ 63 people.

Bartizal was emotional as he spoke.

“The city and the merchants have really come together and it’s become a real family,” he said. “Why argue with success? This is a great place and people come specifically to Bridge Street to be a part of that.”

Angela Rodecker, co-owner of Bridgewalk, a motel at 100 Bridge St., spoke of the inevitable change in the Bridge Street area in the recent decades.

“There are a lot of people ahead of us that spent a lot of time, energy and money to put sidewalks in and to put street lights in, so that Bridge Street could be what it is today,” she said. “But do you know where we would be if we hadn’t changed? Five dilapidated buildings. Yes, there is change. Yes, the street has evolved. And yes, it’s different from it used to be. But it’s working.”

The commission unanimously approved the amended ordinance, which immediately went into effect.

Jeep crashes on AMI Bridge

No one was injured, unless, of course, you account for pride.

Holmes Beach police said the driver of the Jeep that crashed over the sidewalk divider and struck the railing on the Anna Maria Island Bridge on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue at about 1:45-2 p.m. on Monday, March 22, told them the car skidded on the center grating on the bridge — and the Jeep was out of control.

A light rain was falling most of the day.

No other vehicle was involved in the crash.

Traffic was reduced to one lane with HBPD controlling flow on the bridge. Meanwhile, congestion on the roads in Holmes Beach quickly became a problem for motorists trying to cross the bridge or pass north and south.

The Florida Department of Transportation was called to verify that the bridge remained structurally sound, and Chief Bill Tokajer said they allowed the bridge to fully reopen at 3 p.m.

Another crew from DOT maintenance in Sarasota was expected at the bridge to shore up the railing in the afternoon.

The name of the Jeep driver was not released before press time for The Islander, and it was not known if any traffic citation would be issued.

It’s official: renourishment of beaches complete

Anna Maria Island’s shore is renourished.

The project that began Dec. 20 at 79th Street officially ended March 13, when the last area of Coquina Beach south to Longboat Pass in Bradenton Beach was renourished by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co.

“All beach renourishment is done, including Coquina Beach,” said Cindy Gray of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.

Department director Charlie Hunsicker said GLDD worked 24/7 to complete the two projects, with the exception of some weather delays.

The first phase of work was from 79th Street to 13th Street South at the south end of Cortez Beach. This project was completed under a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and cost about $12 million.

From Cortez Beach to Longboat Pass, encompassing Coquina Beach, the renourishment was a state and county project under the direction of Manatee County.

Manatee County paid $5.7 million for phase 2 and will be reimbursed by the state for about half that amount, Hunsicker said.

County funds come from the 5 percent resort tax, which can only be used for tourism-related projects, such as beach renourishment.

By having both projects done back-to-back, the county saved about $3 million in startup costs, which were paid by the corps, Hunsicker said.

“This successful project came to pass through the many efforts and communications between federal, state and local project managers,” he said.

The island’s beaches “are in their best shape since 1992. My thanks and gratitude go out to all our business owners, community member and visitors who exhibited great patience and understanding during this short period of the project,” Hunsicker added.

“We can now look forward for many years to beautiful sandy beaches providing wonderful recreation, protection of property, and sanctuary for our shorebirds and nesting marine turtles.”

Despite some weather delays, the projects took less than three months to complete.

Anna Maria beaches were not included in the renourishment because marine engineers found them “to be in good shape,” Hunsicker said.

The next project is for Cortez Beach, where the county will construct of state-of-the-art groins to control the flow of water and sand in that area.

Replacements for the three Cortez Beach groins should commence in the late summer of this year and last about nine months, Hunsicker said.

Audit reveals ‘material weakness’ in Bradenton Beach budget

A recent Bradenton Beach audit has revealed serious account deficiencies in the city’s 2012-13 budget.

The report was presented during the city commission’s work session March 20.

According to the audit, the city’s reserve balance in the general fund has been depleted nearly $800,000 during the past five years and the city has been spending more than it receives in revenue.

“At this rate, we will be out of cash in a matter of two or three years,” Mayor Bill Shearon said. With regard to the 2012-13 budget, enacted and carried out prior to Shearon’s term in office, he said, “Despite our lack of involvement, me and the city treasurer, Shelia Dalton, are accountable to the auditor general of the state of Florida to resolve the deficiencies.”

The audit found 24 audit adjustments, or journal entries, had caused a material weakness within the system, which amounts to a violation of state statute.

According to the statute, had it gone unnoticed, the mistake could have resulted in a material misstatement, which has the potential to affect the city’s worth.

The city has exceeded revenue by $400,000 in the current budget and the commission already approved taking $100,000 from the reserve fund to help balance the budget.

While the city received $200,000 of unexpected revenue, expenses in 2013 over that amount were $250,000. The audit also revealed $34,000 of “bad debt” due to poor collection methods.

Shearon said he’s expecting to receive a letter from the auditor general at any time warning the city that this sort of budget deficiency cannot happen again.

“It’s a major violation in some respects,” he explained. “We are as close as we can get before the state comes in and audits the books. The good news is no one had their hands in the cookie jar, meaning we can account for all the money and there was no wrongdoing. It’s just a matter of sloppy accounting.”

In order to correct the mistake, Shearon is asking commissioners to approve payroll, accounts payable checks and to review revenue and expense reports on a monthly basis and start the next fiscal year’s budget process six months in advance.

In addition, the city is undergoing an administrative reconstruction, which also was approved following the budget work session at the March 20 commission meeting, to establish a clear authority for department heads.

Department heads will now submit a written monthly report to the commission outlining their projects, timetables and expenses. Previous to the meeting, department heads reported verbally to the mayor.

Commissioners hope the change will signify a more cohesive intergovernmental structure and improve communication between departments.

Shearon said department heads will have more responsibility and be accountable for expenditures.

Shearon said he hopes to have the budget straightened out within six months, just in time for the city to address its fiscal year 2014-15 budget.

“By looking at the budget as a whole, we will be able to evaluate and fine tune our budget, go over line items and get things worked out for the better,” Shearon said.

Commissioners approved the invoice for the audit at their regular meeting March 20. CS&L CPAs, of Bradenton, invoiced the city $1,950 to complete the audit of the city’s financial statements on Sept. 30, 2013, and $1,065 for additional assistance for the mayor and members of the finance department, as well as preparation of cash reports. The total invoice was $3,015.

On the plus side, the city has no debt and about $8.3 million in total assets, although that money is made up of restricted funds that can only be used for certain projects pertaining to the Tingley Memorial Library or city community redevelopment agency.

Commissioner Jack Clarke said he hoped the new changes would help make the process simpler next year.

“The preparation for the audit next year will be a whole lot easier and, in turn, that will make it a whole lot cheaper,” he said.

BBPD officer recognized for extraordinary effort

In January, an off-duty Bradenton Beach police officer’s quick actions went a long way to help a woman who had caught fire inside her Riverview home in January.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale presented Officer Steve Masi with a certificate of commendation during the commission meeting March 20 at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Speciale teared up while reading a letter of praise written by the woman’s daughter, Christy Wilson, which alerted Speciale to Masi’s heroic act.

The victim, Maria Hammond, eventually died from her injuries.

“I was going to write something in my own words about Officer Masi’s heroic deed, but when I received this letter from a member of the family, it was so moving I decided to read it aloud,” Speciale said. “So, if my voice quivers, it’s because it’s a very emotional thing for me because we are like family.”

Masi was off duty and visiting a friend in Riverview Jan. 4 when he noticed erratic behavior and heard the sound of a fire alarm coming from a home across the street.

He rushed into the house and found Hammond ablaze on the couch. Masi ran into the bathroom, dumped out a wastebasket and filled it with water from the tub faucet.

He then ran back to the living room and doused Hammond with water, putting out the fire.

Soon, other neighbors arrived to help Hammond, who suffered burns on 70 percent of her body, offering to cover her with a blanket.

Masi took control of the situation, allowing the woman to remain in an upright position on the couch until EMS could arrive. He also gathered towels and wet them with cool water to cover her burned body.

“The only way I can describe Officer Masi is that he is a man of true grit,” Wilson wrote in the letter. “To witness what he did that Saturday and be as cool-headed in his actions and as calmly communicative with my mom, speaks to me of a man whose calling is as a first responder, a police officer.”

Masi later told Wilson that her mother had been a “trooper” during the incident. He said she made eye contact with him and responded coherently to every question.

Hammond later died from the extensive injuries she suffered, but Wilson said she was thankful that Masi had been there to “assist, aide and comfort her in her extreme time of need.”

“I consider his response a huge indicator of the passion and commitment he has for people and for his profession,” Wilson wrote.

Bradenton Beach lawyers want city, not mayor named in lawsuit

ELRA Inc., owner of the Beachhouse Restaurant, amended on Feb. 24 its lawsuit against Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon that challenges his capacity as mayor.

Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln filed the original lawsuit Feb. 6 on behalf of ELRA Inc., alleging Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon overstepped his authority and has a conflict of interest in the ongoing litigation to terminate a development agreement between ELRA and the city.

ELRA Inc. lists Ed Chiles as president/director on the government-sponsored website sunbiz.org.

The lawsuit asks that the court to issue an order determining how Shearon should act in certain future situations.

Charles F. Johnson, of Blalock Walters, the law firm representing Shearon on behalf of the city, said it was his opinion that the court should not pre-judge future events or in any way limit future authority or conduct of the mayor. He says the court should not make a speculative decision on the unknown.

ELRA Inc. also alleges that two emails sent by the mayor to Bradenton Beach commissioners violate Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law. Lincoln alleges the mayor and commissioners can’t discuss matters of public policy without being in a public meeting. No other complaint has been made.

According to a memorandum sent by Johnson, it wasn’t the initial emails but the responses that allegedly violated Chapter 286 of Florida statute.

Johnson said the law firm is investigating those claims, and has filed a motion to dismiss, as well as a motion to substitute parties.

The motion to substitute parties argues that the real party interest is the city, rather than Mayor Shearon, and the lawsuit should reflect that.

The motion to dismiss argues that portions of the suit are moot because of the other suit against the city filed by former planning and zoning board member Jo Ann Meilner and Tjet Martin. That lawsuit has been ongoing since June 2012.

It originally included Shearon, Martin’s life partner and business partner, as a plaintiff, but Shearon withdrew after being elected mayor in November 2013.

Blalock Waters invoiced the city $3,093 to file the motions. Commissioners unanimously approved the expense during their March 20 meeting.

A new judge has been assigned to the lawsuit brought by Martin and Meilner against the city.

On Feb. 28, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan entered an order disqualifying herself from the case, citing a conflict of interest. The case has been re-assigned to Judge Gilbert Smith, also of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

Shearon, Martin and Meilner filed the 2012 lawsuit challenging the city’s approval of an agreement with ELRA Inc., allowing construction of a parking lot on a vacant parcel south of the BeachHouse Restaurant.

At the time of the planning and zoning board review, the board found the application inconsistent with the comprehensive plan and that the proposed parking lot impeded on an erosion control line developed by the state in 1992.

According to ELRA’s attorney, in 2006, the city initiated a code enforcement action against ELRA regarding the use of the vacant parcel. However, ELRA’s evidence at the hearing showed the parcel had been used for parking since the restaurant opened in the 1970s. It was considered “grandfathered” — exempt from regulation. The parties then compromised, allowing up to forty cars to park on the parcel.

Between 2008 and 2012, ELRA Inc. claims it worked with the city to ensure parking on the vacant lot did not violate sea turtle nesting regulations.

In March 2012, the city approved the joint agreement with ELRA to improve the parking lot, install handicap-accessible parking spaces and improve access for city residents. The project included creating a dune west of the lot to protect city hall — across Gulf Drive — from storm surge. The joint agreement gave both entities non-exclusive access.

The P&Z recommended against the agreement, and Shearon and Meilner resigned from P&Z following the approval by the commission.

ELRA’s lawsuit also alleges Meilner and Shearon were observed by an unnamed witness talking in the parking lot following a P&Z meeting, violating the Sunshine Law, but no complaint has been made to that effect.

The lawsuit filed by Meilner and Martin against the city has been stalled in the court system, without mediation, arbitration or a hearing date.

Holmes Beach charter review reaches out, lacks input

Organization is key, and Holmes Beach Charter Review Committee Chair Bob Johnson heeds that rule.

Johnson organized a night meeting March 19 in the hope more public input would be offered on possible changes to the city charter. The committee has been meeting routinely during the work day.

Only one resident — Lisa Pierce — came to address the committee. She was joined by two commissioners and one or two other people who attended, as well as Police Chief Bill Tokajer and city treasurer Lori Hill.

The agenda included discussion on term lengths and term limits for elected officials, as well as tightening building requirements.

Committee member David Cheshire started the conversation on term lengths in favor of a longer term for commissioners and the mayor. They currently serve a two-year term.

“It takes time to build significant knowledge of the city. There’s a steep learning curve. It could take 8-9 months before reaching full effectiveness,” Cheshire said. “The wheels of government work slowly.”

Committee member David Lester remained neutral on the issue, while committee member Pam Leckie sided with Cheshire. On the opposite side of the table were Johnson and committee member James Plath.

“If we have good qualified people, that’s great. But if not, it could be a lifetime,” Plath said. “It’s a performance review every two years.”

“The staff plays a big part, and we should consider them too for continuity,” Leckie said, and campaigning puts pressure on the community.

Commissioner Pat Morton said: “I would like to see at least a three-year term.”

Morton, who has served on the commission for 11 years, said it takes time for commissioners to become familiar with the job, as well as time and money to campaign for re-election.

“It took four or five months before I felt like I knew what I was doing,” Commissioner Jean Peelen said. “Plus the Sunshine Act. It took awhile before I was an effective commissioner.”

Peelen also endorsed a three-year term for city commissioner.

“Elections every two years encourages citizens’ participation,” said Pierce.

Pierce agreed that elections provide a necessary job review.

The conversation followed a similar trend on term lengths for the mayoral post.

“The mayor is the chief operating officer. The buck stops at him, so I’m of the opinion the mayor’s term should be four years,” said Lester.

“As a department head I think its imperative the mayor have a longer term … so he finishes what he started,” said Tokajer.

Mayor Carmel Monti agreed.

As did the city treasurer. “I agree with the mayor and Bill. There’s so much to go over, plus they’re training a new person. It’s a lot of change. You have 41 new employees to work with,” Hill said.

“I would suggest term limits if term lengths are going to be longer to keep up citizen involvement,” said Pierce.

The committee briefly discussed term limits before moving to density and building issues.

Johnson added restricting building sizes to limit congestion that could be caused by large resorts.

“Putting (in) these kinds of regulations has not turned out well for any city I’ve known of,” said city attorney Patricia Petruff. “It became mired in litigation. Just think very carefully.”

Committee members discussed the possibility of a future commission reversing existing policies, such as the 37-foot height restriction.

“In 30 years there hasn’t been any building over three stories, so I don’t think there’s any reason to distrust your elected officials,” Petruff said.

She also cited the ability of citizens to challenge a site plan filed before construction begins. However, there are situations when a site plan can’t be challenged, Petruff explained.

Committee members discussed the possibility of adding a requirement for a supermajority vote on site plan approvals.

“I think we need a way to put a road block into the charter” for plans that are out of scale in relation to the community, said Johnson.

Requiring a supermajority vote by the commission for site plans would make passing large development plans more difficult.

All suggested charter changes need a supermajority vote — four of the five review committee members — to be drafted into ballot items. The committee will vote on its suggested changes March 26.

The next charter review meeting will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 26, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

 

The Holmes Beach Charter Review Committee has narrowed its focus.

At the 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 26, meeting, committee members will vote on a list of suggested changes. The committee needs a supermajority vote to approve its suggestions, which, if approved, then go on the ballot for a public vote in the November municipal election.

The list first goes to the city commission, which crafts an ordinance putting the items on the ballot.

Among other issues, the committee will vote on:

• Changing term lengths for the mayor.

• Changing term lengths for the commissioners.

• Adding term limits for the mayor and/or commissioners.

• Adding language to discourage building and development.

The Holmes Beach Charter Review Committee meets at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Judge orders HB to stay tree house fine

The owners of a controversial tree house in Holmes Beach received some relief as they continue their legal feud with the city.

Circuit court Judge Janette Dunnigan issued an opinion March 17 ordering the city of Holmes Beach to stop accruing fines for tree house owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran while the appeal process is ongoing.

Hazen and Tran were accessed a $100 a day fine Sept. 13, 2013, by the Holmes Beach Code Enforcement Board. The city levied the fine until such time the tree house comes into compliance with the city and state regulations.

Hazen and Tran have been tangled in the dispute with the city since the first letter of violation was sent to the couple April 5, 2013.

In July 2013, the Holmes Beach Code Enforcement Board filed a final administrative order, finding the owners of Angelinos Sea Lodge, 103 29th St., in violation of building code requirements.

The city found the tree house — construction began in April 2011 — to be in violation of several city and state codes and to have been built without a permit. The state violation includes the structure being built within the setback for the erosion control line.

Dunnigan’s order in the appeal to stop the daily fine is the only progress thus far, responding to Hazen and Tran’s petition for writ of certiorari, or motion for review of stay order, filed in October 2013 by their attorney, David Levin of Sarasota.

The city of Holmes Beach is represented by city attorney Patricia Petruff and Jim Dye of Dye, Dietrich, Petruff & St. Paul, P.L., of Bradenton.

The couple initially filed with the city board to have the fines halted during the appeal of the final order, which was denied. The petitioners appealed the board’s fine decision to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, where it was overturned by Dunnigan.

Still pending are cases filed by the city seeking to declare the couple’s petition null and void and seeking declaratory judgment.

The couple’s appeal of the code enforcement board’s ruling and an appeal of the city’s final administrative order to remove the structure or rectify its non-compliant status also are pending action.

Island road watch for Cortez Bridge

The Florida Department of Transportation will begin a maintenance project on the Cortez Bridge Monday, March 31, and continue through Wednesday, April 2.

A DOT release said the east and westbound lanes will closed intermittently from 9 p.m.-5a.m. during the project.

Motorists are advised to use caution and expect short delays.

HB man charged with possession released, awaits court date

A Holmes Beach man arrested in January after police found a pill under his seat during a traffic stop has been released on his own recognizance.

Brandon Gengler, 22, was released from Manatee County jail March 10 to participate in a court-ordered intervention program at a local rehabilitation center while he awaits a court date.

On Feb. 10, Gengler pleaded not guilty to a felony possession charge.

On Jan. 28, a Bradenton Police Department officer observed Brandon Gengler driving near the 2300 block of 11th Street West in Bradenton with a passenger, who was not wearing a seatbelt, according to the probable cause affidavit.

The officer conducted a traffic stop, and then requested a K9 unit perform a drug search.

In the search, the officer found a single pill under the driver’s seat that was determined to be hydrocodone, a prescription drug, the report said.

Gengler allegedly admitted to using prescription pills occasionally for recreational purposes, but said he hadn’t taken any pills that day and denied knowledge of the pill that was found under his seat.

He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and taken to Manatee County jail.

Gengler’s next court date is 10 a.m., April 4, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, at 10 a.m.