This week’s NFL “Get in the Game” Islander newspaper football contest winner is William K. Smith, Anna Maria.
As the late Bing Crosby would croon, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
At least for Anna Maria Island it is — without the snow.
As more and more out-of-state vehicles show up on island streets and people flock to local restaurants and beaches, that’s what an island Christmas looks like, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce vice president Deb Wing.
But with Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on a Tuesday, it makes for an odd week, she said.
Many people were waiting until schools let out for winter break to make a reservation, she said, which only gave them a few days until Dec. 25. It appeared some people were waiting until the last minute to make a reservation, Wing said.
“Our resorts are filling up fast,” after a slow start in early December, said David Teitelbaum, owner of the Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds, SeaSide and Tropical Isle motels in Bradenton Beach.
He said reservations for the Christmas-New Year week were a bit slow a few weeks ago, “but, now, reservations are through the roof. Tuesday is an odd day for a holiday and for visitors to arrive. They prefer a Friday or Monday holiday, but we’ll be full by the weekend.”
Some people plan Christmas at home when it’s mid-week, and then take a weekend holiday to Anna Maria Island, he noted.
At the Harrington House Bed & Breakfast Resort, 5626 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, co-owner Mark Davis was excited about the bump in reservations for the week.
“We are really doing well. It looks like we’re going to be full for the week and our phones keep ringing,” Davis said.
“We’ll try to help everyone who calls,” he said.
The Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages, 2710 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, owned by chamber member Eric Cairns, also started slow for holiday week reservations, but the “phones have been ringing off the hook the past week and we’re filling up fast,” said a reservationist at the resort.
“It’s going to be a great Christmas, which means a full house,” she said.
Ken Gerry at the White Sands Beach Resort, 6504 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, said anyone looking for a reservation after Dec. 25 will be taking “potluck.”
He said a number of reservations recently came in for Dec. 26-Jan. 1, and he was expecting a full house.
“I’ve got a few rooms available Dec. 26, but I’m hoping they’ll be gone very quickly,” he said.
Jeff Gerry, Ken’s brother and co-owner, asked island residents not to be discouraged by the expected increase in traffic during the holidays and the season.
“Our winter visitors spend a lot of money on the island, and keep a lot of people employed. We can put up with the traffic increase for a few months,” Gerry said.
The hope for an accommodation rental for the holiday week at AMI Accommodations in Anna Maria — with more than 200 options in its rental stable — does not appear promising, said Rebecca Barnett.
She said there were still a few of the smaller properties available, but accommodations for families are already booked.
“If it’s just a couple, we’ll be able to find something,” Barnett said.
Even if a family walks in looking for an accommodation rental, the AMI Accommodations staff will do their best to find a location, even if it’s with another agent, Barnett said.
“We all try to help each other,” she said.
And if the good weather continues through the holiday week, restaurants, particularly those with outdoor dining, should do well, said Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, BeachHouse and MarVista restaurants on AMI and Longboat Key.
“If the weather holds and the people come as expected, all the restaurants should do well. We should be fine as long as the sun is shining and we don’t get a freeze,” he said.
While restaurants and accommodations were gearing up for the holidays, retailers said it’s often hit or miss if visitors go shopping or go to the beach.
“It’s hard to predict,” said Linda Clayton, co-owner of Mister Roberts Resort Wear, 5330 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
“One day, we’ll have a flood of walk-in traffic, and the next day nobody will show up. But if the weather’s good this week, we should be fine,” she said.
All-in-all, it appears the holiday visitors this year will be arriving a bit late on Anna Maria Island, but staying for the full week of vacationing.
Attorneys for John F. Agnelli Jr. are pushing forward on the libel lawsuit filed against Holmes Beach Commissioner Chair Jean Peelen, setting a court hearing in February on Peelen’s motion to dismiss.
“The motion is essentially a stalling tactic,” said Agnelli attorney Peter Mackey of Mackey Law Group, P.A., of Bradenton. “In my opinion the judge should deny the motion, and they’ll finally have to respond.”
Mackey said the court is backlogged on available hearing dates, and a motion filed without a notice of hearing further delays the case.
Peelen is being represented by Jay Daigneault of Frazier, Hubbard, Brandt, Trask and Yacavone, LLP, of Dunedin. He was assigned by the Florida League of Cities’ property and liability claims division under the city’s insurance.
Daigneault disagreed with Mackey’s interpretation of the notice issue. He filed the motion to dismiss two days after the amended complaint, and is not responsible for any delay, he said. It was a matter of scheduling with the coordination of the two attorneys and the court, he added.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 9, after Peelen made comments in which she confused the identity of John F. Agnelli Jr. with his son, Frank Agnelli, in an emailed newsletter.
At a commission meeting the same day he filed the suit, John Agnelli criticized Peelen for a careless lack of regard for the truth. Peelen acknowledged the error to the email recipients and apologized to Agnelli at the meeting. Agnelli rebutted that Peelen’s comments could remain forever on the World Wide Web.
Agnelli’s first complaint named Peelen as an individual, but made allegations of libel against her as a commissioner.
Peelen’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss, contending state law provides immunity to public officials acting within the scope of their duties. Agnelli responded by amending his complaint to specify she defamed him in her individual capacity.
Daigneault moved to dismiss Agnelli’s amended complaint in November.
The hearing on the motion is set for 3:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7, in Courtroom 6E, 1051 Manatee Ave. W, Bradenton, before 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Diana Moreland.
Eight years and running, Anna Maria Elementary School has taught sustainable food production and healthy eating in a partnership with the community in its edible garden program for fourth-graders.
Beach Bistro funds the Earthboxes, soil and seeds.
AME fourth-grade classes — with help from master gardener and volunteer Christine Callahan and others — plant, tend and harvest their “edible garden,” which grows outdoors alongside the school cafeteria.
“From my point of view, the fourth-grade is a great age for the program,” says Callahan, a software developer by profession who’s seen the program through all eight years, having had her two children attend AME.
She teaches the fourth-grade class once a month in the garden, and credits other parents, gardeners, guidance counselor Cindi Harrison and cafeteria manager Annie Mousseau for supporting the program.
In her outdoor classroom, students learn about pesticide-free sustainable planting — fertilizing and treating for insects “without poison ” — among other gardening techniques.
“Our biggest problem — that we’ve really been struggling with — is mildew on cucumbers and squash,” Callahan explains, and adds they’ve been successful in treating it with an organic spray of vegetable oil, baking soda and warm water.
The fourth-grade teachers integrate the program into the classroom with lessons on plant cycle, nutrition and math, including weights and measures.
“We try to connect it as a precursor to a lesson or as a reminder, a refresher,” she says.
The students’ first fall-winter harvest is delivered to Eat Here for hands-on cooking lessons.
At the Dec. 13 lesson, the students contributed broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, lettuce and radishes from their garden.
Susan Timmins, Eat Here/Beach Bistro co-owner and wife of Murphy, helped the kids learn to make the wraps and vegetable pizza they dined on, all easily replicated at home.
In late April, the spring harvest will be delivered to the Beach Bistro, where chefs will create a luncheon for the students, she adds.
“It’s prepared in its finest form,” says Callahan. “The meal is always based on what comes from the students’ gardens.”
Auditors for the Anna Maria Island Community Center told the center’s board of directors at their Dec. 10 meeting that the center ran a deficit in 2012.
At the same time, however, auditor Eric Troyer gave the accounting by the center a clean audit, the highest rating he could give.
Board of directors president Greg Ross said the $20,000 deficit can be made up with an outstanding Affaire to Remember fundraising event and other fundraising projects planned for 2013.
Interim executive director and chief operating officer Scott Dell said the Affaire to Remember should bring in $200,000-$250,000 in revenue for the center.
This year’s event has some special surprises and should be the biggest and best ever, he predicted.
Dell said planning began after the 2012 event and he is confident the 2013 gala will be a major success.
Additionally, the ongoing Lester Challenge is expected to raise about $50,000, Ross said.
In other business, Ross said Stuart Moon Jr. and Cindy Thompson have been nominated for membership on the board. Election of new members and officers for the coming year will be at the board’s next meeting, at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 28 at the center.
Charles and Joey Lester of Anna Maria are offering their annual $25,000 challenge to raise funds for the Anna Maria Island Community Center.
The Lesters match donations from individuals and companies up to $25,000, said Sharen Pittman of the center staff. The donation period ends Dec. 31.
“I’d like to remind people that their donations are tax deductible, and I’ve sent out a number of reminders to people to remember the challenge. It seems like some people have forgotten the challenge and how much it helps the center,” she said.
Donations are running a bit behind where they normally are at this time, Pittman noted.
Some public frustration is mounting over the lengthy closure of the floating day dock adjacent to the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.
Especially for new visitors to the island, who aren’t up to speed on city news, said public works director Tom Woodard.
“I had some fairly vocal complaints, especially during the Dec. 15 lighted boat parade,” he said. “The problem is that the floating dock looks fine by looking at it, so people don’t understand why we have it closed down.”
Safety is the city’s primary concern, he said.
“Three of the sections are completely unusable,” he said. “The hinges are completely separated and the ballasts that keep the sections afloat are broken and can’t handle any additional weight.”
Woodard said people are attempting to use the dock despite notifications and posted signage stating its closure.
“If they step on any one of those three sections in particular, they will go straight into the water,” he said. “It’s a huge tripping hazard and the city just can’t take any chances having any part of it open.”
Woodard recommends boaters use the recently opened dinghy dock across from the BridgeTender Inn and Dockside Bar.
Both docks were damaged by Tropical Storm Debby in June and repairs were approved under terms and conditions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The dinghy dock was repaired and reopened a few weeks ago. But while the city has been working with FEMA, the city’s modified design to shorten the day dock has not received an official sign off.
The city awaits one final signature to ensure funding is in place before day dock repairs begin, but Hurricane Sandy’s collision with a Northeaster, which gave rise to Super Storm Sandy and devastation in parts of the Northeast, has left FEMA with higher priorities.
“We are still in a holding pattern and waiting on the money to be 100 percent approved,” said Woodard. “There have not been any updates since our Dec. 6 meeting, but we hope to have an update after the first of the year.”
Until then, Woodard said, patience is required.
“People are still using it because it looks fine, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s hazardous to use and we cannot take the slightest risk, so it has to remain closed for now.”
Bradenton Beach Special Master Harold Youmans has submitted notice to terminate his contract with the city.
Since 2005, when Bradenton Beach opted to hire a special master to hear code enforcement cases, Youmans has been called in to conduct quasi-judicial hearings for the city.
In a letter dated Dec. 11, Youmans provided the 60-day notice required to terminate his services.
Youmans complimented the city’s professionalism and wrote, “Thank you for the privilege of serving the citizens of Bradenton Beach.”
The city issued a request for proposal a few weeks ago to hire a secondary special master because of Youmans’ limited availability from his Orlando residence.
City clerk Nora Idso told The Islander that the hiring of a secondary special master was not mentioned in Youmans’ resignation. The retention of a secondary special master was to ensure that hearings would move forward in the event that Youmans was unable to travel to the city.
“He did not provide us with a reason, but I know he had been considering retirement,” said Idso. “We appreciate the professionalism and fairness he brought to the hearings for both the city and our citizens.”
Idso said there are no pending hearings in the 60 days leading up to Youmans’ official last day. The search for a secondary special master has now turned into a search for a primary special master.
“We placed an advertisement on our website when the city began looking for a secondary special master,” said Idso. “Thus far we have only had one applicant. In the interest of fairness, we will advertise in the Bradenton Herald until Jan. 16.”
She said that should be enough time for commissioners to receive new applications, review them and make a possible decision before any new hearings are scheduled.
Special master hearings are fairly rare in Bradenton Beach. Building official Steve Gilbert, earlier this year, said variance requests are common, but that the city works diligently to first resolve the requests to the satisfaction of homeowners and the city before escalating to hearings.
Since the city moved away from the board of adjustments in favor of a special master, there have been about five hearings. Gilbert said board of adjustments hearings were equally rare, but keeping enough volunteer board members and the concern of neighbor-versus-neighbor scenarios led the city to adopt the special master plan.
There is a saying in Christianity that asks, “Will the road you are on get you to my place?”
If you are on Church Street in Bradenton Beach, it will indeed take a traveler to Harvey Memorial Community Church, but the listed address for the church and several residences isn’t Church Street.
It’s Church Avenue, according to Google Maps, Manatee County Traffic Operations and Manatee County Emergency Services.
However, according to the city of Bradenton Beach, it’s Church Street, although it is the only road in the city that runs north and south to be named a street instead of avenue, said Bradenton Beach public works director Tom Woodard.
Woodard, who was with the county’s traffic operations for 15 years before coming to the city to work in 2004, said the city’s streets run east to west while avenues run north to south.
“It’s just the opposite from the county,” said Woodard. “One of the first things I did when I came to work for the city is drive around to familiarize myself with the streets and that’s when I noticed the Church Street sign was wrong.”
Woodard took it upon himself to change the sign, replacing it with one that read Church Avenue, but was ordered in 2005 by former Mayor John Chappie, now a county commissioner, to change it back to Church Street.
The longstanding issue of whether it is a street or avenue arose for the first time in many years during the Dec. 6 city commission meeting. Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said he was approached by a constituent regarding the street name.
“It’s actually Church Avenue,” said Gatehouse. “Obviously, the street sign is wrong.”
Woodard told The Islander it’s not necessarily a law that requires Church Street to be Church Avenue, “it’s just that the city should have some continuity for emergency services. But, there has never been an issue with an emergency or the mail that I am aware of, everyone knows it as Church Street.”
While Woodard agrees that Church Street is incorrect, he told commissioners Dec. 6 that he would change it to Church Avenue or leave it as Church Street at their discretion.
Commissioners had a brief discussion on the topic and it appeared the consensus would be to have Woodard change the sign to Church Avenue.
But Mayor John Shaughnessy said everyone knows it to be Church Street and that it should be left alone.
Commissioners ultimately agreed with the mayor and Church Avenue will remain Church Street on the sign.
At their Dec. 20 work session, Holmes Beach commissioners explored illegal lot splits, underground footers, noise problems and other rental issues with an eye to fix problems as soon as possible.
They outlined objectives to accomplish during the expected six-month building moratorium in the R-2 zoning district, and talked about implementing a living-area ratio — an ordinance set to be reviewed by the planning commission in January — as a solution.
They also recognized that some problems, such as alleged abuse of the Federal Emergency Management Agency remodeling guidelines, stretch beyond the rental district.
“We still have Realtors on this island who are selling half of duplexes,” said city attorney Patricia Petruff, adding that many of the lot splits are illegal.
Commission chair Jean Peelen and Commissioner Judy Titsworth said they suspect that condominium ownership is being used to circumvent illegal splits.
“My first thought is with all of these FEMA renovation duplexes that have just popped up, I’m wondering if they’re in condo ownerships and they do not have the two-hour fire separation,” said Titsworth.
Petruff said the fire district had inspected the duplexes for the required separation and they passed fire codes.
But interim building inspector Tom O’Brien disagreed with Petruff, saying fire inspections are only performed on commercial properties.
“Are they condominiumizing them or are they selling them to one buyer?” Titsworth asked.
Petruff said the city would only become aware of condominium ownership if it is identified on business tax receipts.
Mayor Carmel Monti asked O’Brien about his interpretation of the slab used as the underground connecting footer.
O’Brien said the building code defines a footing as a structural member, and the piece is not “structural.”
He also told the commission that setbacks between the duplex units could be changed “to define what you want” and “let that be an affirmative statement.”
Commissioner Pat Morton called the city’s use of the “so-called footer” an “atrocity,” and said a couple builders have told him “there’s really nothing there.”
Commissioners also discussed changing the definition to allow no longer private appraisals on renovations, and imposing a formula based on that used by the county property appraiser’s office.
Titsworth favored changing the fee structure for building permits to be based on square footage because affidavits on cost “were not passing the smell test.”
O’Brien suggested the re-activation of the board of adjustments, which looks at variances, and an additional review board for building code appeals.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino turned the discussion to LAR.
“I really think that the LAR, for me, accomplishes what we’re trying to accomplish, the smaller sizes of house regardless of whether they’re connected by a shared party wall or footer,” he said.
“What I don’t want to see happen is limiting the looks and architectural style,” he added, pointing out the added green space the underground footer separation affords.
He also feared losing affordable housing.
Titsworth said, “I think that’s the problem. Mr. Wooten’s house ‘was’. . . Mr. Kittle’s house ‘was.’ All over the R-2 district is where a resident’s house ‘was.’ And now it’s been replaced. Everything has turned into short-term rentals.
“That’s why the underground footer has to go away. It’s changed the face of the R-2 district,” she added.
Peelen said she didn’t want the commission to focus on solutions aimed at resort housing because that runs up against state law. She viewed LAR as a solution. “I think it takes us a long way down the road,” she said.
Resident Maggie Plath pointed out that the R-2 zone doesn’t require a duplex. “There’s been single-family homes that are torn down and two go up in their place,” she said, which adds to the city’s density.
Petruff suggested commissioners consider a Fort Lauderdale case that she previously cautioned a prior commission about, and was told “it won’t happen here.” Dock owners started renting their extra dock space, and people began living aboard their boats.
Then, “there was a problem with sewage,” and “then there was a problem with parking” and “then a problem of more children in their schools than they expected. And it just mushroomed like crazy, and by the time the problem was noticed, it was pretty much too late to do anything about it,” Petruff said.
Titsworth said she continues to be a believer in the one-pool-per-lot solution to discourage investors and bring back residents, and Morton agreed.
Zaccagnino said, “I’m the only one who lives in a rental district” and, in his experience, he said if they share a pool or have separate pools, they make just as much noise.
Peelen directed the clerk to add the one-pool-per-lot issue to the Jan. 8 meeting agenda.
She also introduced her draft objectives to be accomplished during the moratorium. After discussing them, commissioners identified the following as R-2 issues:
• Size of houses.
• Underground connection of duplexes.
• Number of pools per lot.
• Building department written policy on docks.
• Building department written policy on corner lots.
• Building department written policy on elevator shafts.
• Appraisal methodology changes.
The following were identified as citywide issues:
• Trash procedures.
• Code enforcement.
• Police procedures for noise complaints.
• Policies for ticketing/fining for noise complaints.
• Legal construction workers.
By a 4-1 vote, Holmes Beach commissioners stayed on course to enact a moratorium effective Dec. 25 to halt new permitting for construction, demolition and substantial rebuilds for up to six months in the city’s rental district.
A motion by Commissioner Marvin Grossman and second by Commissioner Judy Titsworth led to a Dec. 18 vote on the moratorium’s first reading. Commissioner Pat Morton and Commission Chair Jean Peelen joined Grossman and Titsworth in favor, and Commissioner David Zaccagnino dissented.
The moratorium, which has been debated and studied for more than a year, is aimed at putting a halt to the large rental homes and related noise, garbage and parking problems in the city’s Residential-2 zone.
Zaccagnino asked city clerk Stacey Johnston to add to the city website the land development code definition section on substantial improvements — the limit to which construction will be impacted by the moratorium — for easy reference.
A substantial improvement is when future construction or replacement costs 50 percent or more of the structure’s market value.
According to the proposed ordinance, exceptions to the moratorium are “interior demolition for purposes such as remodeling” and “maintenance of existing houses which does not result in total demolition such as replacement of siding or windows.”
Interim building inspector Tom O’Brien wrote a memorandum Oct. 16 pointing to state laws that provide repairs are considered substantial improvements or damages regardless of the actual repair work performed if major components are replaced, such as the roof or exterior walls.
City attorney Patricia Petruff said for “the purposes of the moratorium” the limit of improvement or damage will be the 50 percent mark, despite O’Brien’s interpretation. She noted he is checking on the interpretation with a state building official.
Petruff also advised the legally effective date will be the end of business following the Dec. 25 holiday.
The commissioner’s vote to approve its first reading of the proposed six-month moratorium, which drew a roomful of owners and builders to a prior meeting, saw one proponent and one objector speak.
Dave McKeever of Marina Drive told commissioners, “After watching a sea of green-shirt people derange you publicly, I felt that someone needed to speak up on your behalf.
“There will always be unfortunate individuals caught up in the timing of municipal ordinances,” he added. “I sympathize with them. But I have no sympathy for speculative carpetbaggers who hope to make a quick buck by building a rental McMansion.”
McKeever said the builders “remain focused on the R-2 district for one reason. It’s ripe for picking.”
Builders have other options off the island and in other Holmes Beach districts, he added.
One-time resident and planning and zoning commissioner Joe Kennedy first asked whether the proposed moratorium is applicable to single-family homes on R-2 lots, and what it is based upon.
Peelen told Kennedy, yes, and the basis is city land planner Bill Brisson’s study.
Later in the meeting, Kennedy voiced his opposition, saying he still owns waterfront property on a small lot that can only be developed with a single-family home — not a duplex, and he suspects others are in the same category. He said a sale of his property was supposed to close by Dec. 31, but it fell through because of the moratorium.
“A moratorium that would include these particular R-2 properties, improved or vacant, is unwarranted and unjustified since they can have a single-family home built upon them or remain upon them,” Kennedy said. “These are not the properties that are causing the problems, and you are inadvertently targeting them.”
He called the moratorium’s findings of fact “findings of opinion,” and said problems involving parking, noise, safety, flooding and privacy are caused by people, and could be solved with existing laws.
“There will always be rude and inconsiderate people to exacerbate these problems,” he said.
Before the second reading and final vote at the hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, the public will be allowed to comment.
The moratorium, if approved as proposed, will be retroactively effective, as allowed under a 1980 case, Smith v. City of Clearwater, according to Petruff.