Tag Archives: 10-23-2013

Island homesteads in slow — not rapid — decline

Some island elected officials have expressed alarm that Anna Maria Island is losing permanent residents at a rapid rate.

While the 2010 census reported a decline in the island’s permanent population, figures from the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office show the drop in homesteaded properties the past 15 years on the island is not as steep as some assumed.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn agreed the numbers don’t spell out the steep decline she thought was occurring, but she still has concerns for the city’s loss of homesteaded properties.

While Anna Maria lost 62 homesteaded properties from 1998 to 2013, and Holmes Beach lost 182 homesteaded properties, Bradenton Beach increased its number of homesteads from 253 to 268 in the same 15-year period.

The property office reported 2,293 homesteaded properties islandwide in 1998 compared with 2,065 for 2013, a decline of 9.9 percent.

“But when it is people I’ve known and expected to retire here permanently, then they leave, it’s a concern,” the mayor said.

The mayor also is worried about the number of vacation rentals in the city.

“It just seems like all new construction in the past few years on a vacant lot has been for a vacation rental,” she said.

SueLynn observed the city has more than 1,100 non-homesteaded properties and 542 homesteads.

She said she anticipates the number of non-homesteaded properties to gradually increase in the coming years.

The mayor noted that while the MCPAO gave her its figures for 2013, the MCPAO said it works one year in arrears counting homesteaded and non-homesteaded properties and determining taxable value.

The figures given SueLynn and for this report were as of Jan. 1, Sharon Barhorst of the MCPAO said. They are the figures used to compute taxable value for the 2013-14 city and county budgets.

“So we could have even more vacation rentals than we believe, and maybe fewer homesteaded properties than we think,” SueLynn said.

The city will get new tallies in January from the property office.

Between 1998-2013, the property office reported these figures for homesteaded properties on Anna Maria Island.

 

Homesteads            1998      2013

Anna Maria               604        542

Bradenton Beach      253        268

Holmes Beach       1,436     1,254

Island homesteads in slow — not rapid — decline

Bradenton Beach cell tower gets bad reception

It was as close to standing room only as the Bradenton Beach City Hall chambers can get for an Oct. 18 public hearing on a proposed cellular communications tower.

Public comment was unanimously opposed to both the construction of a cell tower and the location near the city’s public works facility, which is at 400 Church Ave.

Residents of Church Avenue, close to where the tower will be built, were united in opposing the project.

Paul Georges said the proposed tower is five times taller than any other structure in the city and, while he found the presentation informative, he disagreed with the concept.

“I feel Bradenton Beach is a special place to live and hope it continues to be so,” he said. “The question is, do we really need a cell tower? I live less than 100 feet from where it will be and I feel there are toxic issues at the site, as well as being a safety concern to pedestrian, bike and car traffic. It should be a safety concern to the city, too.”

Georges said commissioners should be good to the citizens, “not just to businesses and private interests.”

The proposed tower will be 150 feet high with a base foundation that is 60 by 70 feet. The structure will begin at the southeast corner of the public works building and stretch east toward the marina and south into the city parking lot, although only one parking space is expected to be lost.

Kevin Barile of Florida Tower Partners said the only way to improve cellphone service in the city is to build the tower.

“It’s quite well known that there is poor cellphone service in this area,” he said.

A Verizon representative agreed, saying there are 134 dropped calls recorded every day within the city.

But call numbers didn’t sway the opinion of those who spoke against the tower.

Residents near the proposed site said property values will decrease and cited safety concerns from a tower collapse, as well as cancer concerns from radiation.

Barile said the tower is designed with a collapse point, “in this case, 30 feet, so it only needs a 30-foot fall zone clearance. All of the equipment is inside the tower, so nothing will fly off the structure in winds in excess of 115 miles per hour.”

Cell tower consultant Art Peters, who has spent more than four decades as an engineer, said there are no structural or health concerns associated with the tower.

Health questions are something “I’ve been asked a thousand times,” said Peters, who explained the Federal Communications Commission sets the health standards based on criteria established by an international organization that includes doctors.

“The FCC sets the level of radiation below anything else they can set, and not even Congress can counter those standards,” he said. “A lot of people are fearful of radiation, but radiation from a cell tower is not like anything that hurts your body. It’s more like a toaster. It’s not ionizing radiation.”

Commissioner Gay Breuler said it was her understanding that local government has no authority to consider radiation transmission, because there are no dangers to consider.

Peters said Breuler was correct.

Breuler said the city can help residents by ensuring there will be as much landscaping and other measures to disguise the structure’s base and her suggestions came with a motion to approve the permit.

That wasn’t enough for other speakers, however. Carl Parks, chair of the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee, said the city ordinance repealed by the commission “did a much better job protecting the public” than the new ordinance.

Jo Ann Meilner agreed, saying every issue raised by those speaking was addressed “in the previous ordinance you people gutted.”

Tjet Martin, campaign treasurer for mayoral candidate Bill Shearon and one-third of a group suing the city over a joint development between the city and Ed Chiles, along with Shearon and Meilner, said the public has not had enough time to vet the process.

The city has conducted multiple public meetings regarding the cell tower, but Martin said the public should have been able to meet with the consultant, too.

Other nearby residents said they had only just learned about the cell tower, although meetings dating back to January 2012 were noticed and reported in the media.

Janie Robertson, former Ward 3 commissioner and a candidate to regain her seat, said she agrees with the concerns expressed by the citizens. She also said she’s asked the city several times about seeking an alternative location.

“All I’m ever told is ‘There is no other location,’” she said.

Robertson suggested the First Street city parking lot as an alternative, although it would mean losing parking spaces.

While city officials and staff have said there are no alternative locations, they admitted they were unsure if the First Street parking lot had been researched.

However, Barile assured commissioners every alternative location had been sought out and that the best location for the best service is near the public works building location.

The planning and zoning board recommended approval of the permit Sept. 23, but added stipulations, and commissioners agreed with some P&Z concerns and dismissed with others.

Stipulations for landscaping and some type of buffer around the base were accepted in the motion made by Breuler, which passed unanimously.

Bradenton Beach presses on in lawsuit defense

Bradenton Beach commissioners won’t be deterred. They are pressing on against a lawsuit filed in June 2012 to halt development on the beach across from city hall.

The suit targets a joint development agreement between the city and Ed Chiles’ BeachHouse Restaurant corporation, ELRA Inc., but neither Chiles nor ELRA are named in the suit.

It was filed by three citizens to stop a proposed parking lot on the beachfront at the BeachHouse Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N.

The project included the construction of a dune, which has been completed, and the creation of about a dozen parking spaces for the restaurant, as well as five spaces for the city. The city owns an easement on the beach at the south end of the property owned by Chiles.

The parking lot project has yet to begin, but the restaurant has used the area for parking for several years.

The suit challenges the city’s decision to disregard a March 2012 planning and zoning board vote to recommend the commission deny that agreement. Among the reasons cited by P&Z were that it violates the city charter and land development codes.

The city entered the agreement in April 2012, questioning during discussion the qualifications of P&Z members to make the recommendation. The contentious meeting led to the resignation of three P&Z members — two of them parties to the lawsuit — Jo Ann Meilner and Bill Shearon. Shearon is both a mayoral candidate in the Nov. 5 election and former city commissioner. His partner and campaign treasurer, Tjet Martin, is the third party in the suit.

Little movement on the suit has occurred, but city attorney Ricinda Perry said Oct. 17 that legal fees for the city have reached $20,000. If it goes to court, Perry estimated the city’s costs will more than double.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by former city attorney Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral, offered the city a deal to end the matter — if the city agrees to binding arbitration — but commissioners previously rejected that proposal. They did so again at the Oct. 17 city meeting.

Perry said there are no hearings scheduled, and that she has been attempting to force mediation.

Perry sought direction on whether commissioners wanted her to pursue litigation or binding arbitration, which she said is still an option to reduce costs.

Mayor John Shaughnessy said costs were a concern. He wanted to revisit the arbitration offer because it would be “quicker and less expensive.”

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said no to arbitration.

“It’s binding and we have no further legal recourse,” he said.

Perry said typically an arbitrator “relies on their own experience. That’s where the concern lies with me. You’re stuck with (his or her) opinion with no ability of appeal if the decision is based on misunderstanding of the law.”

Gatehouse said he preferred to take the case in front of a judge.

“We have to defend our right to make decisions up here based on our understanding of codes and ordinances,” he said. “We’ve offered mediation. The ball is in their court. I’m content to wait rather than enter into arbitration where we have no recourse.”

Commissioner Gay Breuler said that’s why the commission rejected arbitration when it was first offered.

“We knew this was going to cost money, but we know we are correct and it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh also rejected arbitration and Vice Mayor Ed Straight said his experience with arbitration was not good.

Commissioners did not need to take official action since they had previously provided a consensus to reject the arbitration offer.

MCAT: Island-mainland shuttle study underway

Bradenton Beach Scenic Waves Partnership Committee members, who met Oct. 7 for the first time since May, took advantage of having representatives present from the Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County Transit Authority to discuss an islandwide concern: traffic congestion.

But discussion was all Scenic Waves members could do. The committee picked up where it left off before the summer hiatus — without a quorum.

Scenic Waves chair Carl Parks opened the meeting by saying the committee is well versed on traffic issues after having participated in many studies over its 12-year history.

There are many traffic proposals being discussed throughout the island and one often-discussed proposal is the creation of a park-and-ride system. The system would allow beachgoers to leave their vehicles at a parking lot off island where they would board free buses to local beaches.

MCAT planner Sarah Perch confirmed that the county is studying the feasibility of that idea.

“We are looking at facilities throughout the county and the idea is going before the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization board this month,” said Perch. “Hopefully from that study, we can get some ideas about where to have facilities for a park-and-ride system.”

Perch said the county already offers free weekend shuttle services from Manatee Avenue to the island and touted the success of the free trolleys that service the island.

“The AMI route is the most frequent route we have, which runs every 20 minutes,” said Perch. “The island trolley is the most productive route and carries the highest number of passengers.”

Perch said discussions also continue with Sarasota County to create an interlocal agreement between the two transit authorities that would expand bus services.

Jim Van Pelt, MPO liaison to Scenic Waves, said there are a number of studies being funded through the MPO, including the park-and-ride study.

“We are looking at a number of places for parking facilities for that and looking at connecting transit to take them to different parts of the county,” said Van Pelt. “That one should be done by December. We also are doing a big study of routes from Lakewood Ranch to Bradenton and maybe see how we can direct those to the island.”

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse, attending the meeting, brought up a concern that people would not want to use a park-and-ride system if they can’t bring beach gear.

Perch said that there is not a lot of flexibility with adding storage on buses, but Van Pelt said Fort Myers has a heavily used park-and-ride system.

“Beach gear is not a deterrent,” he said. “They bring it right onto the bus.”

Others suggested that people won’t use the bus service without an incentive.

Jan Parham, FDOT transit projects coordinator for Sarasota County, said the committee could work with businesses to offer coupons to passengers.

Former Commissioner Janie Robertson, a commission candidate in the Nov. 5 city election, asked if FDOT could create an express lane for buses to the island.

“This area is constrained and there is no way to put in another lane,” she said.

Robertson said she was specifically referring to Cortez Road between 115th and 119th streets, where the right-hand turn lane ends and the westbound traffic over the bridge narrows to one lane.

Others attending agreed that it was a safety issue due to people using the turn lane and then cutting off traffic to get onto the bridge during the season.

Keep Manatee Beautiful executive director Ingrid McClellan, a Scenic Waves member, suggested FDOT remove the medians in that area to make an express lane for a proposed park-and-ride system.

“Those medians are too thin to plant anything that will grow,” she said. “I don’t see why you can’t remove them and make it a center lane for buses.”

Parham said she would extend an invitation for someone from the traffic division to attend the Nov. 4 Scenic Waves meeting to discuss options.

In other matters, McClellan said everything is almost ready for the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 Bradenton Beach Sandblast at Coquina Beach, this year in conjunction with the Pirate Invasion.

Scenic Waves member Jake Spooner, also a Bridge Street Merchants member, said the merchants have several events planned to raise money for the Christmas on Bridge Street event Dec. 21.

An official Christmas lighting ceremony also is planned Nov. 30.

Under new business, Parks requested that the commission assign more projects for review by Scenic Waves.

Commissioner Gay Breuler, liaison to Scenic Waves, said Parks had it backward.

“If you have a project identified, then you present it to us,” she said. “Scenic Waves is an advisory board to the commission and mayor, not the other way around.”

Parks said prior commissions sought Scenic Waves recommendations on certain projects before making a decision, much like it does with the planning and zoning board.

“That’s going backward,” said Breuler. “If something comes to the commission for a vote, then it’s probably already had that attention. What Scenic Waves is designed for is for you to come up with projects that you think are useful and present them to commission.”

Breuler said if Scenic Waves was going to wait on the commission or mayor to present projects to them, “You’ll be waiting for awhile.”

Scenic Waves meets the first Monday of the month at 3 p.m., at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Contractor pleads not guilty in HB fraud case

A contractor has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree felony charge that he schemed to defraud Holmes Beach City government out of more than $50,000.

Chris Richard Arnold, 61, of Bradenton, entered his plea at the Manatee Judicial Center in Bradenton Oct. 7.

He was arrested last month on a warrant executed by the Holmes Beach Police Department.

The probable cause affidavit contains the allegation that Arnold, contracted by the city in June 2012 for street repair work, invoiced the city for work he didn’t complete.

The report said Arnold, in a systematic and intentional scheme to defraud, sent 12 invoices to the city and collected $92,830.50 for work that was not completed.

A case management discussion was set for Nov. 14 at the judicial center.

BB man guilty of battery on police officer

A Bradenton Beach man has pleaded no contest to battery on a law enforcement officer.

Zachary A. Gennell, 20, was placed on probation for a year and sentenced to 75 hours of service work, as well as ordered to take an anger management class. He also was required to be evaluated for drug use.

He was arrested a year ago in downtown Bradenton after a fight. The arresting officer said Gennell was combative, shouted profanity and racial slurs and spit at him.

Gennell also was judged guilty of disorderly intoxication.

His plea was entered in late September, canceling an October trial.

Seffner man pleads no contest to theft

A Sefner man arrested in Holmes Beach in May and charged with theft has pleaded no contest.

Karlos Macias, 28, represented by an assistant public defender, entered his plea Oct. 3 and was judged guilty. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail with credit for time served and placed on probation for a year.

A police report said Macias and a second person stole landscaping equipment valued at $600 in Anna Maria. The two were stopped by a Holmes Beach Police Department officer in Holmes Beach and taken into custody.

Macias also must participate in an addiction program.

Campaign calendar

The Islander newspaper seeks to inform and entertain the electorate with another Popcorn and Politics forum featuring music, island candidates for office and other political personalities.

Contested elections are taking place in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach for city commission and in Bradenton Beach for mayor.

The Islander has extended invitations to all candidates to attend the forum and address constituents, who will be invited to vote in a straw poll overseen by the local League of Women Voters.

The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at the office, 5604B Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. The politicking will end at about 7:30 p.m., just in time for attendees to attend a city-sponsored screening of “Dolphin Tale” at city field, 5801 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

For more information, call The Islander at 941-778-7978.

 

Also on the calendar:

• The deadline to request an absentee ballot from the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office is Wednesday, Oct. 30.

• The deadline to file an absentee ballot at the elections office is 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5.

• Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5, when polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

        Send campaign announcements to news@islander.org.

FEMA eliminates some flood insurance discounts

Commercial and residential property owners on Anna Maria Island might want to check with an insurance agent to find out if or when flood insurance premiums might go up.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Oct. 1 released a new base flood-elevation map for Anna Maria Island. As on the previous FEMA map, the entire island falls into what FEMA calls a Special Flood Hazard Area.

FEMA also announced a five-year plan to phase out subsidized flood insurance premiums. FEMA’s Community Rating System provides flood insurance discounts of up to 25 percent of the premium from the actuarial rate as determined by insurance companies.

The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, passed by Congress in July 2012, requires subsidized discounts to decrease 20 percent each year for five years beginning this year on Oct. 1.

At the end of five years, all structures in a SFHA will be rated by insurance actuaries, according to the FEMA website.

Anna Maria building official Bob Welch said the FEMA program to phase out subsidies on flood insurance premiums is complicated.

Both Welch and Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert are advising property owners to contact their insurance agents as soon as possible.

Welch said the Biggert-Waters Act primarily affects single-story pre-FIRM structures — those built before 1975. After 1975, FEMA required new residential construction to be built above the base flood elevation.

While insurance for most of these post-FIRM houses will be unaffected, there may be problems when new FEMA rate maps are released, Welch said. That information should be available from FEMA within the next few weeks, he said.

Properties that may take an immediate hit on flood insurance premiums are those purchased between July 6, 2012, and Oct. 1, according to FEMA’s website. Welch said property purchased between those dates may not get a discount and the insurance carrier could put the flood insurance premium at the highest possible risk, according to his understanding of Biggert-Waters.

Real estate agent Larry Chatt said he knows one homeowner who bought during this period and the flood insurance premiums on the house tripled Oct. 1.

Chatt said he and other real estate agents are trying to determine “fact from fiction” regarding Biggert-Waters because there is so much information available and not all of it appears correct or applicable to Anna Maria Island.

“We are carefully watching flood insurance premiums and FEMA’s implementation of new rates. We will do everything possible to get the right information,” Chatt said.

The actual rate for flood insurance on a property won’t be known until the insurance carrier has the new FEMA rate map and the company actuaries assess the potential risk from a 100-year flood event, according to FEMA’s website.

In Chatt’s opinion, if Biggert-Waters might encourage investors to pay cash for a property and go without flood insurance. Similarly, commercial property owners might have to increase rents to cover higher flood insurance premiums.

“This could get complicated,” he said.

Welch said complications come, in part, from not knowing what FEMA’s standards for structures in a flood plain will be for the insurance carriers to use in setting rates.

Building officials need the information for anyone building a new home on the island, and insurance agents need to know what standards a particular insurance carrier will use in determining flood insurance premiums, he said.

Gilbert said if Biggert-Waters takes full effect on Anna Maria Island, it could “turn the barrier islands into ghost towns” in the next five years.

However, not every state affected by Biggert-Waters is accepting the act’s provisions.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., introduced a bill calling for changes to Biggert-Waters that would retain some of the government subsidies for premiums.

Landrieu said it’s possible in Louisiana that someone’s flood insurance monthly premium might exceed the mortgage payment. Her bill is before a Senate committee.

Gov. Rick Scott has said the state supports a lawsuit filed by Mississippi against the Biggert-Waters Act, but will not join the suit.

According to FEMA’s website, “full-risk rates will be phased in over five years at a rate of 20 percent per year to reach full risk rates.”

The website also says that Biggert-Waters “calls for the phase-out of subsidies and discounts on flood insurance premiums.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the Biggert-Waters Act and how it affects flood insurance on Anna Maria Island.

Holmes Beach officials heat up war of words

An inquiry into Holmes Beach Commissioner Marvin Grossman’s homesteaded status on real estate investments by fellow Commissioner David Zaccagnino last week launched a flurry of retaliatory remarks at an Oct. 10 work session.

Letters admonishing Zaccagnino were read into the record by Grossman, as well as Commissioner Judy Titsworth and an email exchange involving Mayor Carmel Monti titled “bad politics” called it an “obvious attempt to discredit Marvin.”

The matter was introduced by Grossman, who first criticized Zaccagnino from the dais and then from the chamber floor following the meeting. At one point, while in close proximity, Grossman pointed his finger at the chest of Zaccagnino.

Zaccagnino originally brought rumors that Grossman was homesteading two properties — one on and one off the island — to the attention of city attorney Patricia Petruff.

But Grossman’s off-island rental property, as it turned out, was purchased while homesteaded by its previous owner, which automatically continues on the property record until the end of the year.

The property was placed in ownership of the Jane A. Grossman Trust, Marvin Grossman’s wife.

Zaccagnino said the rumors were that Grossman was attempting to homestead a second property by using his wife’s trust for his residence in order to lower property taxes.

While sharp words were exchanged on and off the dais, the situation has intensified with a recent exchange of emails between Zaccagnino and an attorney retained by the Grossmans.

In an email dated Oct. 14 from the law office of Barnes, Walker, Goethe and Hoonhout, attorney Adron Walker characterized Zaccagnino’s alleged directive for city attorney Patricia Petruff to investigate the claim as “illegal.”

Walker demanded Zaccagnino “cease and desist from your current insinuation … that Marvin and Jane were involved in the misrepresentation of the location of their residence for Marvin’s benefit and in evading the payment of real estate taxes.”

Walker accused Zaccagnino of libeling Jane Grossman and, as a private citizen, she “has a right not to be falsely defamed. Further, you have exceeded the scope of your authority and abused the public trust.”

Walker said further accusations would result in legal action.

Zaccagnino thanked city staff at the Oct. 10 meeting for clearing up the rumors, but Walker claimed those comments were disingenuous.

As a financial adviser, Walker said Zaccagnino is “no layman when it comes to financial matters,” and that the commissioner is familiar with real estate matters, given that he owns his Holmes Beach home and two Bradenton condominium units, as well as another Bradenton home.

“That makes you a real estate investor,” Walker wrote. He questioned why Zaccagnino just didn’t call Grossman and “ask him man-to-man.”

Walker closed out his email by saying his law office respects and supports the city commission.

“However, it would be inappropriate for us to stand by and allow our clients … to continue to be embroiled in your investigations that would never have occurred, now or in the future, if you understood how a city government should function,” Walker wrote.

 

Zaccagnino demands apology

In an email dated Oct. 15, Zaccagnino responded to Walker, saying the attorney’s letter is as far from the truth as he can imagine.

“I feel sorry that you have been misinformed and hope that you decide to redact your letter to me and apologize, as I have sent it to our police chief because I feel you are harassing me as a public official and slandarizing me in this public document,” said Zaccagnino.

“For one, I, as well as other commissioners, have the complete authority to contact the city attorney as we see the need,” he said.

Zaccagnino said he did not direct city staff to investigate Grossman. That was done by Mayor Carmel Monti and his assistant Mary Buonagura, who launched the investigation after being informed of Zaccagnino’s inquiry to the city attorney.

“Your letter should be addressed to them,” Zaccagnino wrote. “I simply made a call to our attorney saying I heard a rumor about Marvin,” and “I wanted to make sure that our city was protected if he was not a resident.”

He also said he never mentioned Jane Grossman in his inquiry to the city attorney. He maintains Marvin’s wife was referenced after the fact by Buonagura.

Furthermore, “Marvin himself and the mayor made this incident public record, not me,” said Zaccagnino. “Marvin even belabored it in a public meeting, reading it into the record. As a matter of fact, your threatening letter to me is now public record. We already have one Holmes Beach commissioner being sued for slander and liable, I hope you’re not next.”

Zaccagnino said Walker’s references about him not knowing how government works after eight years on the dais were “very, very disrespectful.”

Zaccagnino said nothing else needed to be discussed because he uses Walker’s law firm for his own business matters and, “I believe this may be a conflict for your firm.”