Tag Archives: 06-05-2013

Fishing lesson: Be alert, do no harm

The scene plays out too often, according to Jeannie Bystrom, who lives on Bimini Bay across the waterway from a small spoil island that serves as a rookery for a number of species of birds.

Too often she sees birds injured by a fishing hook, stranded and unable to feed, or entangled in fishing line, unable to fly or fend for themselves.

A year ago, Bystrom and some friends managed to post some signs to advise anglers of the danger to birds who become hooked or entangled in fishing lines. They also hoped the signs would alert boaters to be on the lookout for birds in the rookery.

“When they decide to fly away, if they’ve become entangled in yards and yards of line wrapped in the branches, they result to flapping their wings until they die a horrible death by hanging,” she said.

She had seen too many birds entangled in the mangrove trees to sit idle.

With help from some friends, they posted their signs on a waterway post with a marker to aid navigation. The post was conveniently located within a few feet of the spoil island in Bimini Bay near Galati Marine’s docks and the sign is Galati’s.

The signs alert anglers to take caution and to “climb a tree” if need be to save an entangled bird.

But Bystrom’s signs were removed in June last year by Manatee County Sheriff’s Office marine deputies on orders from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission because the agency requires a sign permit.

Bystrom also learned her sign would not be permitted.

Bystrom spotted a pelican in distress April 8 through her telescope.

“It looked perfectly normal, just sitting on a branch. I could see in the scope he had a hook in his wing. They usually don’t roost in the low branches, but he was low in the tree. As soon as I paddled up, he took off and fell in the water just a couple yards from the branch he’d been standing on.

“He was tangled in line and it also was wrapped in the trees,” she said.

Bystrom got the hook out, and took the bird to her husband Bill’s veterinary clinic — Island Animal Clinic in Holmes Beach — where they applied a wound treatment.

Once back at her home, she released it right away.

“He took off from my dock and went right back to the rookery,” Bystrom said.

“I love happy endings.”

However, when she returned to the rookery to remove the fishing line from the tree, she found a dead pelican hanging from a branch. “No more happy ending,” she concluded.

The scenario was repeated Memorial Day weekend, and Bystrom boated over to the rookery, climbed a mangrove tree and released a brown pelican “whose legs were tied to the branch.” But another one wasn’t so lucky.

On June 2, Bystrom successfully cut line and hooks and released two entangled pelicans at the rookery.

A conversation in April by phone and email moved through the FWC, back and forth between The Islander office and Bystrom, and it may soon move things in the right direction.

Amy Clifton viewed Bystrom’s image of the regulated sign and the post, and said she would make inquiries as to how the agency might post a warning sign near the rookery.

It then moved to Ryan Moreau of the waterway management unit, who offered some suggestions for signage at the rookery.

Bystrom is working with Moreau on appropriate language to encourage anglers to be responsive and responsible stewards of the rookery.

Meanwhile, she stays on alert, saving one bird at a time.

Holmes Beach police to crack down on illegal street parking

Memorial Day weekend on the island proved to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for tourists flocking to the beaches.

At times, traffic to the island was reported to be backed up all the way to the intersection of Manatee Avenue and 26th Street in Bradenton.

Parking on Anna Maria Island for beachgoers is always an issue, but never more challenging during certain times of the year than a holiday weekend. With limited parking opportunities, comes a mindframe for some motorists to park in any open space, even where it’s illegal.

A popular spot to do just that is along Manatee Avenue leading from the traffic light at the Manatee-East Bay Drive intersection into the public beach.

According to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, enforcing illegal parking is going to be taken seriously as a safety issue.

“This weekend was very bad,” Tokajer told commissioners at a May 28 city commission meeting. “We’ve put up ‘no parking’ signs on the north side of Manatee (Avenue), but people were not just parking on the right of way, they were parking on the sidewalks and in the bike lanes.”

Tokajer said that forces pedestrians and bicyclists into the road and that is an “unacceptable” safety issue.

“Every single person received a parking ticket,” said Tokajer. “We wanted to make it clear that there is no parking on this side of the road. People were saying they didn’t see the signs. Well sorry, they are there.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said part of the problem is that people coming to visit the island view it “like going to a Bucs or Rays game. They look at it like paying to park, so they don’t mind paying a $20 ticket knowing they have a parking spot for the day.”

Tokajer is recommending additional “no parking” signs, but also wants to add signage that the right of way on the north side of Manatee Avenue will be a tow-away zone.

“I think if people understand that they could return from the beach to find their car gone and have to pay a couple of hundred dollars to get it back, that would be a good deterrent,” he said.

Commissioners agreed, saying they liked the idea, and also suggested looking at a way to increase parking fines.

Tokajer suggested a step system where a second ticket would cost substantially more, but said a “tow-away zone will definitely get their attention. The bottom line is that it’s against state law to park there and the people who are ignoring that law are putting lives in jeopardy.

Tokajer said his department also will begin enforcing other state laws such as no parking within 25 feet of an intersection or crosswalk.

“There’s a visibility issue when someone parks too close to a stop sign or crosswalk and it becomes a safety concern,” he said.

 

HB tightening parking requirements for new restaurants

 

Holmes Beach resident Terry Parker called a May 14 Holmes Beach Commission move to tighten parking requirements for new restaurants “cherry picking.”

Commissioners voted 5-0 to require new restaurants and assembly halls to have one parking space per three seats, a throwback to the city’s previous parking ordinance, which was changed in 2010 to one parking space per five seats.

Retail, offices and other businesses were excluded from the motion, which targeted only restaurants and assembly-hall type structures, such as churches and conference halls.

Commissioners felt comfortable that no new churches were planned on the island, but wanted to prevent a scenario like the proposed Mainsail project that included space for conference rooms and functions.

However, the primary focal point of the May 14 lengthy discussion was restaurants.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth, at a prior work session, asked the commission to direct city planner Bill Brisson to conduct a study to assess parking in the city.

Brisson said May 14 that he could conduct such a study, but that it would be “expensive and time-consuming and would not likely solve anything.”

Titsworth asked for the study because she believes ample parking was once a symbol of pride for Holmes Beach.

“I just want to make sure this commission is OK with the changes made by the previous commission,” she said. “I understand why they were changed, but I don’t want to become a Pine Avenue in Anna Maria or Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, where people are fighting for parking.”

Brisson said a previous commission changed parking requirements because businesses were having problems operating and the city was having difficulty attracting new businesses.

Brisson said if he did do the study, “What are we going to do about it? You won’t be able to improve anything.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino, a member of the commission for eight years, said the change was made due to the economic collapse and ensuing recession.

“We had a lot of businesses folding up and leaving the island,” he said. “We were concerned about losing businesses and wanted to do something to be more business friendly.”

Commissioner Pat Morton also served during those discussions, and said the decision “came back to bite us. We got an overabundance of restaurants that came into a small area. We used to have mom-and-pop places. Now we have mega places.”

Zaccagnino said it was a good decision.

“Back in the old days, all we had is a couple of burger joints,” he said. “Now we have some very successful restaurants and an emergence of a culinary reputation for fabulous restaurants. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.”

Titsworth questioned whether the current parking requirements are going to make matters worse.

“I’m wondering if we are dealing with parking issues because of a lack of enforcement,” she said. “It’s quite obvious there was a lack of enforcement on a number of codes. Or are we feeling these pains because we softened our requirements? Are we comfortable with what we have now?”

Commissioner Marvin Grossman said the 2012-13 tourist season was a sign of things to come.

“When we get into the peak time, we are full,” he said. “What I’m trying to say is that peak times are a sign of what is going to happen because we don’t have the lull like we used to. We need to prevent it from getting worse. This is our city. We have a lifestyle choice to make.”

Grossman said the choice came down to taking action for tourists or for residents.

“‘Business-friendly’ is a nice term, but what about ‘citizen-friendly’? I believe I was elected to be concerned about our citizens and their lifestyles,” he said.

Zaccagnino said he was not opposed to going back to a one-space-per-three-seat rule, but the “problem is that we have finite space. We are a small town and very popular. You can limit spaces, but people are still going to come. It’s still going to be full.”

Zaccagnino agreed that, sooner rather than later, there will be no differentiating tourist season from offseason.

“We used to have an offseason, where businesses would actually close from September through October,” he said. “We don’t have an offseason anymore. It doesn’t matter if you change the ordinance, it’s still going to be full. We need to find other solutions, like valet parking.”

Titsworth agreed with Grossman, citing concern for the city’s future with today’s policies. She also questioned the validity of valet parking.

Titsworth also said the city’s policy of requiring no parking spaces for outdoor seating isn’t working.

Brisson disagreed, but acknowledged some restaurants have exploited the policy.

“Real outdoor dining is on sidewalks, not half the size of this auditorium,” he said. “Those (restaurants taking advantage of the policy) should be looked at to change it in the fashion of regular dining.”

Mayor Carmel Monti asked what rights the city has in preventing more restaurants.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said that would be difficult.

“Your commercial districts say restaurants are permitted,” she said. “To deny a restaurant would be very difficult, but you can force them to get very creative in their site plan with parking restrictions.”

Zaccagnino reiterated that he didn’t have a problem voting to change the parking requirements for new restaurants, “but it won’t solve the problem. We have to rely on (Brisson) to look at more creative ways to ease traffic.”

Monti said limiting traffic was the key.

“We have to limit the number of cars coming onto the island,” he said. “We need more means to get people to the island, but not their cars.”

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council and other county agencies are looking into that solution, including ideas such as developing water taxi services from the mainland to the island, according to previous TDC discussions.

Monti and Zaccagnino recommended the city form a committee to include Police Chief Bill Tokajer to look at what the city can do to keep traffic flowing.

The motion to restrict parking requirements for new restaurants will not apply to existing restaurants, nor does it apply to new businesses other than restaurants or assembly-hall type structures.

Petruff said it would take about a month to officially adopt the ordinance change.

 

Anna Maria cell tower bids come under review

Anna Maria’s cell tower committee met May 29 to review the three responses to the city’s request for proposals to build a cell tower on city property.

Building official Bob Welch chaired the meeting.

Welch previously reviewed the submittals, but committee members got their first look at the three proposals. One came from Ridan Industries of Sarasota, another from Vortex Inc., and a third from F&L LLC, a Tampa company owned by Anna Maria property owner and attorney Stacey Frank.

Most of the discussion centered around the height of the proposed towers and the payments offered.

Ridan Industries and F&L offered the city lump sum payments of $350,000 to build a tower. Vortex offered a percentage of its net profit.

Ridan sweetened its offer when representative Jim Eatrides, who attended the meeting, said the company also would offer a share of the profits to the city. The details could be worked out in negotiations, he said.

Only Ridan was represented at the meeting.

Committee members Tom Aposporos, a former city commissioner, and former Mayor Mike Selby were concerned about what company would actually sign the lease with the city. Each company has various entities operating that would handle construction and other phases.

Selby wanted to ensure that the company submitting the RFP would be the company signing the lease.

Another issue was height. Eatrides said the minimum height would be 90 feet for one cell carrier, while the maximum would be 150 feet if four or more carriers use the tower.

As an example, he said the Holmes Beach cell tower in the 5900 block of Marina Drive is 150 feet high. As the novelty wore off, Eatrides said, people hardly noticed the tower.

He said that with consolidations, mergers and buy-outs of cellular companies, he anticipated no more than four companies would share a tower in Anna Maria.

Welch said the city would like the tower at city hall, but it’s ultimately up to the commission. He said a cell tower at city hall would not interfere with the shuffleboard court or the horseshoe pits.

Members Tom Crane, Aposporos and Selby agreed to email any questions they have on the RFPs to Welch, who will solicit answers.

The committee will next meet at 2:30 p.m. Monday, June 10, to discuss their inquiries and to prioritize the three companies for presentations to the city commission at its June 13 meeting.

Welch said the committee needs to know from the commission if it wants the committee to negotiate the lease, or if the commission prefers to undertake the negotiations. In any event, city attorney Jim Dye would need to be present for negotiations, Welch said.

Although the city established its cell tower ordinance in 2002, no companies applied to construct a tower until earlier this year, after consultant Rusty Monroe rewrote the city’s ordinance and requirements for a tower.

Originally, the three companies had placed bids with the Anna Maria Island Community Center, but the center property is leased by the city to the nonprofit. When the center asked to amend its lease to accommodate a tower, commissioners opted for a tower at city hall.

Commissioner Gene Aubry resparked a call for a cell tower, citing the safety issue of not being able to get through to 911 in an emergency situation.

Welch recalled an incident several years ago involving a shark bite when efforts to reach 911 using a cell phone in north Anna Maria were unsuccessful because cell service was unavailable.

Island resorts report summer looks strong

Fresh from a winter season that was by many accounts the “best ever,” Anna Maria Island accommodation owners and managers are preparing for a strong summer season.

“Our advance reservations are well above last year at this time,” said David Teitelbaum, owner of four resorts in Bradenton Beach.

“About 70 percent of our summer business is repeat, and when the visitor checks out one year, they make a reservation for the following year,” he noted.

Teitelbaum said the Memorial Day weekend was packed at his four resorts, and there has been no drop-off in June reservations.

“Usually May is a bit slow, but the Memorial Day holiday weekend was tremendous. In fact, May was one of our best ever,” Teitelbaum said. “And June reservations are ahead of last year.”

The summer season begins in earnest July 4, which this year is a Thursday, he said.

“We’re already getting rapidly filled up for that weekend. Most people will take a four- or five-day vacation because it’s a Thursday. We still have rooms, but I’d advise anyone coming to Anna Maria Island that weekend to get that reservation now, before it’s too late,” Teitelbaum said.

After July 4, business picks up dramatically, as August is the traditional month Florida families take a beach vacation, he noted.

“We’ve got no complaints about July reservations and there are a lot of advance requests for August. I’m expecting a well-above-average to excellent summer season,” Teitelbaum predicted.

Eric Cairns, owner of Cedar Cove Resort in Holmes Beach, agreed. His business was great over Memorial Day weekend and summer reservations July 4 through August are 12 percent above last year at this time.

“And last year was our best ever,” he said.

“We’re getting calls and emails daily for room requests,” he said. On May 29, Cairns had already taken 12 reservations for either July or August.

“It’s getting to the point where people should make their reservations now for August, rather than wait,” Cairns said.

“For a beachfront accommodation, I tell people if they want to come back next year to book now, and many do. In fact, some book two years ahead, just to make sure they have that same room and view.”

Cairns said he’s got a few open slots remaining in July and August. Reservations, however, are coming fast, he noted.

“We try to work with anyone who calls in for a room. If we don’t have one, we have a network we call to try and find an accommodation. We know how much people want to be on the island,” he said.

There are always some families and vacationers that come to Anna Maria Island on impulse, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce vice president Deb Wing.

“That’s where we come in. We keep an inventory of available rooms, whether it’s a minimum three-night stay or just an overnight accommodation,” Wing said.

“I will say that I’ve had nothing but positive reports from members about advance reservations for the summer, and most said May was much better than the past.”

For the August vacationer, Wing suggests getting on the telephone now or sending an email now to get a reservation.

“All indications are August is going to be a banner month, maybe the best ever August we’ve had. In my opinion, if May is any indication, the summer season is going to be way above average,” Wing predicted.

Mark Davis of Harrington House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Holmes Beach, said reservations for July and August have been coming at a “good and steady” pace.

“It couldn’t be better. It looks like it’s going to be a terrific summer, and May was well ahead of what we expected,” he said, although he does have a few single nights remaining in July and August.

“I don’t think they will last long,” he said.

Rebecca Barnett of AMI Vacations said summer visitors might have better luck if they plan a minimum week-long stay.

“We have a few vacation rentals left in July and August. They are going fast, but they are nice accommodations,” she said.

Deb Meihls of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau was pleased to learn of the visitor boom to the island for Memorial Day weekend and the coming summer.

It’s all in keeping with Anna Maria Island being that old Florida destination that families and others seeking peace and quiet are looking for.

“People everywhere now realize what a great family vacation this is. Even people who just want to get away and enjoy themselves come here. It’s the old Florida atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else but on Anna Maria Island that brings them, and they keep coming back,” she said.

 

SIDEBAR

Accommodation assistance

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce is ready to help visitors to Anna Maria Island who arrive without a reservation and are unable to locate suitable accommodations.

For assistance, visit the chamber office at 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach or call 941-778-1541.

HB police chief lays out new code enforcement philosophy

At a May 28 city commission meeting, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer was asked to present a code-enforcement philosophy following Mayor Carmel Monti’s move to place code enforcement directly under the police department.

Monti said enforcing code violations has been moved out of city hall and into the police department, where code enforcement officials will retain their responsibilities.

Tokajer said the real change is that his department will handle the enforcement side of the issue.

“My philosophy when it comes to code enforcement is that we will enforce codes respectfully, fairly and firmly,” he said. “If we can gain compliance with a warning, then that is the intention. If not, then we go to the next step, which is fines. That’s the basic snapshot of code enforcement.”

Tokajer also cleared up any misunderstandings surrounding the departure of code enforcement official Dave Forbes, who temporarily left his post May 31.

Tokajer said Forbes took a family emergency medical leave, which protects his position under federal law.

“Dave is leaving on family medical leave and hopes to be back in 12 weeks,” said Tokajer. “There has been some statements made that if he returns, he would have to come back as a new employee. That is not true. If he returns within 12 weeks, he returns under the tenure he already has.”

In the interim, Tokajer said Forbes’ position is being advertised.

“We are advertising for someone who can hit the ground running, so we don’t fall behind,” he said.

Commission Chair Jean Peelen said she didn’t understand why the city would advertise for a position if Forbes’ intention was to return to his job.

Tokajer said the long-term goal of code enforcement under his watch is to be proactive and, “to have two people in that position. The whole thing about code enforcement is to be proactive and not reactive. It’s a very tedious job for one person to do.”

Tokajer said with budget discussions starting soon, he would like to see two people doing the job.

Salaried positions in the city have increased under Monti’s watch.

“We are coming up to budget time and we’ll see what funds are available,” said Tokajer.

Commissioner Marvin Grossman said the city has discussed charging a fee for re-inspecting rental units.

“Those fees could cover the cost for a second person,” he said.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said a request to increase and add fees to inspecting rental units has been submitted and “we need to get that back on the agenda for discussion.”

In other matters, Tokajer is seeking to increase the number of crosswalks in the city.

“We’ve done studies on the crosswalks we have here and found we don’t have an adequate amount,” he said. “We are all about pedestrian safety.”

Tokajer said the city needs 10 additional crosswalks and to change the signs at crosswalks that currently read “Yield to pedestrians.”

He said the law is for traffic to “stop for pedestrians, so we want those signs to be more succinct to state law.”

One area Tokajer is suggesting is the intersection of Marina and Gulf drives. He said Manatee County is preparing to install new traffic lights there and wants to see if the county can also install “don’t walk” and “walk” lights.

The city is allowed to install or remove crosswalks on city roads at its will, but is responsible for all maintenance and liability issues if crosswalks are installed without approval of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Only the DOT can approve crosswalks on state roads, Tokajer said.

Other areas Tokajer would like crosswalks include:

• 28th Street and Gulf Drive.

• 3200 block of East Bay Drive.

• 3900 block of East Bay Drive.

• 59th Street and Marina Drive.

• 63rd Street and Marina Drive.

• Palm and Clark drives.

• 72nd Street and Gulf Drive.

• 81st Street and Palm Drive.

• Flashing light in the 5300 block of Marina Drive.

Holmes Beach unplugs outdoor music venues, events

The Holmes Beach outdoor dining ordinance allows only unamplified music if played outdoors, but the ordinance has typically been enforced on a complaint-by-complaint basis.

Following a consensus by commissioners at a May 30 work session, musicians playing outdoors are required to unplug, and HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer was directed to enforce the ordinance.

The consensus came after a discussion on the city’s noise ordinance, which has not been updated since 1978, according to city attorney Patricia Petruff, who called the ordinance “archaic.”

The issue became known after residents living near the city field adjacent to city hall complained about loud music during recent events.

Mayor Carmel Monti noted that even language in the city’s outdoor dining ordinance that addresses amplified music contains varying language that allows up to 110 decibels at the city field, while businesses are required to keep decibel levels at 60.

“We need more consistency and I feel like it needs more discussion,” said Monti. “We are the worst offenders by allowing the park to broadcast at 110 decibels.”

Commission Chair Jean Peelen brought to light that by law, there is to be no amplified music outdoors.

“We just never enforced it,” she said.

Tokajer said he needed guidance in how to enforce the noise ordinance because it does not address times, decibel levels or a form of measuring distance from a complainant to the offending source of noise.

“Right now, the code says outdoor dining can’t have amplified music,” he said. “Is that something you want enforced and, if not, then you need to change it.”

Petruff suggested she and the chief work together to research other noise ordinances “to figure out what is your goal and get you to your goal in a manner that won’t be challenged in court.”

Petruff said it’s a freedom of speech issue and noise ordinances can be difficult to get right.

Monti said he would like to see the commission start from scratch.

“We are dealing with an archaic system,” he said. “We need to have consistencies and agreement. We need a clean slate and create an ordinance to deal with noise.”

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said her goal is likely similar to other Holmes Beach citizens.

“My goal is to not to have to listen to anyone else’s playlist when I’m at home,” she said. “As a commissioner, I’m embarrassed because we are the biggest offenders. My goal is to quiet us down.”

The city allows nonprofits use of the city field for events, which often feature live bands up to 10 p.m., the allowed time in the ordinance.

Titsworth said a problem with continuing to handle noise on complaint-by-complaint basis is that enforcement becomes picking and choosing between one business and another “when everybody should have to follow the same rules.”

Peelen said it appeared there was a consensus that the noise ordinance needs to be updated, but said too many opinions from commissioners would dilute the process.

She suggested the mayor, Tokajer and Petruff work together to present solutions to the commission.

“But all the rules of the current ordinance will be enforced until changes are made,” said Monti.

Tokajer asked if enforcing the limit on outdoor amplified music was to be included and Monti said, “Yes.”

The announcement affects the owner of Barefoot Tiki Bar & Cafe Nicole Heslop, who appeared before the commission to ask for a change in the land development code to allow amplified music outdoors.

Heslop said the business, 5704 Marina Drive, has found new life since introducing live music in January. She said without the music, she would likely have to close the doors to the property after 20 years of trying to give it purpose.

“I come to you on bent knee to ask for your support,” she said.

According to public comment, the majority of complaints about the Barefoot Tiki Bar are coming from one person.

Monti said he would take a closer look at the complaints, but his final word was to enforce the ordinance until permanent changes are made.

Updated parking ordinance heads to HB planners

Holmes Beach city planner Bill Brisson presented a draft ordinance to commissioners at a May 30 work session that tightens parking requirements for new restaurants.

Commissioners previously provided a consensus to change the parking ordinance from one-parking-space-per-five indoor seats to one-space-per-three indoor seats for any new restaurants in Holmes Beach.

The change reverts the ordinance back to language before it was changed in 2010 by a previous commission to create a more business-friendly environment.

The proposed changes will only apply to restaurants and assembly hall-type structures.

Brisson said the draft ordinance he presented contained only the changes the commissioners wanted.

Commissioners discussed in length how the ordinance would apply to outdoor dining. Currently, there are no limits placed on parking for outdoor seating. Commissioners Marvin Grossman and Judy Titsworth expressed a desire to have that changed.

Brisson said he could add language to the ordinance, but it would then have to go before the planning commission because it would be a change to the land development code.

Brisson suggested commissioners address outdoor dining when the commission updates the LDC.

“When you update the LDC, there are a lot of gaps in the code and it has been that way for years,” he said. “You need a more expansive use of listings and parking requirements. Right now, you have to rely on the fire marshal to determine maximum capacity.”

Grossman suggested the new language state outdoor dining areas may have eight seats without parking requirements.

“Anything after that would have to adhere to the same requirements as indoor dining we are proposing, which would be one parking space for every three seats.”

Brisson said he would need a consensus. Commissioners agreed to the proposed language, except for Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who has opposed changes to the parking requirements.

Commissioners have sought changes to help alleviate parking problems, but Zaccagnino said the changes would only make it more difficult for local restaurants. He said it would do nothing to alleviate the city’s problems.

Commissioners also agreed to send the ordinance with the proposed changes to the planning commission without reviewing them.

 

HB tightening parking requirements for new restaurants

 

Holmes Beach resident Terry Parker called a May 14 Holmes Beach Commission move to tighten parking requirements for new restaurants “cherry picking.”

Commissioners voted 5-0 to require new restaurants and assembly halls to have one parking space per three seats, a throwback to the city’s previous parking ordinance, which was changed in 2010 to one parking space per five seats.

Retail, offices and other businesses were excluded from the motion, which targeted only restaurants and assembly-hall type structures, such as churches and conference halls.

Commissioners felt comfortable that no new churches were planned on the island, but wanted to prevent a scenario like the proposed Mainsail project that included space for conference rooms and functions.

However, the primary focal point of the May 14 lengthy discussion was restaurants.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth, at a prior work session, asked the commission to direct city planner Bill Brisson to conduct a study to assess parking in the city.

Brisson said May 14 that he could conduct such a study, but that it would be “expensive and time-consuming and would not likely solve anything.”

Titsworth asked for the study because she believes ample parking was once a symbol of pride for Holmes Beach.

“I just want to make sure this commission is OK with the changes made by the previous commission,” she said. “I understand why they were changed, but I don’t want to become a Pine Avenue in Anna Maria or Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, where people are fighting for parking.”

Brisson said a previous commission changed parking requirements because businesses were having problems operating and the city was having difficulty attracting new businesses.

Brisson said if he did do the study, “What are we going to do about it? You won’t be able to improve anything.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino, a member of the commission for eight years, said the change was made due to the economic collapse and ensuing recession.

“We had a lot of businesses folding up and leaving the island,” he said. “We were concerned about losing businesses and wanted to do something to be more business friendly.”

Commissioner Pat Morton also served during those discussions, and said the decision “came back to bite us. We got an overabundance of restaurants that came into a small area. We used to have mom-and-pop places. Now we have mega places.”

Zaccagnino said it was a good decision.

“Back in the old days, all we had is a couple of burger joints,” he said. “Now we have some very successful restaurants and an emergence of a culinary reputation for fabulous restaurants. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.”

Titsworth questioned whether the current parking requirements are going to make matters worse.

“I’m wondering if we are dealing with parking issues because of a lack of enforcement,” she said. “It’s quite obvious there was a lack of enforcement on a number of codes. Or are we feeling these pains because we softened our requirements? Are we comfortable with what we have now?”

Commissioner Marvin Grossman said the 2012-13 tourist season was a sign of things to come.

“When we get into the peak time, we are full,” he said. “What I’m trying to say is that peak times are a sign of what is going to happen because we don’t have the lull like we used to. We need to prevent it from getting worse. This is our city. We have a lifestyle choice to make.”

Grossman said the choice came down to taking action for tourists or for residents.

“‘Business-friendly’ is a nice term, but what about ‘citizen-friendly’? I believe I was elected to be concerned about our citizens and their lifestyles,” he said.

Zaccagnino said he was not opposed to going back to a one-space-per-three-seat rule, but the “problem is that we have finite space. We are a small town and very popular. You can limit spaces, but people are still going to come. It’s still going to be full.”

Zaccagnino agreed that, sooner rather than later, there will be no differentiating tourist season from offseason.

“We used to have an offseason, where businesses would actually close from September through October,” he said. “We don’t have an offseason anymore. It doesn’t matter if you change the ordinance, it’s still going to be full. We need to find other solutions, like valet parking.”

Titsworth agreed with Grossman, citing concern for the city’s future with today’s policies. She also questioned the validity of valet parking.

Titsworth also said the city’s policy of requiring no parking spaces for outdoor seating isn’t working.

Brisson disagreed, but acknowledged some restaurants have exploited the policy.

“Real outdoor dining is on sidewalks, not half the size of this auditorium,” he said. “Those (restaurants taking advantage of the policy) should be looked at to change it in the fashion of regular dining.”

Mayor Carmel Monti asked what rights the city has in preventing more restaurants.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said that would be difficult.

“Your commercial districts say restaurants are permitted,” she said. “To deny a restaurant would be very difficult, but you can force them to get very creative in their site plan with parking restrictions.”

Zaccagnino reiterated that he didn’t have a problem voting to change the parking requirements for new restaurants, “but it won’t solve the problem. We have to rely on (Brisson) to look at more creative ways to ease traffic.”

Monti said limiting traffic was the key.

“We have to limit the number of cars coming onto the island,” he said. “We need more means to get people to the island, but not their cars.”

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council and other county agencies are looking into that solution, including ideas such as developing water taxi services from the mainland to the island, according to previous TDC discussions.

Monti and Zaccagnino recommended the city form a committee to include Police Chief Bill Tokajer to look at what the city can do to keep traffic flowing.

The motion to restrict parking requirements for new restaurants will not apply to existing restaurants, nor does it apply to new businesses other than restaurants or assembly-hall type structures.

Petruff said it would take about a month to officially adopt the ordinance change.

The truth about Manatee’s proposed sales tax hike

Manatee County Administrator

As you form an opinion on the health care surtax before the June 18 referendum, you should begin with several facts.

First, know county government is now paying for community health care costs to the tune of about $24 million each year. It’s a necessary expense that goes to pay for inmate medical expenses, a state-mandated matching Medicaid payment to the state, mental health and substance abuse treatment and to partially reimburse local hospitals and physicians for the care provided to the working poor in our community.

A second important point to consider is that we already pay for these costs using about $14 million a year in property taxes and $9 million from a dwindling health care fund that currently sits at about $20 million. For the better part of 30 years, Manatee County has had the good fortune to supplement its local health care costs with a fund that came about when the county sold Manatee Memorial Hospital in 1984.

That fund will expire in 2015 and county commissioners have said they’re not willing to risk jeopardizing quality health care access in Manatee.

With very few options, the commission opted to allow voters to decide whether to impose a half-cent sales tax that can only be spent on community health care costs. A family of two with an annual income of $40,000-$50,000 will pay about $52 more in sales tax per year based on IRS tables.

So why a sales tax? First of all, it’s one way to ask the entire community — and visitors to Manatee County — to pay rather than asking property owners to foot the entire bill. What’s more, a sales tax will bring in almost enough to cover all indigent health care costs, so the county can reduce its reliance on property taxes and, as proposed in next year’s budget, lower property taxes, especially for homeowners on the island.

Lower property tax rates are certainly welcome news for any local homeowner, but they also will mean Manatee County no longer has one of the higher county property tax rates on the Gulf Coast. Lower property taxes will no doubt make Manatee County more attractive to businesses looking to relocate. Not only that, lower property taxes will allow more local families to qualify for home mortgages — a boon for any local economy.

From the county’s point of view, the sales tax will diversify revenues, which could easily improve its credit ratings. That means better interest rates with which to invest taxpayers’ money whenever the county has to borrow for necessary projects, such as replacing our aging public safety radio system.

Many people ask me why we’re headed to referendum now when the health care fund doesn’t expire for another two years.

But to wait until the next regular election — a primary in 2014 — would mean my office would have to plan the fiscal 2015 budget using a higher property tax rate in order to cover the expiring $9 million. Voters would head to the polls to consider taxing themselves after receiving a TRIM notice with higher property rates.

Several have said the county should simply wait for the federal health care overhaul to be implemented in hopes that it will cover these costs. If that were to happen, we have to assume that Congress will appropriate federal funding to implement Obamacare.

I shouldn’t have to remind you that Congress has shown no inclination to help the president carry out his plans for health care. Even if Washington gets its act together, the Florida Legislature was clear that its not willing to expand Medicaid as proposed under the federal plan. Waiting on Obamacare is a huge gamble that I’m not willing to take.

If we eventually discover that community health care costs are not a local burden, the half-cent sales tax could be reduced or eliminated by a simple majority vote of the county commission. And the money can only be spent on health care, so it would be extremely impractical to continue collecting the half-cent if it’s not needed.

We are not trying to grow government as some have suggested. In fact, if approved by voters, the total cost to run Manatee County government, including taxes, fees, water and sewer will be lower than neighboring counties.

There is no increase in government spending as a result of the referendum. We’re simply trying to change the way we’re paying for indigent health care costs.

We are planning into the future to assure the quality of life for our children and our children’s children.

 

Note: Readers can learn more about the June 18 referendum by attending a 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall, where Hunzeker will discuss the county commission’s proposed half-cent sales tax increase and tax breaks for new businesses, or online at www.mymanatee.org/halfcent.

Bradenton woman faces drug charges

A 23-year-old Bradenton woman faces a felony drug charge following a traffic stop May 26 in Holmes Beach.

According to the probable cause affidavit, a Holmes Beach Police Department officer made contact with Gina Barrese in the 5600 block of Gulf Drive.

The officer allegedly found four syringes in a sunglass case between the driver’s seat and center console and a fifth syringe in the glove department. The officer also observed a drop of blood on the center console, and reported finding a burned spoon that appeared to be wet from recent use.

A single prescription pill was located in a plastic bag inside of Barrese’s purse, according to the report.

Barrese was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

She was booked into the Manatee County jail and held on $2,000 bond. According to jail records, Barrese posted bond and was released.

She is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Friday, June 14, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Traffic stop leads to felony arrest

A 28-year-old Seffner man and a 27-year-old Sarasota woman remain behind bars for grand theft and violation of probation following a Holmes Beach traffic stop.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Karlos Macias and Angel Scheller were seen May 23 stealing an industrial landscape blower valued at $600 from the 500 block of Kumquat Lane, Anna Maria, and leaving the scene in their vehicle heading toward Holmes Beach.

A Holmes Beach police officer stopped the vehicle in the 700 block of Manatee Avenue West for an unrelated traffic violation. While the officer had Macias and Scheller detained for the traffic stop, witnesses positively identified the pair as the theft suspects.

Scheller and Macias were arrested for felony grand theft, turned over to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and booked into the Manatee County jail. They were held on $1,500 bond and scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 4, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Scheller and Macias were put on a release hold, however, due to both being on felony probation. A violation of probation charge was added to both suspects and bond was withheld.

Scheller is on probation for trafficking in stolen property and providing false information to a pawn broker.

Macias is on probation for grand theft and three counts of forgery. He was due to be released from probation in September.

Both suspects remained in custody as of Islander press time.