Tag Archives: 09-25-2013

Contractor arrested for defrauding city

Holmes Beach police arrested a contractor Sept. 19 for allegedly bilking the city out of money paid for a road project last year.

Chris Arnold, 61, of Bradenton, owner of Services by Chris Arnold, was arrested for felony scheming to defraud.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed by HBPD Detective Sgt. Brian Hall, Arnold entered into a contract with the city in 2012 to replace curbing in some areas of Holmes Beach.

The agreement was to pay $24.50 per linear foot of curbing and the contract was valued at more than $215,500.

Over the course of June-September 2012, Arnold submitted five invoices for work completed and charged the city for each project until the full amount of the contract was collected.

On April 18, a former employee of Arnold’s who worked on the Holmes Beach project, reported to police that his crew did only half the work agreed to and that Arnold ordered his employees to paint over the remaining curbs in order to mask the orange spray paint that had been applied to indicate replacement.

New city staff in public works then began inspecting work sites and discovered several areas where the curbs had only been painted, not replaced. They said the old paint was showing through the cover-up paint.

City inspectors determined the number of linear feet that had not been replaced as contracted, was valued at $92,830.

Hall, who worked the case, made contact with Arnold Sept. 19, advising that he had an active warrant for his arrest.

Hall took Arnold into custody without incident.

During the course of the investigation, former building official Joe Duennes was interviewed. Duennes told police that he signed off on each project submitted for payment after inspecting the work.

When asked about the discrepancy, Duennes admitted that he did not take full measurements. He also admitted he signed off on some of the projects without making the required inspections.

According to Chief Bill Tokajer, Arnold has been contracted by the city for other projects and those contracts are under review to determine if additional charges are warranted.

AM code enforcement rules on home rentals

Anna Maria’s city commission may have a difficult time getting a favorable judicial ruling that its hotel/motel ordinance can be used to limit vacation home rentals.

City code enforcement officers Gerry Rathvon and Diane Sacca already have ruled on a complaint against a vacation rental at 505 Magnolia Ave., stating in an Aug. 7 letter that “there is no sign of this four bedroom (home) with attached private baths being used as a hotel.”

After receiving the code enforcement determination, Commission Chair Chuck Webb, who made the complaint, asked commissioners at their Sept. 12 meeting if they wanted to seek a judicial ruling that the ordinance does apply. The commission voted 4-1 to proceed, but city attorney Jim Dye said the process could take 9-16 months, and the commission would have to identify an offending property to make its case.

Dye said the process would require:

• A code enforcement citation.

• An appeal of the citation to the city’s special magistrate.

• An appeal to the circuit court if the special magistrate rules against the city.

Meanwhile, attorney Scott Rudacille of the Bradenton law firm of Blalock Walters told the commission he would defend his vacation property owner clients in Anna Maria on any ruling on the matter.

The notice by Rathvon and Sacca on Webb’s Magnolia Avenue complaint includes the description of a motel, which is, according to Florida statutes, “any public lodging establishment which offers rental units with an exit to the outside from each unit, daily or weekly rates, off-street parking for each unit and a central office on the property with specified hours of operation.”

When comparing the statute to the city’s hotel/motel ordinance, Rathvon and Sacca determined the city could “not prove that this property is being used as anything other than a residential property rental.”

Commissioner Gene Aubry cast the lone vote against seeking a judicial review, calling it “frivolous.”

But the city already approved moving forward to establish its test case. The subject is expected to be on the commission’s agenda for the 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, meeting at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

It’s official: Sea turtle nesting season tops record books

The 2013 sea turtle nesting season is proving to be a record year.

According to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox, 368 loggerhead and green sea turtle nests have been recorded this year on the island shore, surpassing the 2012 record of 365 as of Sept. 20.

The 15-year average prior to the 2012 season was 168 nests, 156 false crawls and about 9,000 hatchlings.

Those numbers were shattered in 2012 with 365 nests, 329 false crawls and 12,723 hatchlings.

The  number of nests was the last record to fall in the data AMITW has been recording for more than two decades. The 2012 record of 329 false crawls fell several weeks ago. It stands at 360 this year with more than a month remaining and some hatching yet to come.

The numbers can change, as hatches occur where what was thought to be a false crawl produces an uncounted nest, before the official end of nesting season on Oct. 31.

In 2012, the record numbers produced only 175 hatched nests, which would have been significantly higher had Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac not washed out an estimated 100 nests. With weather cooperating, AMITW has recorded a record 294 hatched nests thus far this season, with about 80 nests of hatchlings remaining in the sand.

Despite the weather hardships of the 2012 season, AMITW still managed to record what was then a record 12,723 hatchlings to the Gulf of Mexico. That record too has been shattered this year with 19,543 hatchlings to the sea thus far.

A record number of green turtle nests also have been recorded this year on the beaches.

Fox said she can account for about 4,000 loggerhead nests in the past 30 years. But the smaller green turtles have rarely frequented the island habitat. She first recorded a green turtle nest in 2000, then two in both 2011 and 2012, for a total of five nests. Now it has been doubled with a record five green turtle nests tallied this season.

AMITW listed 22 disorientations — nesting sea turtles and hatchlings drawn away from the Gulf by artificial lights — during the 2012 season, but only four have been recorded thus far this year.

All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are considered threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Conservation of sea turtles is a primary concern on Anna Maria Island, where beach renourishment requires monitoring the habitat and maintaining nesting, hatching and disorientation data.

Newly named Bradenton Beach pier tenants rock the boat

One day after being singled out as the pier’s tenant of choice, the proverbial boat started rocking.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to select Starfish on the Bay as the new restaurant tenant on the Historic Bridge Street Pier, but bypassing city protocol set the boat teetering.

During the Sept. 19 city pier meeting, public works director Tom Woodard reported that on Sept. 18, the new tenants — pending a successful lease negotiation — were drawing city workers from their assigned work to discuss what might be needed at the facility.

“Shortly after we had our ranking meeting, some people from the chosen company were up at the pier and were instructing my people that were performing other duties as to what they wanted done to the restaurant,” said Woodard. “I didn’t appreciate it, and they did it again this morning.”

Woodard sent a letter to all departments asking that the restaurant owners be instructed on city procedures, which include asking city commissioners before approaching city staff.

Woodard said the work being requested was significant and the assumption was that the tenants were wanting the city to do the work.

“They are wanting significant changes that will require spending money,” he said. “I don’t want them assuming that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Commissioner Gay Breuler said they are new and enthusiastic and probably aren’t aware that there is a chain of command to follow and that she would personally inform them of what is required and what is considered improper.

City clerk Nora Idso also wasn’t happy. “I personally have an issue with them already taking it upon themselves to give direction to any staff,” she said. “We don’t take direction from anyone but the mayor.”

Idso reminded commissioners that there is no money in the budget for work on the restaurant.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said, “They don’t have a contract yet.”

Building official Steve Gilbert reminded commissioners that the lease states the city will take care of specific items agreed to during the pre-inspection process, but anything after that is going to be up to the tenant.

The city, he said, has met its obligations under the proposed lease agreement.

Breuler said she was sure it was just a miscommunication.

“We know it’s annoying when people come up to staff and say ‘Do this or do that.’ But they don’t know that, so it’s up to us let them know,” she said.

The prospective tenants appeared at the end of the meeting and Breuler made it clear that they are not to approach city staff without commission approval and they agreed.

Final negotiations for the lease are expected to begin soon between the tenant and city attorney Ricinda Perry. The lease will then come before the commission for approval.

Startup restaurant operator selected for Bradenton Beach pier

Visitors to the pier in Bradenton Beach might ask, “Got food?”

While doors to the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier restaurant remain closed, lease negotiations have begun with Starfish on the Bay.

Two bids were submitted following the August release by the city of a request for proposal. Owners of an operation to be named Starfish on the Bay and owners of the former Fisherman Joe’s submitted bids, which were ranked individually by commissioners and city pier team members. The scores were averaged and presented at a Sept. 17 special commission meeting.

Fisherman Joe’s significantly outscored Starfish on the Bay. Police Chief Sam Speciale, who facilitates the pier team, said Fisherman Joe’s scored higher because of restaurant experience with proven success, while Starfish on the Bay, which has no ties to the Star Fish Co. Restaurant and Market in Cortez, is a relatively new venture.

Speciale said both businesses submitted good business plans and were on equal footing in that area.

However, in the ensuing question-and-answer session with commissioners, Joe McDonald, owner of Fisherman Joe’s in Bradenton, fell short of what some commissioners were seeking in a new tenant.

McDonald’s bid was to pay a higher base rent than what the RFP called for, but he refused to budge on the city’s request to pay 12 percent of the restaurant’s gross profits to the city.

The city asked for a monthly rent of $5,500 plus 12 percent of the profits after the rent obligation is met.

McDonald offered $6,000 a month for the first year and $6,500 a month in the second year with no revenue percentage.

Starfish on the Bay submitted a bid for rent and revenue payments, both equal to the city’s minimum.

Both businesses also submitted bids for the bait kiosk and harbor master’s office, but Commissioner Gay Breuler wanted to know why McDonald did have not have a business plan for the other two operations.

“My idea was opening the restaurant first and concentrate on that for at least 120 days and then work on what we want to do with the rest,” said McDonald. “I didn’t propose what would go in those two buildings, but it would likely be a bait shop and a gift shop.”

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh asked why Fisherman Joe’s would not serve breakfast, and McDonald said expanding to a breakfast menu would depend on the success of lunch and dinner sales.

Vosburgh inquired into McDonald’s business credit and he said he lost a business a couple of years ago, “So I rely on outside investors.”

Vice Mayor Ed Straight asked McDonald if he had any other issues with the RFP, and McDonald said he would likely have an issue with the split of the common-area maintenance fees.

Roland Pena, who proposes to start up Starfish on the Bay, then fielded questions. Pena conceded McDonald’s restaurant experience. He said he understood why he finished second in the rankings, but felt he could offer the city a good product and that his former restaurant performed well.

Pena operated Starfish Cafe, a deli-style operation in the rear of the vitamin store in Holmes Beach for a short time, but it is closed.

When asked about his credit, Pena said it was excellent, but he planned to start the pier restaurant without credit. “Everything I’ll be doing will be cash up front.”

He said his operation will involve military veterans who have a “can-do attitude.” They understand the motivation it takes to succeed in business, he said.

Mayor John Shaughnessy asked commissioners if they wanted to schedule a second meeting for further discussion on the two bids and the ranking process. But commissioners said they were ready to vote.

“After further discussion here, I’m very impressed with Starfish,” said Vosburgh. “I think they have the enthusiasm and ability to work hard and be successful.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said after doing his own research, he leaned toward Fisherman Joe’s.

“His downtown Bradenton restaurant has been going strong for 20 years,” said Gatehouse. “People I’ve spoken to who know the operation and his management style told me he’s an excellent operator.”

Gatehouse proposed the city counter McDonald’s offer and waive the revenue payment of 12 percent for the first two years and negotiate a percentage of the profits during the lease renewal.

McDonald did not provide a direct answer.

Breuler said she preferred Starfish on the Bay and had frequented Pena’s deli several times.

“The food and the service were lovely,” she said. “I find the idea of not doing a percentage with Fisherman Joe’s disturbing. Suppose they hold fast to not wanting to pay a percentage after the first two years. Then what? Kick them out and start all over again?”

Straight entered the discussion undecided, but ultimately sided with Starfish on the Bay, agreeing that the lack of percentage being offered was not concrete enough for him to swing his vote in favor of Fisherman Joe’s, “So I lean toward Starfish.”

With an apparent vote standing at 3-1, Shaughnessy said his vote didn’t matter, but said he preferred Fisherman Joe’s.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the Sept. 17 consensus authorized her to move forward to begin negotiations with Starfish on the Bay.

If those negotiations succeed, Starfish on the Bay will become the new tenant following commission approval of the lease, and could begin setting up the restaurant.

If negotiations are unsuccessful, the city reserves the right to negotiate with Fisherman Joe’s or to begin a new RFP process.

Bee hives: Pine Avenue’s ultimate eco-dwellings

Making Pine Avenue in Anna Maria the “Greenest Little Main Street in America” is like putting together a puzzle, says Michael Coleman, operating partner for Pine Avenue Restoration.

Environmentally friendly practices are a major component of a development that combines old Florida-style cottages, professional offices and retail shops along one walkable street. And the latest puzzle piece — a bee apiary — fits perfectly with the native Florida plants and edible gardens already in place, Coleman said.

On Sept. 18, three honey bee hives that will be managed by a professional beekeeper were placed on private property off Pine Avenue. The exact location is not being disclosed to the public so the bees can work undisturbed, Coleman said.

Coleman didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago how vital honey bees are to the nation’s food supply, and how dramatically their population is declining.

Bees had been the subject of a conversation Coleman had with his wife, a son, and Mike Miller, the plant and landscape expert working for PAR. Coleman recalled it this way: Miller mentioned that Seminole pumpkins in the edible gardens weren’t doing well and the problem could be a lack of bees to pollinate them. Then, Jane Coleman said there were less bees on the jasmine in her garden this year. And then, Patrick Coleman, a chef, said, there’s a shortage of bees nationally and our food supply is dependent on bees.

A couple of days later, Coleman saw a story in The Islander about the declining honey bee population and what is being done to help the insects survive. He decided to take action, and called a beekeeper the next morning.

“I got educated,” Coleman said, learning that since 2006, beekeepers have lost 30-50 percent of their hives per year to a phenomena called Colony Collapse Disorder. Experts are trying to determine the cause, and every year beekeepers work hard to get the population back up, but they haven’t been able to reverse the trend.

“Bees are critical, they ensure the production of nearly 85 percent of the nation’s food supply and they are our first line of defense against the African or killer bees,” Coleman said.

By bringing honey bees to Pine Avenue, “The main idea is to get bees on the island to benefit our food gardens, but more importantly to have people realize how important bees are ecologically and then they might want some of their own.”

He points out the edible gardens started with seven planted among the shops on Pine Avenue, and those will grow to about 20 by the end of this month. Private homeowners have planted box gardens and the idea keeps gathering steam.

The gardens are “something people can do for a better quality of life and we think the bees are the same way,” Coleman said

Jackie Corley is the commercial beekeeper from Palmetto who supplied the Pine Avenue hives and will manage them. He said the bees will forage in a 3- to 4-mile radius of their home and he estimates each hive will produce about 80 pounds of honey a year.

A hive is 95 percent female bees, Corley said, and consists of a queen, worker bees, and drones. The drones are male and their only job is to mate with the queen. The female worker bees do all the pollinating and other work, while the queen lays all the eggs.

“Bees never sleep,” Corley said, “They work 12 to 15 hours a day collecting pollen and then they are in the hive tending to the young bees and building the honeycomb.”

Corley will make monthly inspections of the three hives, working to keep them free of disease and parasites and making sure they are not overcrowded, in which case they tend to swarm. He will take bees away or bring in more bees as needed, Corley said. He’ll also introduce new European queen bees once a year to keep them genetically strong.

European bees are the dominant honey bee in the United States, they were brought here by early settlers and have thrived in the environment — until now. They have become the “super pollinator” for crops nationwide, including almonds, apples, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, blueberries and onions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Corley said the flavor of the honey made by the Pine Avenue bees will depend on the plants they pollinate, but the best-tasting will be produced in the spring. Coleman isn’t sure at this point if the honey will end up being sold on the island, but his working title for it is “Paradise Honey.”

Corley, Coleman and Miller looked at a few possible locations for the apiary before finding the right piece of property. Corley stressed, “Bees out of sight, out of mind, that’s my motto,” and he made sure the placement would comply with the state law that applies to backyard beekeeping.

“I love this. This is the best thing we’ve thought of so far,” said Coleman, “Ecologically, this is going to benefit everybody.”

The list of environmentally friendly initiatives in the Pine Avenue development includes green-certified construction, advanced water management systems, native plants for landscaping and the organic, edible gardens.

“Our commitment is based on not only doing the right thing, but doing it as an example for others,” Coleman said, “Steps taken must be practical, measurable and repeatable or no one but us will do them, which significantly limits the benefits of having done them in the first place.”

        Cheryl Nordby Schmidt is a freelance writer based in Holmes Beach. 

Island officials drive unity to battle traffic woes

As island officials look at how best to battle traffic problems, there’s general agreement it will take unity to develop solutions.

Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti, at the Sept. 18 meeting of the Barrier Island Elected Officials Coalition, discussed his plan for paid parking at the Manatee Public Beach. He said he’s had positive discussions with the county in moving that proposal forward, he said.

A committee is consider options that include a parking garage at or near the beach, establishing overflow parking areas and permit parking.

“I’m getting good feedback and in the process of putting together a proposal that I will bring to the city commission and then move it forward to the county,” said Monti.

Holmes Beach also has discussed “click in, click out” bicycle stations, as well as privately-run Segway and golf cart rentals.

“The whole idea is to have a place for people to park for the whole day, but to leave their car there while they walk or ride a bike around the city,” Monti said.

Anna Maria also is looking at a possible combination of solutions that includes paid parking, “but we are going about it a little differently,” said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn. The commission already addressed parking in rights of way, she said, and she will be making a parking plan presentation to commissioners Sept. 24.

SueLynn said the proposal would feature options that run the gamut of two parking permits per property, annual passes and paid parking.

She said because some properties have multiple owners, permits would be limited to the property and not property owners. She also said passes may be tiered for people who live on the island, in Manatee County and out of county.

“We also are looking at daily passes and permits,” she said, while keeping open several free parking areas. The number of free spaces would meet the requirement to remain eligible for beach renourishment funding, she said.

“But the most important thing is that we have to work together,” said SueLynn. “If one city is going to have paid parking, it means that city may be creating a burden on another city because people are going to go where there is free parking first.”

Holmes Beach officials have suggested doing more to encourage people to go to Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, which has the largest parking lot on the island with an estimated 1,200 spaces.

Bradenton Beach officials were not receptive to the suggestion, as the city, along with Longboat Key to the south, have plenty of their own traffic and parking issues, according to their mayors.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse also wants to see more use of Coquina Beach, and free beach parking is key to his proposed parking plan.

“The thrust of my plan is to encourage people to park in Coquina to relieve stress of our neighborhoods and municipal lots,” said Gatehouse. “I would be opposed to any suggestion that the county impose paid parking at the public beaches.”

Gatehouse’s plan is contrary to the Anna Maria proposal. Gatehouse wants to charge for parking at municipal lots to encourage people to use free parking at the beach to alleviate congestion and parking on Bridge Street and in neighborhoods.

“My plan hinges on you can pay to park in our lots or you can park for free at Coquina,” he said. “My recommendation is that I will fight any paid parking there. We all want to encourage people to use that as an alternative means.”

Meanwhile, traffic flow from Bradenton Beach to Longboat Key has been growing in intensity, according to both Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown.

Using Coquina Beach to alleviate local traffic is being well received, but diverting traffic from Holmes Beach to Bradenton Beach could exacerbate traffic problems, according to some officials.

If Holmes Beach succeeds in having paid parking at Manatee Public Beach and Coquina remains free, the two cities could be in conflict of one another’s goals.

SueLynn said that’s why all four cities need to unify and approach the county as a group.

She suggested that the BIEO extend an invitation to Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker to attend its Oct. 16 meeting in Holmes Beach.

Brown agreed, saying “The problem with the county and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and others is that we don’t have a lot of voice individually. We need to work together and unify as a barrier island.”

FISH discusses future options, reviews work

The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage Turner Maritime Challenge’s executive director Sean Wardell is approaching one year on the job.

He was hired in 2012 at $34,000 a year to give the program full-time attention and has since renewed the Sea Scouts of America program in Cortez, a subsidiary group of the Boy Scouts of America.

Bell brought up at the Sept. 9 FISH board meeting the fact that Wardell has not yet had a review, but it was his suggestion to skip the first six-month review.

“He didn’t feel like he accomplished everything he wanted to do at six months, so he didn’t feel like a review was necessary,” said Bell. “We are approaching one year now, and he would like us to review what he’s accomplished or not.”

FISH board members appointed a review committee of Bell, Linda Molto, president Kim McVey and treasurer Jane von Hahmann. McVey said she would ask Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and board secretary R.B. “Chips” Shore to chair the committee and bring a recommendation back to the board.

Wardell was reminded that his salary was taken from a $320,000 fund donated by the program’s namesake, and that it also is part of his responsibility to raise money.

He said he is seeking corporate sponsorship but needs $500 from FISH to hire a company that generates sponsorship opportunities.

Von Hahmann said Wardell should have created a subcommittee of FISH members to keep them up to date with his needs.

Board member Jim Kelly disagreed.

“I don’t understand that,” he said. “He’s the director. He can do whatever he needs to do. We don’t need to micromanage everything he does.”

Wardell said he is raising more interest in the Sea Scout program by promoting and starting a Facebook page, but needs corporate sponsors to reach his goals.

FISH agreed to spend the $500, but von Hahmann said Wardell is running out of time.

“You probably have one more year to really crank this up,” she said.

“You need to come up with a plan shortly, and this is why we need to have a subcommittee,” she said. “Your dollars are shrinking fast. I don’t want to see it go away, and I don’t think you’ll get it done at the corporate level alone.”

Of the $320,000 donated to the TMC, von Hahmann said about $173,000 remains.

Esperanza in Spanish means “hope,” and a sailboat by that name first came to the United States in the 1990s filled with hope.

But FISH hasn’t had a lot of luck in its ongoing search for a home for the restored Esperanza, which brought six Cuban refugees to the U.S. shore seeking asylum.

The boat was discovered in bad condition on the Atlantic coast in the upper Florida Keys near Windley Key and brought to Cortez for renovation.

FISH has continued to maintain the Esperanza in the hope it will find an appropriate home, but boatworks committee members have previously asked that it be removed from their facility, where it takes up space needed to work on other boats.

FISH members lamented at the meeting that options for the Esperanza and a search for a new home have not been fruitful.

There had been some discussion about an outside exhibit at the Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W., Cortez, but Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court deputy clerk Cathy Slusser told FISH there is no funding for such a project at the museum.

The county clerk’s office oversees the operation of the museum.

In the meantime, organizers of the Nov. 2 Sarasota Bay Water Festival have asked FISH to display the Esperanza at the event. Kelly said the festival was attended by about 3,000 people in 2012 and might be an opportunity for FISH to share information.

FISH member Karen Bell suggested fliers include the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, which takes place in February. Bell said she would help design the flier.

The board approved moving Esperanza outdoors with a protective tarp and agreed to spend up to $200 to have a flier prepared.

 

FISH mulls full-time director proposal

Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board member Karen Bell suggested in August the nonprofit consider hiring a full-time director.

Bell said it’s too difficult for FISH to address things on a day-to-day basis when the board only meets once a month. Bell brought the subject up for discussion again at the Sept. 9 meeting at Fishermen’s Hall in Cortez.

“It would be a good idea to find someone who would be dedicated to overseeing everything,” said Bell. “I realize we have no budget for it, but if we get the right person, that person could create that.”

Bell suggested that the board begin looking for someone with the time to volunteer to begin with, and then let that person develop fundraising activities to fund their salary while promoting FISH.

“It would take someone who can think outside the box,” she said. “It just seems like we talk about a lot of things and don’t follow through with them. I think our intentions are good, but it’s hard to do when we only meet once a month and have all of our own obligations outside of FISH.”

The board was agreeable to authorize Bell to pursue the parameters of the proposed position and begin searching for candidates who would be willing to start as a volunteer.

Anyone interested in volunteering as FISH director with the opportunity to turn it into a full-time position should contact Bell at A.P. Bell Fish at 941-794-1249 or kljbell@gmail.com.

HB parking solutions focus on overflow opportunities

Comedian Billy Connolly once told an audience that he didn’t have a guardian angel. He instead had a parking angel.

“It’s on my dashboard and you wind it up,” he said. “The wings flap and it’s supposed to give you a parking space.”

Anyone trying to find a parking space on Anna Maria Island during season or on a holiday weekend knows parking angels are few and far between, but answers continue to be sought.

Developing overflow parking opportunities in Holmes Beach is an idea gaining traction. It dominated the Sept. 16 conversation at the Holmes Beach Committee on Traffic and Parking meeting.

Committee members have been in discussion with four churches in the city to use parking lots on days when the church has no activities, and banks that close on Sundays also are being considered as parking alternatives.

CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, already has opened its parking lot for visitors on Saturdays and signs on Gulf Drive already welcome people to use the 100-plus available parking spaces to park and ride the trolley.

The church’s location near a trolley stop makes it an ideal parking area for visitors, according to the committee, and member Peggy Davenport said other Holmes Beach churches appear willing to work with the city, with the exception of St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive.

“St. Bernard is not very open to much of anything, but maybe if they see it working in other places perhaps that will change,” said Davenport.

The committee views St. Bernard ideal due to its size and proximity to Manatee Public Beach.

Davenport said she has been in contact with a church on St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota that opens its parking lot to the public and she learned the church collects more than $10,000 a year from donations.

Committee member Bob Johnson said discussions with churches seem favorable, but he wants the concept of overflow parking to expand beyond churches.

The discussion turned toward Mayor Carmel Monti’s concept of a parking garage at or near the public beach.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss it, but we are covering the particulars with Manatee County,” said Monti.

During public comment, Alex Richardson suggested the city focus efforts on making use of all available public parking before pushing parking onto the church lots. He suggested directing excess beachgoers to Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

It was a suggestion made at the first committee meeting in August, and was not received well by Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy, who said the city has its own parking and traffic concerns.

Bradenton Beach is reviewing a proposed parking plan that would put to use the large lots at Coquina Beach to address parking in the business district.

“However, all three cities are working together,” said committee chair and Holmes Beach commission candidate Carol Soustek. “We are trying to unify ourselves for the benefit of the whole island.”

“Let’s start small and see how it works,” said Soustek, noting CrossPointe, as well as Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church of Annunciation are good locations for their proximity to trolley stops. Church of Annunciation also is closer to the public beach than the Catholic church, which is a block or more from the nearest trolley stop.

Soustek said the committee should concentrate on how to inform people and direct people to available parking.

Opposition already has been raised by neighbors of CrossPointe, who said issues could arise from people walking through their neighborhood, where there are no amenities —public restrooms.

Soustek said solutions are possible, and “all of us are going to have something to gripe about. But we aren’t going to solve a thing until we can alleviate the lack of control of who parks where.”

Johnson said the committee shouldn’t limit a plan to one test site, but should get as many churches, businesses and organizations on board as soon as possible.

Discussion on shared parking with Anna Maria Elementary School also is ongoing and the committee’s preference is to open as much overflow parking as possible within walking distance of the public beach.

Discussion then turned to directing visitors to parking areas. Soustek said an idea is in the works to have visitors tune into a radio station that would guide them to parking areas, inform them of parking lot statuses and advise on congestion problems.

Monti said there is also an idea to develop an AMI parking app for smartphones.

He said other ideas will be addressed following a soon-to-be-concluded traffic analysis. Among those suggestions are one-way traffic on some streets during season and roundabouts.

“Nothing is set in stone,” said Soustek. “These are still ideas. You can see how many tentacles there are to each idea. We don’t want to hurt one area or one street, but all of us have to give up something to fix this problem.”

The committee meets every other Monday and is next scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 30, at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

MPO head offers road funding solution: Make Gulf Drive a U.S. highway

Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Mike Howe offered a new funding solution for island mayors troubled by infrastructure costs at the monthly Island Transportation and Planning Organization Sept. 16 in Bradenton Beach.

“Does the island need to apply for federal designation of Gulf Drive?” Howe asked Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn, Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy. “It’s something to think about.”

If Gulf Drive became a federal highway, federal funding for improvements could become available, he said, and the Federal Highway Administration has expertise in easing traffic congestion and improving traffic flow.

And, of course, the federal government has more funding sources than local governments and the Florida Department of Transportation, said Howe.

Making Gulf Drive a federal highway does not mean the cities have to give up control over the road, he added. It would not mean four lanes in the future. “That would be something the cities would have to bring to the MPO first before consideration,” he said.

David Hutchinson of the MPO said, “It won’t take 10 years to get the designation,” Hutchinson said. He estimated Gulf Drive could become a federal highway a few years after application.

SueLynn said she’s “ready to call the federal government and talk,” and both Monti and Shaughnessy expressed interest.

“It would certainly help us,” she said. “It’s a blessing and a curse to be in our situation.” The mayor said the city must maintain public parking on beach access streets and Gulf Drive for traffic — not just city traffic — from its city treasury.

Gulf Drive is designated State Road 789 from the Longboat Pass Bridge to the Manatee Avenue-East Bay Drive intersection in Holmes Beach. Continuing north, Gulf Drive is city-owned in both Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria.

“If you apply, we’ll help as much as we can to get that designation as fast as possible,” Howe said.

In other transportation-related matters, Monti said Holmes Beach has a committee studying traffic congestion and parking problems.

He noted the Manatee County Area Transit bus that brings people from the mainland to the island is “not fitted for beachgoers.” He said people who carry coolers, chairs and other beach gear in their vehicles add to weekend and holiday traffic congestion. He suggested MCAT should allow beach gear on the buses coming to the island from the mainland to encourage ridership.

Howe said the Florida Department of Transportation is progressing on the planning, development and environmental study for Cortez Bridge. He expects that study to be completed by December, when DOT will conduct a public meeting to announce its findings.

ITPO is a chartered board under the MPO, organized to develop consensus on MPO matters prior to the monthly MPO meeting and voting by the single member appointed from Anna Maria Island’s three cities. Presently SueLynn is the seated member.

The next ITPO meeting will be at 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.