Tag Archives: 10-10-2012

Cortez crabbers prepare, move traps to water

It won’t be long before fresh stone crab claws are back on restaurant menus as Oct. 5 signaled the first day for fishers to sink their crab traps.

And it was a busy day.

“It gets more competitive every year,” said Trek Hackney, a six-year veteran of stone crab season. “It’s very competitive out there.”

Stone crab season began Oct. 5, but the day was only for commercial crabbers to sink their traps. Harvesting of stone crab claws doesn’t begin until Oct. 15 and the season runs through May 15.

Hackney and his “team” were loading traps at a yard in Cortez where they had been preparing for the season.

“The process begins with the traps,” said Hackney. “We have to get them all cleaned out, paint the bottoms and get all the old gear ready to go. It’s not the fun part of the job.”

The first 10 days of waiting for the harvest to begin isn’t fun either, he said. Especially because the first haul will often tell what kind of season it will be, and the anticipation of what the first traps will contain can make for a long 10 days.

“Stone crab season is always unpredictable,” said Hackney. “If we pull up a lot of crabs in the first haul, it’s likely to be a good year. If we don’t get that many, then the season can be slow at first, but can improve with a couple of cold fronts that cools the water down. As soon as the water cools, the crabs will move in” the traps.

Hackney said the market price for stone crab varies and no one is talking about what this year’s prices will be.

“Believe me, I asked,” he said. “We sell to local fish houses and restaurants, and no one is talking. They typically set the price on the first day of harvest, which is Oct. 15.”

The crabbers have their own traps and buoys marked by specific colors and numbers. It’s a felony to get into someone else’s traps.

“We all try to be professionals and trust each other, even though it’s so competitive out there,” he said. “Everyone does a good job of respecting one another’s traps, for the most part.”

Hackney said, “The waiting is the hardest part. We sink a lot of money into this, so we always hope for the best.”

Veterans Day plans, 2 markets, pirate fest top BB agenda

Bridge Street Merchants vice president Adam Jenkins told Bradenton Beach commissioners Oct. 4 that he would like to see the city do more to honor veterans.

Jenkins, of Edgewater Real Estate, 104 Bridge St., said BSM is working on a Nov. 11 celebration for Veterans Day that includes a military flyover.

“We are asking the mayor to give a speech to give thanks to the veterans,” said Jenkins. “We will have a military tanker do a flyover at noon.”

Jenkins said he has verbal approval for the flyover, to be conducted by a refueling aircraft out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

In other matters, commissioners approved special event applications for the resumption of the Bridge Street Market, as well as a new market at Coquina Beach.

Nancy Ambrose, former organizer of the controversial Gulf Drive Cafe & Tiki market, presented commissioners with documents to again begin operating a Sunday market.

Last season’s market was halted due to traffic and safety concerns that arose during its operations last year.

Commissioners previously suggested the market be moved to Coquina Beach. According to the application, the event will be called the Beach Market.

Both the new market and one operated by the nonprofit Bridge Street Merchants association of business owners will start up in November, operating simultaneously on Sundays.

The Bridge Street Market kicks off Nov. 4, while the Beach Market begins Nov. 18.

Commissioners also approved more than $6,000 in fees to city planner Alan Garrett. Commissioner Ric Gatehouse had questions about Garrett’s fees, but Garrett was not at the Oct. 4 meeting.

“When we hired Mr. Garrett, the idea of his fees would be paid for by application fees,” said Gatehouse. “I’d like to find out what percentage is being paid through those applications.”

Mayor John Shaughnessy said city clerk Nora Idso could supply that information.

City attorney Ricinda Perry presented a request for proposal to commissioners following stalled negotiations in late September with the city’s engineer for the Historic Bridge Street Pier reconstruction project.

To expedite the project, the RFP gives interested firms until Oct. 12 to submit questions and Oct. 17 as a deadline for firms to withdraw if not interested.

“We are going to put this out,” said Mayor John Shaughnessy. “We’ve been fooling around long enough. I don’t want this pier done during season. It’s not a big project. It’s just pulling out the old pilings and putting new ones back in. It’s not like they have to start at square one.”

Commissioners also agreed to waive the open container ordinance for Pirate Fest, a Nov. 9-11 event sponsored by the Anna Maria Island Privateers at Coquina Beach.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said commissioners already approved the event, but a second motion was required to waive the city’s open container ordinance.

Speciale said extra officers would be on duty for the event and security would be provided after sunset.

Commissioners also approved more than $33,000 to Gator Grading and Paving for work completed on the stormwater project on Avenue A, as well as 25th and 24th streets.

The area had previously been graded, and swales created, but residents complained at an August meeting that the swales were creating problems with flooding and killing landscaping.

Public works director Tom Woodard said those issues have been addressed and he has not had a recent complaint from residents in the neighborhood.

Plaintiffs offer arbitration in parking lot suit

Resident Jo Ann Meilner offered Bradenton Beach commissioners an unexpected deal at an Oct. 4 meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Meilner is one of three plaintiffs involved in a lawsuit filed against the city in June that demands an end to the city’s joint development agreement with ELRA Inc., the corporate entity of the Ed Chiles’ BeachHouse Restaurant.

The agreement, approved in May despite objections from the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board, allows development of a parking lot next to the restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., in exchange for ELRA assuming the lion’s share of the cost to put in a dune across from city hall.

P&Z recommended commissioners reject the agreement in April, citing violations of the city charter, land development codes and comprehensive plan.

P&Z members were publicly admonished at a May city commission meeting where Commissioner Ric Gatehouse accused P&Z members of bias and presenting a “tainted” recommendation, while city attorney Ricinda Perry said P&Z was not qualified to make such a recommendation.

The contentious meeting led to four P&Z resignations, including Meilner’s, and the subsequent lawsuit.

Meilner, who owns Meilner & Son Construction in Bradenton Beach with her husband, speaking for herself and co-plaintiffs Tjet Martin and Bill Shearon, owners/partners in Linger Lodge in the city, made a counter offer to the suit during public comment of the Oct. 4 meeting.

“We propose to withdraw our complaint against the city of Bradenton Beach regarding the development agreement and offer instead a review by a qualified judge arbitrator experienced in land-use matters,” she said.

Meilner said the offer would stand if the city would agree that the arbitration results would be binding.

“This is essentially where we are heading through the court system,” she said. “At the end of a long legal battle, a judge will make a final ruling. Binding arbitration will speed the process.”

Meilner said the land development code, comprehensive plan and city charter could be fairly reviewed through arbitration, “without a room full of lawyers making the interpretation.”

As a former P&Z member, she said the plaintiffs in the case live and work in the city and do not want to burden the city with additional expenses.

“Those members of the P&Z, who for many years gave countless hours reviewing the LDC and participating in the visioning process care deeply for our city,” she said. “Currently, the city is being sued on multiple fronts and experiencing enormous unbudgeted legal fees.

“We are willing to make this offer to end some of those expenses and ensure a fair review of the city’s codes,” she added.

Commissioners did not comment on Meilner’s offer because it involves a legal position of the city, but accepted her comments for consideration.

The city already has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees just to have its case reviewed by an outside attorney.

The dune/parking lot project is scheduled to begin following sea turtle nesting season, which ends Oct. 31, but if the plaintiffs were to win the legal battle, everything the city and ELRA did in that effort would have to be undone, according to the terms of the lawsuit.

Busy bees

Holmes Beach Police Department officers barricaded a section in the 2900 block of Avenue E Sept. 29, after a large number of bees were discovered swarming in a nearby tree. According to a HBPD report, a beekeeper was contacted to remove the bees. Islander Photo: Courtesy Kevin Fitzgerald

Former Timesaver clerk not guilty of lottery theft

A former cashier at the Timesaver store in Holmes Beach was found not guilty of theft or embezzlement following a bench trial Oct. 1 in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

Jeanna Mehrhoff, 29, of 7504 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, was arrested Feb. 1 on charges of grand theft after allegedly confessing to stealing lottery tickets valued at $2,223, according to police and court records.

Judge Peter A. Dubensky heard the evidence, which included the testimony of Mehrhoff, her brother, a Timesaver representative and the arresting police officer, according to assistant state attorney Garrett Franzen, who prosecuted the case.

Franzen said the judge then took a 5-10 minute break and came back to announce the finding of not guilty. Dubensky did not include any reasoning in his order.

At the trial, Franzen said Mondher Kobrosly presented Timesaver records that showed lottery tickets were purchased during a period when insufficient funds were taken into the cash drawer, saying the “majority of it was during the month of January.”

Franzen also said Kobrosly presented some but not all of the supporting business records, and testified some records were lost when a computer crashed.

Anne Hunter, Mehrhoff’s public defender, said, “The owner had absolutely no business records to show any discrepancy,” adding there was testimony of others who were allowed to run lottery tickets at that time. She also said Kobrosly is the owner of the Timesaver store at 5353 Gulf Drive.

At the time of the arrest, according to Hunter, police came to Mehrhoff’s residence, read her Miranda rights and told her she’d be going to the station to sign an affidavit, but instead took her to the store where she allegedly confessed to the discrepancy.

Hunter added, “It was not a valid confession. The confession was gotten with three uniformed police officers standing over her at the store,” she said, adding Kobrosly and his nephew also were there.

After the trial, Kobrosly disagreed with the verdict, and blamed it on a defendant who knew how to work the system.

“You know I don’t get it,” he said. “The judge, I respect he’s a judge, and it’s his decision.”

Kobrosly said Mehrhoff had been working alone on two occasions from which he traced the missing money, and “she admitted to everything.”

A week after Mehrhoff’s arrest, the state’s attorney filed the third-degree felony theft/embezzlement charges, alleging Mehrhoff intended to deprive Timesaver and/or Kobrosly of property valued at $300-$5,000. Franzen said his office met its legal and ethical burden when it filed the initial charges against Mehrhoff. He added that “not in all cases does that mean there will be a guilty finding.”

In a separate matter against Mehrhoff, stemming from a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest a month after the alleged Timesaver incident, a hearing had been set for Oct. 5.

Mehrhoff’s public defender William Sheslow filed a written motion in June that argued Mehrhoff’s misdemeanor charges should be dismissed because a 2002 state marijuana possession law did not require her to know the illicit nature of the crime.

However, according to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court assistant state’s attorney supervisor Heather Doyle, the Florida Supreme Court ruled July 12 the state marijuana possession law is constitutional — making Sheslow’s motion apparently moot.

Mehrhoff’s mideamnor case was continued to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 15 before Judge George K. Brown Jr. in Courtroom C, 1051 Manatee Ave. W, according to an assistant state’s attorney.

FISH moves closer to $250,000 grant, preserve plan

Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage acting preserve chair Karen Bell presented Oct. 1 to the board her 95-acre preserve management plan, a requirement of the board’s goal to secure a $250,000 Southwest Florida Water Management District grant.

FISH has been working to develop the natural state of the 95 acres into a legitimate preserve for the public to enjoy. The land was first secured in 1999 to preserve the village of Cortez from encroaching development.

About 30 acres of the preserve is mangrove wetlands, six acres is pine flat woods, 23 acres is uplands, and about 17 acres are dominated by invasive species such as Australian pine, Brazilian pepper and others.

According to the management report, native species such as sabal palms and buttonwoods are being choked out by the invasive species.

A goal of any preserve is to eliminate invasive species and return the acreage to native Florida species.

“Extensive habitat restoration and management will be required to re-establish native plant communities,” the report reads.

The cost to rehabilitate each acre is about $28,000. The $250,000 Swiftmud grant would allow FISH to complete what it began in regards to the rehabilitation effort and look ahead to the construction of walkways and observation towers, as well as maintaining a campground.

The obstacle to the grant is that most of the preserve is zoned residential, and if FISH wanted, could sell or develop the land.

However, FISH has no intention of doing so, but government agencies don’t want promises, they want action. Swiftmud will not go forward with the grant unless FISH creates a conservation easement to guarantee no future development can occur.

At its Oct. 1 meeting, FISH finalized its preserve management plan and passed a motion to accept the 6.5 acre conservation easement, which follows along the preserve’s creek and encompasses about 10 feet of land on each side.

The board voted to exclude the Wilkerson property and the trap yard from the easement. Both properties sit within the preserve boundaries.

The board made some minor changes to the overall management plan, which will accompany the presentation of the easement to Swiftmud. Included in the changes was an implementation of a dumping policy that includes a $500 fine for violators.

Temporary uses also will be allowed to be voted on by the board, primarily for the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Also, FISH agrees to enter into a management partnership with Manatee County, but retains management rights.

Bell said the preserve committee held two meetings before presenting the management plan to the board. The first meeting addressed the boundaries of the easement, which still needs to be surveyed. The board approved up to $500 for a survey of the easement boundaries.

The second meeting, she said, was to develop a set of rules for the preserve.

The rules for the FISH preserve will largely adhere to county rules for other preserves: Alcohol will be prohibited, pets must remain on a leash, wildlife must remain undisturbed and fishing only is allowed at bridges and piers.

Different from other county preserves is FISH will allow tent camping within a designated area. No one under the age of 18 will be allowed on preserve property without being accompanied by an adult and noise restrictions will be put in place for overnight campers.

FISH president Kim McVey said campers will be required to check in at an undetermined location before setting up so FISH knows they are in the preserve after hours.

FISH continues to look at a fence project to secure the preserve from vandalism and illegal dumping. The preserve committee plans a walkthrough meeting later this month and will provide recommendations to the board.

The board is expected to officially adopt its management plan before the end of the year.

FISH meets at 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month at Fisherman’s Hall, 4515 123rd St. W., Cortez.

Holmes Beach city attorney responds to citizen inquiries

Holmes Beach City attorney Patricia Petruff has responded to a lengthy email inquiry, mostly concerning building regulations, from Judy Holmes Titsworth with a lengthy memorandum of her own.

    In her memo dated Sept. 25 and at that evening’s commission meeting, Petruff recommended several building changes to city commissioners, including stormwater retention and as-built survey requirements be adopted by ordinance.

    Petruff examined the gamut of building issues and concluded, “The biggest take-away from this is that every instance must be researched individually with specificity. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

    In a Sept. 4 email disseminated to commissioners, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, Joe Duennes and others, Titsworth, who is running for a commissioner’s seat in the Nov. 6 election, summarized her concerns and posed questions about half-built duplexes, encroachments in setbacks, abuse of short-term rental parking, buffering and flood plain rules, and a lack of stormwater engineering and survey requirements.

    Titsworth asked, with the LDC as written, can another building be added to an already existing one-half duplex without adhering to lot size and minimum-spacing requirements?

    Petruff said, the code allows structures to be attached with a party wall, or covered by a permanent main roof or built on a common foundation, which are engineering issues.

    Titsworth also asked, in order to be legal should the duplexes that are half-built be reclassified as single-family homes and what process should be invoked?

    Petruff said if the classification of the structure was determined by the property appraiser without city input, it would not be a city issue. She added, “Maybe it would be more prudent to reclassify.”

    Bohnenberger said the already-built homes have been classified as single-family homes.

    Titsworth asked about setback encroachments, “Being that these properties are not in compliance with the LDC, what happens now? Can a certificate of occupancy be revoked? Do the properties have to be brought into compliance if a variance is not issued?”

    Petruff replied that research needs be done to determine if it is an interpretation issue, and whether the commission wishes to clarify or revise the code. She said revocation of a certificate of occupancy is a “drastic remedy,” and a court would require a property value that justifies a repair before it orders such a remedy. Variances and other methods may be used to correct problems, she added.

    Titsworth asked whether the city could prohibit rentals on properties where the building department may have unwittingly issued permits and certificates of occupancy.

    Petruff replied, “No. It’s a problem with the structure, not the use. I would not recommend withholding a business tax receipt.”

    Titsworth also asked whether the city planner could determine how many non-compliant properties have been permitted in recent years.

    Petruff answered, “If the city planner was given direction by the mayor or city commission, the planner could review all building permits for residential structures which have been issued in the last three to five years to determine what, if any, non-compliances may be present with respect to setbacks.”

     Titsworth also asked about a residential property collecting stormwater from a neighboring new development while the city lacked residential stormwater retention requirements.

    Petruff replied the land-development code currently exempts single-family and duplex construction from stormwater management requirements, and recommended the LDC be changed to require an engineer’s certification for residential stormwater retention plans at the time certificates of occupancy are granted.

Commission discussion

    Commissioner Pat Morton, during the Sept. 25 commission meeting, asked about the situation when “a contractor submits a set of plans that indicate one thing,” and what’s built is something else.

    Bohnenberger said the building department addresses such situations by requiring the structure be elevated or red-tagged and corrected.

    Petruff answered, “I agree with you Commissioner Morton. In a perfect world, that would be noticed and caught in the process of inspections.”

    “Have there been circumstances where a porch has become air-conditioned space, has this happened?” she continued. “It probably has. Is it a violation? It could be or not.”

    In such instances, Petruff said, a change order or the building permit should probably have been revisited.

    She continued, “Is it fixable? It might be — as long as it is structurally sound and as long as it doesn’t go over the 30 percent rule that we currently have, as long as it meets setbacks, all of those things.

    “It could be as a simple as requiring an after-the-fact permit. Or it just could be a blatant violation where we would go down a different path,” she added.

    Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said, “I’m a firm believer of where we go from here,” adding he’d rather see more stringent building practices going forward. “It’s kind of like chasing our tail.”

    Commissioner Jean Peelen agreed with a caveat, “I don’t want to dwell in the past either.

    “However I don’t want to sweep it under the rug. But it is good information for the commission to have. How frequent is it or isn’t it? Has it been a big issue or problem or not? I think we need to know that,” she said.

    Bohnenberger anticipated the cost of such a study to be “astronomical.”

        The commission first began looking at building codes and enforcement in December last year after residents packed city hall chambers to make known their complaints.

HB building department issues policies, manages workload

    While working to keep up with a burgeoning load of inspections — short a building inspector — public works director Joe Duennes issued two memos last week to commissioners and the mayor.

    One signaled an Oct. 1 elevator shaft setback policy and the other defended what the building department considers a front setback.

    In the elevator shaft memo, Duennes described the land development code as “ambiguous.”

    The memo points out that elevator shafts have been permitted in second-living level setbacks for the past five years based on LDC definitions. However, because shafts are not habitable and do not have intermediate floors, Duennes concluded, “the past interpretation to allow elevator shafts in the second-living level setback or any other setback may not be the best interpretation.”

    On corner-lot setbacks, Duennes defended past interpretations of the LDC. He wrote, “The LDC definition section goes so far as to state ‘the front yard is the yard facing on a city street, regardless of the front entrance.’”

    The memos follow up questions raised at the Sept. 25 city commission meeting about setbacks.

    Duennes’ workload was increased by the Sept. 18 termination of building inspector Bob Shaffer.

    The city is advertising the position of a plan reviewer/inspector on the Building Officials Association of Florida website, which is available to paid members. Bohnenberger said the position will be advertised until it’s filled, and he hopes to find a qualified person as soon as possible.

    Since Shaffer’s departure, Duennes and consultant John Fernandez have been performing inspections and plan reviews for the approximately 300-375 ongoing projects “that at any time can require inspections,” said building clerk Susan Lonzo.

    Lonzo said three to eight permits — electrical, building, demolition, fence, to name a few — are typically issued every day. Last week, there was a backlog of 18 permits “that have not even been looked at,” she said.

    Although, 95 permits were issued, she added.

    “Joe’s doing everything,” Lonzo said. “And that’s not his only job. He is the supervisor over code enforcement, all of public works and the building department.

    “To expect that things will run as they did, you just can’t,” she said.

    Mayor Rich Bohnenberger agreed, although he pointed out foreman Gary Blunden handles most of the administrative responsibility for public works. As far as code enforcement, he said, any city employee can assist the code officer by taking a complaint.

    “We’re in no worse shape now than when somebody goes on vacation,” Bohnenberger said.

    Before Shaffer’s termination, Bohnenberger said he was planning to send both he and Jan Gorman, code enforcement clerk, to school to assist in code enforcement.

        Last week, he said, “After three years of telling me she’s going to retire, she’s now telling me she’s really going to retire this year.”

Holmes Beach planner to determine building study cost

Holmes Beach commissioners directed city planner Bill Brisson to select from a prepared list and examine three recent construction projects to estimate the cost of a more extensive building-practices study.

    At their Sept. 25 meeting, commissioners grappled on Residential-2 building issues, including alleged land-development code violations and questionable building practices identified by commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth and others in the past several months.

    After a lengthy discussion, during which Commissioner John Monetti labeled the matter “an issue” — not a problem — Chair David Zaccagnino asked Brisson to choose three projects from a list of properties and the alleged problems for each prepared by Titsworth.

    Brisson is expected to estimate the study costs based on an hourly rate of $105, and by choosing three representative properties from Titsworth’s list of alleged problems, including:

    • 307 66th St. — Lacking adequate parking for short-term rental.

    • 203 N. Harbor Drive — Elevator encroaching in third level setback, lacking adequate parking for short-term rental.

    • 207 N. Harbor Drive — Lacking adequate parking for short-term rental.

    • 305 56th St. — A common-foundation footer was permitted to tie into the existing ground-floor structure on a duplex property, and the two buildings were allowed to avoid spacing rules.

    • 308 and 310 68th St. — Third-living level encroachment on 308 68th St. Both buildings encroach on a 20-foot front-yard setback and lack adequate parking.

    • 2803 Ave. E — 11-foot wall and living area encroach in the third-level setback. An elevator shaft has been converted into three levels of closets.

    • 5311 Sunrise Lane — Lacked pool permit; pool enclosure did not meet safety requirement, a trench was allowed in lieu of fencing; lack of lot calculations and final survey before issuing a certificate of occupancy; no engineered stormwater retention, two docks on one lot in violation of state code and a dock addition that encroaches in the 25-foot state setback for Outstanding Florida Waterways.

    • 405 and 407 74th St. — No elevation certificate on file, third-living level on both buildings encroach on the 15-foot setback; 30-foot separation between building and considered one building due to footer connection.

    Titsworth’s list follows her look at various properties, including meetings and emails with public works superintendent Joe Duennes and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger in August and September.

    Titsworth said the list represents building practices that have run amok and have led to residential over-development.

    Commissioners also talked about the possibility of a broader three- to five-year look back on the city’s building department practices, as recommended by city attorney Patricia Petruff.

    Petruff favored the Brisson examination on building practices saying, “I think it would be an appropriate task to determine if the issues, the complaints, allegations, or whatever you want to call them, are valid or not, or if it’s an interpretation dispute.”

    To iron out disagreements on interpretations, Petruff recommended the commission look at “how can we make these words say what we want them to say. That would be a good result from the exercise.”

    The study also will help determine if there’s been a building department mistake and, if so, whether variances or code changes are necessary, she said.

        It can also build a database of non-conformities so the city “will know where the problems are” and “tighten up the code where we can to make sure our citizens don’t bear the burden,” Petruff added.

Builders respond

        It’s a matter of interpretation, say builders and developers of properties in the spotlight due to recent criticisms of the Holmes Beach building practices.

        They also say their projects have been properly approved.

        Shawn Kaleta, principal in Beach to Bay Construction and Investments and the contractor of the 308 and 310 68th St. development, wrote in a recent email that these structures were attached by a city-approved common footer, and that both units together qualified for one 20-foot front-yard setback at the corner of 68th Street and Palm Drive, with 10-foot setbacks allowed on the other sides.

        More than 20 structures with such setbacks have been permitted in the city, according to Kaleta.

        As to the 2803 Ave. E and 203 N. Harbor properties, he wrote, “Since the elevator is considered one living level, it can go up three floors as long as it’s not in the 10-foot setback.”

        The elevator interpretation “has been common in Holmes Beach,” he continued.

        With respect to 5311 Sunrise Lane, Frank Agnelli of Agnelli Pools & Construction had no comment, except to say, “Everything is on file with the city.”

        Bimini Bay Construction, identified by the city as the licensed contractor for 405 and 407 74th St., is reportedly no longer in business.

        As of press time, The Islander was unable to reach Scott Eason of Beach to Bay Construction, identified by the city as the 307 66th St. contractor, for comment.

Homes at 5311 Sunrise Lane; 203 N. Harbor; 207 N. Harbor; 305 56th St.; 307 66th St.; 405 and 407 74th St.; 2803 Ave. E; and 308 and 310 68th St. are on a list for Holmes Beach city planner Bill Brisson to select from as he estimates costs of a possible citywide building-practices study. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

12 years waiting — HB to open nature preserve

Grassy Point Preserve, an area of natural uplands, wetlands and mangrove hammocks fronting Sarasota Bay near the Anna Maria Island Bridge, will have a long-awaited opening at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger announced last week.

        The 34-acre nature preserve between East Bay Drive opposite Walgreens and Grassy Point Bayou was purchased by the city in parcels starting in 2000 with funding from the Florida Community Land Trust, and improved and managed through an intergovernmental partnership between the city and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

        The city, SBEP and Keep Manatee Beautiful representatives are taking part in the event at the Avenue E preserve entrance.

        About two weeks ago, Holmes Beach public works crews smoothed out a 1,000-foot path and added shell in preparation for the opening, according to Bohnenberger.

        “This is just the beginning,” he said. “The paths are safe to walk on so now it’s time to open it up so the people can enjoy it.”

        The shell was purchased from the 2011-12 public works budget.

        With $3,000 in grants from the SBEP, the city in the past year has improved the preserve with a shell parking lot, three picnic tables, six shade trees, native plants and a mulch-lined path.

        The preserve is also boasts a waterway access for non-motorized craft.

        “We are delighted that they are having a grand opening,” said SBEP environmental scientist Jay Leverone. “It is one of the few remaining island hammocks on the barrier islands.”

        Bohnenberger said he expects Florida Department of Transportation funding for a $533,000 boardwalk project to be released next year for a walking path that will include water-crossing features in the preserve.

        Government officials also have discussed a lookout tower at Grassy Point.

        In October 2007, the Southwest Florida Water Management District approved a permit for five years for habitat restoration in the preserves.

        In 2008, the city, SBEP, Swiftmud and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service participated in a $91,000 project to restore intertidal wetlands and rare coastal hammocks, removed invasive species, including Australian pines and Brazilian peppers, and also moved spoil berms for nature trails. Another $18,000 went into clearing exotics and planting native vegetation.

        Earlier this year Holmes Beach Police Department Lt. Dale Stephenson said the department was ready to patrol the area, while Bohnenberger and public works superintendent Joe Duennes pointed to access and safety issues as reasons to hold off opening the preserve. Bohnenberger also said signage was needed.

        In addition to the recent shell path — solving the access and safety issue — Bohnenberger said signage has been added.

        He said the preserve will be open to the public 7 a.m. to dusk, beginning Oct. 18.