Tag Archives: 12-14-2011

Ahoy, ho ho ho!

Santa talks with Gavin Strickland, 6, of Bradenton, and his sister Annah, 4, about their holiday wishes during the Anna Maria Island Privateers Christmas party at Coquina Beach.

The Anna Maria Island Privateers steer the Skullywag toward Coquina Beach during thei group’s annual Christmas parade.

A turtle takes a ride on the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch entry in the Christmas parade.

A line forms for a visit with Santa Claus, who handed out presents to each child he visited at the Privateers’ Christmas party.

Privateers serve hot dogs, chips and soda pop to hungry kids at the party after the Christmas parade.

Rental boom causes Island concerns

Residents in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach recently have expressed concerns related to the growth of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Some fear the Island, particularly Holmes Beach, is losing its identity and character to the construction and renovation of multi-unit and short-term rentals.

Island real estate agents acknowledge certain problems, but attribute the growth of duplex construction to a market driven by investors, and they note that this change has helped keep the Island’s economy afloat.

The issue has become so acute that Holmes Beach commissioners planned a work session Dec. 13 to discuss potential solutions.

In Anna Maria, where more than half of the single-family houses are estimated to be vacation rentals, similar concerns have surfaced. Members of the planning and zoning board recently asked the city commission to look into some of the same rental problems plaguing Holmes Beach.

Several Holmes Beach residents in the city’s R-2 zone, where duplexes are allowed, have complained about the construction of “mega-duplexes” with four or more bedrooms in each unit. Residents also say the duplexes generate loud parties after 10 p.m., numerous vehicles parked in the rights of way and trash cans left curbside for several days before a scheduled pickup.

Long-time city resident Mary Buonagura expressed concern to city commissioners at a recent meeting that rental duplexes are “changing the Island” from a balance of rental and residential properties to “a short-term vacation resort.”

The changing Island, however, is “market driven,” and builders and property owners are simply responding to the demands of buyers, according to local agents and developers.

Jesse Brisson of Gulf-Bay Real Estate in Holmes Beach said when real estate values on Anna Maria Island began to decline in early 2008, buyers sat on the sidelines waiting for the market to hit bottom.

When property values began to rise in 2010, Brisson said buyers were no longer families looking to move to Anna Maria Island, but investors and families planning to retire here in 5-10 years.

“The families wanted something they could use for a few weeks a year, then rent for the remainder,” he said of the people who have come to his agency. The investors, on the other hand, are looking for a return on investment, Brisson added.

Anna Maria real estate agent Jason Sato said homeowners from 2003 to 2006 were selling their houses at a profit and moving off the Island to less expensive accommodations. The new owners found that houses could be rented on a daily basis in Anna Maria, an attraction to vacationers.

In Holmes Beach, investors discovered multi-bedroom duplexes could be built in the R-2 zone in accordance with applicable laws, said developer Shawn Kaleta.

Although some city residents have complained about the look of the duplexes, Kaleta said every project was built according to code and was permitted by the city, and construction was fueled by market demand.

Such construction was “market-driven,” he said. “Buyers are investors looking for a return on their investment.”

Should Holmes Beach change its building code on duplexes or vacation rentals, Kaleta said he would be more than happy to comply.

“I own a few rentals and I don’t want six or seven cars parked there. If the city brings in parking restrictions or occupancy restrictions, I’ll abide by the rules,” he said.

Additionally, the growth of tourism is contributing to the construction and sale of vacation rental properties, Sato said.

“Tourism is booming. People are coming here and falling in love with the Island and decide they’d like a piece of paradise,” he said.

In the past 10 years, Anna Maria Island has been featured on national television travel programs, in numerous magazines, and in newspapers such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

“We’ve been discovered. We are known as a great vacation destination for peace and quiet, beautiful beaches and old Florida ambiance,” he said. Anna Maria Island is a tourist-driven economy, Sato noted.

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau spends millions of dollars each year to keep visitors coming.

And it’s working, as tourism has increased every year since 2008 and is up 6.5 percent for 2011 compared with last year at this time, according to the latest BACVB statistics.

The tourism influx helps the local economy and the public treasury, Brisson said. Manatee County collected more than $7 million in 2010-11 from the 5 percent resort tax charged for each accommodation rental of six months or less.

Additionally, the county’s 6.5 percent sales tax on all rentals brings in millions to the Florida Department of Revenue each year and eventually to the county.

The problem of vacation rentals might mean the Island is a victim of its own success.

More visitors equals more potential buyers, Sato said.         Kaleta said the serious real estate investor is searching for a rental property that has a greater return on investment than a single-family home rental. That creates the demand for construction of multi-bedroom duplexes.

The problem appears to be blending rentals with residents in a workable situation, Kaleta said.

Brisson, Sato and Kaleta agreed there has to be a balance. Without the vacation rental sales and tourism increase, “a lot of people on the Island would have gone out of business” the past few years, Kaleta said.

Sales up, population down

The Island real estate market has changed since 2005.

While the population is declining, the number of vacation rentals appears to be increasing with tourism.

The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau reported the Island population declined by 1,122 from 2000 to 2010, a 21.2 percent drop.

For the same decade, the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office reported that Island voter registration fell by 17.9 percent, from 6,679 voters in 2000 to 5,486 in 2010. The Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office reported applications from Island residents for the annual homestead exemption were down by 66 percent this year when compared with 2005.

“Clearly people were selling their homes at a profit and moving to less expensive houses on the mainland or elsewhere,” Kaleta said.

As population dropped, tourism was on the rise, resulting in a need and demand for more tourist accommodations, particularly short-term rentals, he observed.

Kaleta lives on the Island and understands that a few renters can spoil the vacation rental success. It’s the few people who think they can party all night and turn up the stereo volume who cause the problems.

“We try to rent to people who will behave, enjoy themselves and live by our rules,” he said.

Kaleta, Sato, Brisson and other agents inform renters of garbage pickup days, restrictions on noise in the city and to be a good neighbor Brisson said.

Unfortunately, there’s always somebody who doesn’t want to vacation by the rules.

“All we can do is continue to educate agents and renters,” Brisson said.

With the success of Island accommodation rentals, some companies are actively seeking the serious investor to buy a multi-bedroom duplex or house on the Island.

Companies such as 9Solutions LLC are marketing sales and rental management services to Island investors as one package, noting online the additional income potential from multi-bedroom structures.

Online advertising for 9Solutions says it purchased old duplexes on the Island and replaced them with “larger, 4-6 bed townhouses with a view to accommodating more and more visitors.”

The company claims a six-bedroom home can sleep 14 to 18 people, allowing “three or more families to vacation together at a much lower average cost.”

The problems of residents and vacation rentals can be overcome, Kaleta said. “We need to find common ground where everyone can live together,” he said.

State: No charges in child abuse complaint

Prosecutors do not plan to proceed with charges against a Bradenton Beach woman arrested in mid-October for alleged child abuse.

The Bradenton Beach Police Department arrested Laura Campanello, 44, Oct. 16 in the 1800 block of Gulf Drive North, on two complaints of felony child abuse.

A police report stated that a relative visiting Bradenton Beach became concerned for the children’s well-being after witnessing Campanello’s verbal abuse.

In interviews, investigators were told that Campanello had repeatedly slapped, punched and kicked the children, leaving them bruised and battered.

Investigators also were told that the woman verbally abused the children and abused drugs.

Campanello, who pleaded not guilty, demanded a jury trial.

However, a case action notice filed by the state attorney’s office indicated that formal charges won’t be filed.

BB man bound for trial

A Bradenton Beach man accused of stabbing another man and escaping from police custody is set to go to trial the week of Jan. 17.

The man, Jacob Gennell of Bradenton Beach, recently lost his petition to have the charges dismissed in the case.

Bradenton Beach police arrested Gennell for allegedly stabbing a man Dec. 8, 2010, in the 2500 block of Avenue B.

The police report stated that a man told officers he was lured outside a home, hit with a bat and stabbed five times. The man suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Gennell was taken to BBPD, where, according to police, he escaped. He was captured soon after with the assistance of a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Gennell has been in the Manatee County jail since May, after a judge issued an order to revoke his bond.

Gennell asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming someone else had confessed to the crime.

Panty case closed

Prosecutors, nearly a year into the case, have decided not to pursue a complaint against a Holmes Beach man accused of raiding a neighbor’s dresser for panties.

The decision was announced in a notice of nolle prosequi filed Dec. 2 at the Manatee County Judicial Center by assistant state attorney Julie Binkley.

Ernest Kendler was arrested and charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling, a second-degree felony. He was accused of stealing underwear from two women who live near his home on Neptune Lane.

Kendler had been scheduled for a trial as early as this month, after a number of disputes over the validity of the warrant that led to his arrest and the collection of any evidence by the Holmes Beach Police Department.

Earlier this fall, defense attorney Connie Mederos-Jacobs filed a motion to enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of Kendler and demanded police reports and prosecutorial information in the case.

Fisher sentenced to 30 days, plans appeal

A Holmes Beach man who fishes commercially out of Cortez was sentenced in a federal courtroom Dec. 8 to 30 days in jail.

Fisher John Yates, 59, plans to appeal his conviction and sentence and alleges multiple mistakes and misstatements in the federal case against him.

Yates was convicted in August on one charge of disposing of evidence to prevent seizure and one charge of destroying evidence to impede or obstruct a federal investigation. The jury did not convict Yates on a third count, lying to a federal agent.

He said almost immediately that he would appeal.

The government agencies involved include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard.

The government maintains that Yates, who was captain of a small commercial crew on the Gulf of Mexico, took short fish and then destroyed evidence.

Yates maintains that he didn’t take short fish or destroy any evidence and that the FWC officer who boarded his boat at sea didn’t follow proper procedures, specifically he didn’t measure the fish according to federal guidelines.

A sentencing hearing in Fort Myers was delayed until Dec. 5 and then again delayed until Dec. 8.

Wife Sandy Yates said her husband was taken into custody Dec. 8 after a two-hour battle over the sentence. The prosecution, she said, sought a two-year sentence but the judge handed down a 30-day sentence to be served in the Lee County jail, followed by three years on supervised release.

Solution to HB, BB dispute offered at meet

City attorneys from Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach left a rare conflict resolution meeting Dec. 7 with a possible remedy to a dispute at the municipal border.

But a resolution over Bradenton Beach’s quitclaim of 27th Street to the Sandpiper Resort near Holmes Beach’s border — a solution could involve returning a portion of the street to the city — isn’t possible before year’s end.

Bradenton Beach lacks a quorum of elected officials who can vote on any proposed remedy, city attorney Ricinda Perry said during the meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall last week. Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler live at the Sandpiper and can’t vote due to conflicts of interest. That leaves only two voting commissioners — Jan Vosburgh and Ed Straight — because the Ward 3 commission seat is vacant. No one sought to succeed Janie Robertson, who was term-limited out of office in November.

“I have to have the approval of my board,” Perry said. “And I don’t have a board that can give me approval right now.”

Perry sat at a table in the Holmes Beach commission chambers with Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor Ed Straight and, representing Holmes Beach, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino and city attorney Patricia Petruff.

An audience of about 35 people, many of them residents of the Sandpiper resort, assembled for the morning meeting that lasted 53 minutes.

The participants did not dwell on the history of the dispute, which surfaced in August after nearly three years in dormancy.

In late 2008, Bradenton Beach commissioners issued to Sandpiper a quitclaim deed for 27th Street from Gulf Drive to Anna Maria Sound, Avenue B and Avenue C from 26th Street to 27th Street and the northerly unpaved portion of 26th Street from Gulf Drive to Anna Maria Sound. Some Sandpiper homes existed on part of the city rights of way, and residents said the quitclaim was needed to clarify ownership of land as they worked with a mortgage company on financing resort improvements.

At the time, Holmes Beach officials raised concerns about public access, but commissioners unanimously voted in December 2008 not to pursue the issue.

After receiving the deed, Sandpiper proceeded with a series of property improvements, including the placement of a waist-high fence on the north side of the property near the Holmes Beach border in August.

Soon after, Holmes Beach officials challenged Bradenton Beach’s 2008 quitclaim of 27th Street and alleged that the fence and “no trespassing” signs prohibit Holmes Beach residents from reaching accesses to the Gulf beach and the bay.

Through the fall, mayors from the two cities attempted to resolve the dispute. In late October, the course shifted to conflict resolution, a process outlined in Florida statutes.

Bohnenberger, at the Dec. 7 meeting, said he thought there was a “deliberate effort to delay resolution of this matter” on Bradenton Beach’s part.

Perry said there was no deliberate effort to delay, but the November election disrupted discussions.

She also said reaching an agreement might be expedited by including representatives from Sandpiper.

The exchanges in the first 15 minutes of the conflict resolution meeting were tense. At one point, Bohnenberger said, “This is not going anywhere.” Later, Perry said the city of Holmes Beach was acting like “big brother.”

But Zaccagnino made repeated efforts to focus the discussion on coming to “some kind of agreement” and, by the conclusion of the session, both parties were prepared to present at least one possible remedy to their city commissions.

The proposal, suggested by Petruff, involves the Sandpiper giving Bradenton Beach a quitclaim deed for a portion of 27th Street, which could then again be treated as public right of way. “Those trailers do not encroach into all 50 feet of that right of way,” Petruff said.

Petruff said she could raise the issue with Holmes Beach commissioners as early as this week — the board was set to meet Dec. 13, after The Islander went to press.

Perry said with a proposal from Holmes Beach she could bring the matter up at the next Bradenton Beach commission meeting, which is Jan. 3. In the meantime, a search for a Ward 3 commissioner could continue.

If the parties fail to reach an agreement, a special magistrate could resolve the dispute.

Zaccagnino said such a route would lead to more legal fees for both cities.

Woman struck, killed by SUV in crosswalk

A 65-year-old Sarasota woman died Dec. 8 after being struck by an SUV while crossing Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach.

Antoinette Pruss was hit while in a crosswalk in the 900 block of Gulf Drive North near the Gulf Drive Cafe at about 10:30 a.m. Dec. 8, said Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby. Pruss died later Dec. 8 at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

Pruss was in Bradenton Beach with her sister and brother-in-law.

BBPD identified the driver of the SUV, a 1998 GMC Yukon, as Kathleen Benison of Cortez.

As of Islander press time, no citations had been issued and the accident remained under investigation. Cosby said the review could last as long as 60 days.

Emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene at about 10:30 a.m. for a “vehicle accident with injuries.”

BBPD, as of Dec. 9, had no independent witnesses, but Pruss’ relatives, Benison and a passenger in her vehicle helped investigators learn what happened.

Cosby said the accounts indicate that as Benison reached the crosswalk, Pruss was stepping into the road.

Benison and her passenger were traveling north on Gulf Drive and, according to Cosby, had been admiring the view of the Gulf of Mexico.

“They were looking out at the water,” Cosby said.

The passenger saw Pruss at the crosswalk, in the bike lane, and shouted twice to Benison, who tried but failed to avoid striking the woman. Cosby said Benison then panicked and hit the gas pedal instead of the brakes.

“She admits they were distracted,” Cosby said of Benison. “But we just don’t know why (Pruss) just walked into the roadway.”

He said the preliminary investigation did not show that excessive speed was involved.

BBPD requested assistance from the Bradenton Police Department, which has software that can be used to reconstruct an accident.

Pruss’ death was the first pedestrian fatality in Bradenton Beach since July 1992. Cosby said he was not aware of another pedestrian death in a city crosswalk.

Cortez man arrested for sexual battery

A 46-year-old Cortez man was arrested Dec. 3 for alleged sexual battery by a custodial authority.

Todd Andrew Noble also faces a felony charge of unlawful sex acts with a minor, felony promotion of child pornography, felony possession of child pornography and carnal intercourse.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report identified Noble as a retired resident of Cortez.

The incident allegedly took place Aug. 16 at the Siesta Inn in Bradenton.

A 20-page complaint completed by MCSO Detective John Belt stated that detectives were called to the Siesta Inn because the management was concerned about the safety of the guests, who were supposed to have checked out in the morning but instead remained unresponsive behind a locked door.

After about 30 minutes of knocking, a teenage female opened the door and said that she had been sleeping. Another teenage female also had been sleeping in the room, and both told authorities that Noble rented the room for them.

The MCSO collected sex toys in the room, as well as drug paraphernalia and a video camera with a missing memory card.

Investigators alleged that Noble and the teenagers, including one who had run away from home and was in Noble’s care, engaged in consensual sex at the Siesta Inn.

Noble bonded out of the Manatee County jail on Dec. 4. His arraignment was set for Dec. 30 at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton.

Abused, abandoned, pitiful puppy finds happy days

An Anna Maria resident stepped up to adopt the rescue of an 8-week-old pit bull mix found Nov. 30 nearly frozen, dehydrated, emaciated and hairless at the side of the road in Palmetto.

Hal Badger of Anna Maria has adopted the abandoned puppy, according to Julie Royal of Royal Pet Rescue, a nonprofit rescue organization that averages about 30 cats and dogs in need of foster and adoptive parents.

Manatee County Animal Services in Palmetto received the puppy in a cage from a man who said he had found it on the side of the road. A staff member then called Royal, who picked up the suffering puppy.

“He’s doing well in day five — getting his mojo back,” Royal said.

She immediately took him to the veterinarian, gave him subcutaneous fluids, and now food. She also said she’s rubbing lotion on him daily because his skin is so tough — “like a rhino.”

In addition to her rescue work, Royal is the president of SunCoast Real Estate at the Island Shopping Center, 5402 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, next to The Islander.

Rhino visited the newspaper office Dec. 1, when Hal Badger stopped by on another matter and happened to see the hairless puppy resting in a kennel.

Badger bent over and asked why the puppy was at the office, then immediately said, “I’ll help with his medical bills. I’ll pay the vet. In fact, I need another dog and I’ll adopt him. I want to take him home.”

Rescue organizer Royal called it a miracle. She had only brought the puppy to the newspaper office about a half hour earlier, asking for help to monitor his care.

“Everything about this is a miracle,” said Bonner Joy, publisher of The Islander, of the rescue story. Badger only happened to stop by the office, and the puppy was at the office for the first time.

Royal added that when first found, Rhino’s temperature was only 96. “We didn’t know if he was going to live.”

“I was obviously shocked with his condition and took him straight to the vet,” she said, adding that he had open sores and was so thin that his ribs, collar bone and hip bone stuck out from his body.

Island Animal Clinic, 5343 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, advised Royal that the puppy’s skin condition is a type of “mange,” and that Rhino also had hook worms and a staph infection, and provided treatment.

Rhino already is improving — “for the first two days it was touch and go when he couldn’t get up at all,” Royal said. He is now looking for shoe laces to chew and other puppy-like mischief to make.

Badger said he looks forward to taking Rhino home after the puppy makes it “out of the woods.”

The next step for Rhino will be vaccinations, neuter service and a microchip — and an introduction to his forever home with Badger Dec. 16.