Sometimes people in Anna Maria take one step forward and two steps back — which appeared to be the case Nov. 14 when Anna Maria commissioners began discussing the first reading of a site plan for what city planner Alan Garrett called the Anna Maria Park — the six vacant lots at Pine Avenue and Bay Boulevard.
Commission Chair Chuck Webb questioned whether the park should include already approved parking spaces and also expressed concern that the plan includes restrooms.
The site plan presented by Garrett, originally conceived and presented to the commission by former Commissioner Gene Aubry includes landscaping, 15 parking spaces and public restroom facilities.
Wait a minute, said Mike Coleman, a principal with Pine Avenue Restoration, which pledged a $100,000 donation toward the cost of developing the park. He said the commission previously agreed to the donations and the Aubry plan — parking, restrooms and all.
Coleman said Rex Hagen pledged a $50,000 donation to the park on the condition it would incorporate some parking.
And, at a commission meeting in June, commissioners voted for Aubry’s plan.
But Webb, on Nov. 14, disagreed with the conditions placed on the plan.
“I missed that meeting, but I believed my fellow commissioners would not accept any donation with conditions attached,” Webb said.
“I thought the commission would be adamant that no strings would be attached to the donation. Had I been there, I would have (voted) down the donation,” he said.
City attorney Jim Dye said he was asked to write an agreement accepting the donations from PAR and Hagen. He did not have the agreements with him, but said the executed agreements should be at city hall.
He cautioned commissioners: “When reviewing the site plan, base your decision on what the code says, not on money being dangled in front of you. You can accept donations, but you can’t have conditions attached.”
Commissioner Dale Woodland said the documents were agreed to and signed.
Coleman said PAR’s pledge included a clause that the company had the “right to withdraw if there was a major deviation” from the plan as submitted by Aubry.
Woodland said it would be irresponsible to change course now.
“We have an agreement, so it’s the right thing to do,” he said. He said Hagen wanted the restrooms, but if that wasn’t working out after the park opened, the city could then remove them. He indicated that changing the design before completion of the terms was not part of the deal.
Mayor SueLynn was adamant that the commission honor the agreement.
“I can’t believe you are rehashing this again. The commission already voted for this plan. This is what you agreed to and we’ve already moved forward,” she said.
When commissioners agreed to the park plan in June, she told the newly seated commission, she had asked “Are you sure this is what you want?”
She said it was “incredible” for the commission now to have second thoughts.
Nineteen trees were planted at the park and an irrigation well was dug. The 15 parking spaces have been surveyed and a lot of other work has been accomplished, she said.
Commissioner Doug Copeland agreed the city should at least have some parking at the park. “Forget about the money. We’ve already agreed to this plan.”
Webb, however, said he wanted to review documents on the pledges and meeting minutes and learn more about how much work the city has done at the park.
He continued further discussion of the site plan to the Dec. 5 commission meeting.
“Nothing is engraved in stone,” Webb said.
Coleman, a member of the city’s P&Z board, which routinely reviews site plans, gathered his thoughts after the meeting and wrote to city officials Nov. 16, pointing out what he considered to be an obvious procedural oversight.
“The confusion as to the recent review of the six-lots site plan has caused a fundamental misstep. Even though signed contracts would seem to bind the city,” he wrote, the contracts are irrelevant. Site plan review is not a legislative process, it is quasi-judicial.
Coleman said “the criteria for approving or denying site plans is black and white.”
If the site plan is consistent with the city code, officials are bound to approve it, regardless of personal preference. Accordingly, if a plan fails to comply, it must be denied, he said.
“The commission is required, personal preference or desired policy differences not withstanding, to approve this plan based solely on the fact it has been submitted (by the city) in proper form and is compliant with existing codes and ordinances.”
He wrote, “Site plan approval must be based on substantial competent evidence as to compliance with existing code. Period.”
Commissioners also got an update at the meeting on beach renourishment from Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker.
Unfortunately, no city beaches are included in the project, which begins in December. But, he said, Anna Maria beaches are in “pretty good shape.”
The first phase should finish by early February, Hunsicker said. Renourishment will begin at the 79th Street beach in Holmes Beach and proceed south to Cortez Beach. On completion of that phase, Cortez Beach will be renourished and new, adjustable groins will replace the deteriorating concrete groins. Sand will then be pumped on the shore to the southern end of Coquina Beach.
In other matters
Commissioners adopted Nov. 14 an ordinance that requires each property to display its street number with four-inch high numbers visible from the street, and houses on the water to display the address on the waterfront.
Commissioners also rezoned the six vacant lots on Pine Avenue being developed as a park from retail-office-residential to public recreation area in compliance with the comprehensive plan.
The public hearing on a stormwater management amendment was continued to Dec. 5, as was discussion on clearing vegetation at Gulf Front Park, the city-owned beachfront extending south from Magnolia Avenue.
Commissioners also agreed to discuss beach weddings in the context of special event permit requirements at the Dec. 5 meeting.