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Commissioners push to buy in Bert Harris claim

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A lot at 62 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, has three large trees that could make it difficult to develop without removal, but the trees also could make it an ideal spot for a pocket park, according to Commissioner Carol Carter. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

Anna Maria commissioners voted Nov. 30 to emphasize an offer to purchase property that is the subject of a Bert Harris claim.

A claim filed May 23 by John Lynch alleges the undeveloped lot lost $340,000 in value after occupancy restrictions prevented him from developing the property into a four-bedroom rental home with a 12-person occupancy.

Since April 1, when a vacation-rental ordinance was adopted in Anna Maria limiting occupancy in short-term rentals to eight people, 86 Bert Harris claims have been filed against the city amounting to nearly $30 million in alleged losses.

The Bert Harris Jr. Private Property Protection Act of 1995 allows property owners to seek relief if they can prove a government action lowered the value of their property.

Claimants must provide appraisals to establish value, but settlements can either fully or partly restore the rights that existed before the prohibitions, in lieu of a cash settlement.

By law, the city has 150 days to respond to the submitted claims.

City attorney Becky Vose has brought numerous settlement suggestions to the commission — allowing more guests than the ordinance allows, but not fully restoring the unlimited number of guests allowed before the VRO.

She brought purchase offer settlement recommendations to the commission Sept. 8 for multiple properties.

The offers that go out to the property owner are subject to negotiation or acceptance within the allotted 150 days. If no agreement is reached, the matter then goes to the circuit court.

The commission authorized a purchase offer Oct. 13 of $550,000 for an undeveloped lot at 62 N. Shore Drive, or, as an alternative, $890,000 for the property developed according to the claim.

Lynch rejected the offer in favor of an occupancy settlement.

At the Nov. 30 commission meeting, Vose initially recommended a 12-person occupancy settlement with a contingency that Lynch be allowed a den, which could also be used as a bedroom, in the home plans.

However, Commissioner Carol Carter recommended the city push to purchase the property for use as a pocket park.

Vose then modified her recommendation to resend the $550,000 offer for the undeveloped lot and emphasize the city’s interest in purchasing the property.

Commissioners voted unanimously to resend the purchase offer. The deadline for this Bert Harris case is Dec. 19.

Commissioners also voted 3-2 to offer occupancy rate settlements on three other properties Nov. 30. Carter and Commissioner Nancy Yetter voted against the settlements.

A Bert Harris claim filed July 12 by 205 Elm LLC for property at 205 Elm Ave. alleges the loss of $345,000 after the VRO limited it from 14 overnight guests to eight. Vose recommended settling at 12 guests, but upping it to 14 if a second den that can house guests is added to the structure.

In a claim filed by Corinna Ollashirazi alleging property at 851 N. Shore Drive lost $295,000 after occupancy for the three-bedroom home was reduced from 10 guests to eight, Vose recommended the city agree to 10 guests.

At 306 Tarpon St., a claim filed by Tommy and Michelle Bolton alleging the four-bedroom property, restricted from 12 to eight guests, lost $245,000 in value, Vose recommended settling at 10 guests.

The city of Anna Maria has settled 45 of 86 claims. 15 have not yet to receive an offer from the city.

Attorney Louis Najmy of the law firm Najmy Thompson P.L. in Bradenton represents the bulk of the Bert Harris cases against Anna Maria. Attempts to reach Najmy for comment were unsuccessful.

Anna Maria mayor rekindles negotiations on city pier lease

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The Historic Anna Maria City Pier, which has served as an attraction for more than a century, is popular with people who stroll the planks, fish from the deck and dine at the restaurant. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

Anna Mayor Dan Murphy announced at a Nov. 30 city commission meeting that he will pursue solutions for funding needed repairs to the Historic Anna Maria City Pier with the leaseholder, Mario Schoenfelder.

“He is more than willing to reopen our discussions and fact-finding and to let the past be the past and see what we can do going forward,” Murphy said.

Earlier this year, disagreements arose and negotiations with Schoenfelder were closed.

A 2015 study of the pier conducted by the city found the structure in need of refurbishment or a full replacement within five years. The commission voted Feb. 23 to refurbish, which was priced at $2 million.

Schoenfelder made an offer to pay $500,000 toward repairs in exchange for a 10-year lease extension and compensation for closing the restaurant during repairs. However, commissioners chose to end the negotiations May 26 after claiming Schoenfelder had not lived up to his obligations as a tenant.

Since then, the city has sought alternative means to fund the repairs and there has been no discussion on the future of the lease, which will expire in 2020.

In addition to meeting with Schoenfelder, Murphy met with Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker, parks and natural resources department director Charlie Hunsicker and Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Elliott Falcione.

The county has informally agreed to match the city with $1 million for the repairs.

However, Murphy said the county’s offer is contingent upon hiring a particular engineering firm.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said the city should, nevertheless, seek proposals from local engineers to pursue other options.

“Elliott Falcione has told me it won’t affect tourism one way or another whether that pier is there,” said Commissioner Doug Copeland.

“I disagree with that,” Murphy said. “I can’t envision taking a picture of submerged pilings and saying welcome to Anna Maria.… I think it’s posturing.”

In a phone conversation with The Islander, Falcione said the pier, although “an iconic asset” for the city of Anna Maria, is not a primary tourist draw.

“The pier is an asset that visitors enjoy, but assets like piers don’t give visitors a reason for coming to a destination like this. It’s the silver-white beaches, the island, the old Florida feel that attract visitors,” he said.

The county has agreed to propose a firm offer by February, the mayor said.

Murphy said he and Schoenfelder are fact-finding, not negotiating. “I want to have everything wrapped up with a firm plan in place by the end of the first quarter next year,” he said.

Protester aims to join — or halt — Christmas parade

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Santa aboard the former Privateers trailer/Santa sleigh in the annual Anna Maria-to-Bradenton Beach Christmas Parade. Islander File Photos

The Anna Maria Island Privateers’ Christmas Parade has a challenger.

Former Privateers member Rick Maddox has filed a petition with the city of Anna Maria against the special event permit issued to the Privateers for the Dec. 10 parade.

The parade is permitted in the three island cities, but apparently only Anna Maria has a provision in its permit for a protest.

The petition alleges the Privateers discriminated against Maddox by barring him from participating in the event. Maddox claims the discrimination is due to a lawsuit he brought against the organization to reclaim a trailer, which had been modified to be the Privateers Christmas sleigh.

Maddox is a Cortez resident and former Holmes Beach chief of police.

In 2012, Maddox sued the Privateers, alleging he lent the group a trailer to use as Santa’s sleigh but that the group would not return it to him.

The Privateers claimed the trailer was donated to their nonprofit more than 20 years earlier and that charges of theft did not apply due to a five-year statue of limitations.

In 2014, a judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruled in favor of Maddox. Since the lawsuit, Maddox’ requests to take part in the annual Privateers Christmas parade has been denied by the organization.

Although he has complained to the Privateers, the media and the cities in the past, this is the first year Maddox has filed a petition to oppose the permit.

“Do you think it’s right to exclude anyone from a public event that does not cause a problem?” Maddox said. “I can understand why they have animus, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the kids or the parade. This parade is about the public, not them.”

Maddox further claimed in an email, apparently speaking for himself and his wife, Annette, “We have no interest in interacting with the Privateers in any way.”

Annette Maddox complained in the past in a letter to the editor when she was denied use of a gift certificate for a “free ride” on the Privateers ship in the July 4 parade.

According to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, Maddox’ complaint lacks any claim he is targeted for race, gender, religion or any other protected class and, therefore, the city does not consider the Privateers’ exclusion of Maddox as discrimination.

“Mr. Maddox seems to want the city to intervene on his behalf,” Murphy said. “We issue special events permits for all sorts of events, for weddings, funerals and parades, and the city is not in a position of dictating who’s allowed to go to those events and who isn’t.”

The commission is expected to hear Maddox and Murphy and to consider the merits of the complaint related to Maddox’s petition at its 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, meeting at city hall, 1005 Gulf Drive.

If they accept it, Murphy said, the result could be anything from reissuing the permit with a stipulation allowing Maddox to participate, to canceling the Anna Maria event altogether.

Murphy said he has no recollection of anyone filing a petition against a special event in the past. “To my knowledge, this is the first time this has ever happened and I can’t find anyone else who has heard of this happening.”

Privateers president John “Capt. Redbeard” Swager emailed Dec. 4, saying Maddox is not welcome because of his “poor attitude and non-Christmas and holiday spirit.”

“I was going to let him in the parade last year … and the first thing I get is a nasty Facebook message (from Maddox),” Swager said.

“I said, ‘that’s not the holiday spirit’” and we declined to have him in the parade. “We go out there to have fun and it’s for kids and the community and the island and that’s not what he’s there for. That’s the way we look at it.”

Swager added that Maddox did not contact him this year before filing the petition.

Vacant BB Ward 2 seat victim of city division

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2 candidates vie for Ward 2 commission seat in BB As of Dec. 2, two candidates had applied for the vacant Ward 2 seat on the Bradenton Beach Commission — Anne Leister and Marilyn Maro. Both candidates meet the city charter requirements. Both candidates are registered voters in the ward and have been homeowners and year-round residents for more than two years, according to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections and the Manatee County Property Appraiser. The commission followed failed votes on an appointment by planning a special meeting Dec. 5, after The Islander went to press, in the hope more candidates would come forward to vie for the seat and to again vote on a Ward 2 commissioner and to swear in the appointed candidate. For the outcome of the Dec. 5 meeting, visit The Islander online at www.islander.org.
A crowd fills the Bradenton Beach chambers at the city commission’s Dec. 1 meeting, hoping to see the Ward 2 seat — covered by a Christmas tree — filled. However, the seat remained vacant as commissioners came to a deadlock. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

Nothing is guaranteed in government, right?

So when Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ed Straight decided to roll the dice and make a bid for a fourth term in office — hoping the electorate would eliminate term limits in the primary election in September — Straight soon found himself limited to the three terms he had served.

And, minus a challenger, his seat remained vacant through the Nov. 8 election.

The four-member commission expected to review Marilyn Maro’s application Dec. 1 for the vacant Ward 2 seat, but instead learned from Commissioner Ralph Cole, who began his discussion by fumbling papers and questioning the appointment process, alluding to another applicant.

Cole said he didn’t know the process.

He didn’t say how he came by the application or offer a vote of confidence for his nominee, Anne Leister.

However, the discussion on filling the empty seat and the process — an application submitted to the city clerk — had been discussed a number of times.

The application from Leister was passed to city clerk Terri Sanclemente, who said, on the surface it appeared Leister, with a Ward 2 address, was qualified.

Leister did not attend the meeting.

Maro’s application had previously been submitted and reviewed by the clerk.

Waiting in the gallery, Maro was invited to address the commission to state her desire to serve in the Ward 2 seat.

She said she has been a resident of the city for 18 years.

“The residents are close to me and I wish to support them and everything in Bradenton Beach so it gets to be a beautiful city,” Maro said. “I want to be the commissioner for the people.”

Bradenton Beach resident and P&Z board member Frank Harrison gave his endorsement to Maro.

Harrison said he has seen Maro at many meetings, has spoken with her about her interest in the position and pointed out that she is not a business owner in Bradenton Beach, so she is looking out for residents. He said “she has no conflict of interest.”

Harrison also said it would be good to seat a woman on the commission. “There is enough testosterone on the dais already,” Harrison said.

Residents Bill Vincent and Priscilla Von Ahnen also spoke, saying they “enthusiastically endorse Maro” for the same reasons Harrison mentioned.

Cole nominated Leister and Mayor Bill Shearon nominated Maro.

The vote was deadlocked when Commissioner John Chappie and Shearon voted for Maro and Cole and Commissioner Jake Spooner voted for Leister.

The commission followed the failed votes by planning a special meeting Dec. 5, after The Islander went to press, to vote on filling the seat and to swear in the appointed candidate.

Commissioners agreed both applicants met the requirements for the position — they are Ward 2 residents and registered voters in the city for more than two years, which was confirmed the city clerk and the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.

Shearon said that based on the city charter, the vote would have to be recast at the next city meeting.

City attorney Ricinda Perry recommended the application process be re-opened.

Shearon later expressed disappointment that Maro was not approved. “She even completed the Sunshine Law class,” he said.

On Dec. 2, Bill Vincent, a Pines Trailer Park resident and 2016 commission candidate, emailed a call to action, asking residents to contact their commissioners to request the appoint of Maro.

Vincent also noted that Leister was absent from the meeting where the appointment was expected and no one spoke on her behalf.

He further alleged in his email “call to action” that Leister’s husband is employed by Spooner — and Spooner was conspicuously silent about his ties to the candidate at the meeting.

“Cole and Spooner offered no reason or rationale for their rejection of Marilyn,” Vincent said. “Neither did they provide any reason whatsoever for their vote for Anne Leister, the surprise, last-minute applicant.”

In other matters Dec. 1, commissioners were unanimous in naming Chappie as vice mayor, the post held by Ed Straight, whose term ended in November.

Also, the commission nominated and voted on the chair and vice chair for the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.

The CRA oversees and approves the expenditure of budgeted money and grant funding for projects in the district, which is bordered by Cortez Road, Sarasota Bay, including the Bridge Street Pier, Fifth Street South and the Gulf of Mexico.

Shearon nominated himself for chair and Chappie for vice chair, but the nomination failed 3-1 with only Shearon voting for his slate.

Shearon said he thought the mayor and vice mayor would be the best choices to chair the CRA since they are familiar with “the policies and procedures, and powers and duties of the city.”

Chappie announced a “difference of opinion,” saying he thinks the administrative duties should be split between commission members to get different perspectives.

Chappie nominated Cole for CRA chair and Shearon for vice chair.

Shearon declined the nomination.

Spooner nominated Chappie for vice chair.

A vote was taken and Cole and Chappie were unanimously approved.

Community center receives 2016 audit

Despite a relatively positive audit, the Center of Anna Maria Island reported an increasing difference between the budgeted and actual income for this fiscal year at a board meeting Nov. 28, with actual income failing to meet expectations.

During the meeting, center board members reviewed an audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.

The audit, completed by the accounting firm of Kerkering, Barberio and Co., presented a “clean” opinion of the center’s finances, identifying no fraud or irregularity and finding no reason to be concerned the center could not continue functioning for at least a year.

The value of the center’s net assets grew from $81,751 in 2013 to $867,423 in 2016. Much of that increase could be attributed to loan forgiveness and a settlement from the BP oil spill, as well as a $266,000 endowment, said CPA Eric Troyer, who presented the audit to the board.

Income and expenses for the center also have changed, Troyer said. Program fees make up 24 percent of the center’s income and programs make up 85 percent of the expenses.

Donations amount to 41 percent of the center’s income, while 5 percent and 10 percent of center expenses go to management and fundraising respectively, the audit revealed.

Funding from government organizations made up 8 percent of the income in the 2015-16 fiscal year, according to Troyer.

However, board treasurer Jim Froeschle said the majority of the $112,000 in government funding came from a Manatee County grant that is being phased out, leaving about $40,000 from the three island cities for the year.

The financial statements for the 2016-17 fiscal year indicate the center’s continued financial struggles, according to Froeschle.

Income is lower than expected and, in October, the center experienced a $34,000 net loss, bringing the year-to-date loss since July to $141,000.

According to Froeschle, failing to grow the membership roster continues to be a problem for the center. The center expected $87,700 in membership income by October, but has received only $20,700.

Also, Froeschle said the Crossfit program was expected to produce greater revenue.

“We have to find new members and supporters,” he said.

As a suggestion to help raise funds, board member Sam Pakbaz shared a coupon book and a proposal to partner with businesses across the island.

The concept would include selling a booklet or packets of 100 “sand dollar” coupons for a small price of $20 or so. Participating businesses would offer deals and accept a percentage of a customer’s purchase in sand dollars.

Pakbaz said one benefit of the coupons is that participating businesses can set their own sale price and encourage traffic from the center’s coupon shoppers.

He also noted that selling the booklets at the center could introduce more people to center activities.

Center representatives will be meeting with officials from Anna Maria and Holmes Beach to discuss funding in December, executive director Kristen Lessig said.

The next board meeting will be 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19, at 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Center celebrates Lester family fun day

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Liam Coleman, 6, pauses as a snowman is painted on his face during Lester Family Fun Day Dec. 3
The Manatee High School Drumline gets an enthusiastic response for its performance frin the audience Dec. 3 at the Center Lester Family Fun Day.
Johnny Monetti, 5, makes friends with a miniature pony at the petting zoo Dec. 3 on the outdoor field at the Lester Family Fun Day.
Santa takes a photo with Vivien Turin, 3, while other children and parents wait in line for their turn with “the elf” Dec. 3 at the annual Lester Family Fun Day. at the Center of Anna Maria Island, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.
Santa’s elves teach him to dance to Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” onstage Dec. 3 at the Center Lester Family Fun Day.
Fun day hosts Joey and Chuck Lester prepare to watch the golf ball drop at the Lester Day event. The Holmes Beach-Wisconsin couple sponsor the yearly fun day. The winner of the helicopter drop was tennis player Steven Gorman. Golf balls were purchased at $100, and the 33 balls raised $3,300, which was split between Gorman and the center.
Ballerinas from the Diane Partington Studio of Classical Ballet perform to “The Nutcracker” for the audience Dec. 3 at the center.

Holmes Beach drunken driver sentenced to work program

A Holmes Beach man caught drunken driving has been ordered to spend 25 days in a work program.

Jason Benn, 40, pleaded no contest Nov. 21 to driving under the influence with a prior conviction.

A 12th Circuit judge found Benn guilty and sentenced him to 12 months of probation.

Judge Charles Sniffin suspended Benn’s driver’s license for one year, assessed him $3,666 in court costs and ordered his vehicle impounded for 10 days.

The sentence also requires that Benn complete an advanced DUI course, a victim-impact panel and 50 hours of public service work.

Holmes Beach police stopped Benn May 1 for speeding on a motorcycle — 65 mph in a 25-mph zone in the 5200 block of Marina Drive — and arrested him for driving impaired, according to a police report.

Benn’s offender work program will begin Dec. 30. The program is an alternative to a jail sentence in which offenders perform various labor activities for the community.

State declines to file DUI charge in traffic fatality

The 12th Circuit State Attorney’s office dropped the case against a Bradenton man arrested for driving under the influence after a crash with a bicyclist.

The bicyclist, Daniel Lord, 67, of Cortez, died from injuries sustained in the crash.

Assistant State Attorney William Moran filed a memorandum Sept. 12 that stated, “According to a witness the bicycle ‘came out of nowhere’ and cut across the highway and into the path of the defendant’s vehicle.”

The 30-year-old motorist, Eric Brenner, was driving a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee when the crash occurred at about 10:40 p.m. July 10 on Cortez Road West near 102nd Street.

A Florida Highway Patrol trooper responded and Brenner refused the officer’s requests to perform roadside sobriety and Breathalyzer tests.

The FHP reported “a strong odor of alcoholic beverage” on the defendant, but Moran reported a videotape of the incident showed Brenner was not impaired.

According to the memo, the witness hugged Brenner and did not smell alcohol.

The memo concluded a charge would not be filed because of a lack of evidence showing Brenner was under the influence “to the point his normal faculties were impaired at the time of the accident.”

Guilty of sexual battery, man faces new federal charge

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Fossett

Manatee County court proceedings surrounding the brutal attack of a woman more than a year ago ended Nov. 15 with the sentencing of Peter Fossett to one day less than 26 years in prison.

However, Fossett’s days before a tribunal are not over. He also faces up to 10 years in federal prison for violations of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

In August 2015, Fossett pummeled his victim’s head, broke her eye socket and a neck bone and forced the woman to perform sex several times, while they drove from the Holmes Beach CVS to Sarasota County, according to police and court records.

After a three-day trial in October, jurors found Fossett, 37, guilty on counts of battery, sexual battery and aggravated battery.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll sentenced Fossett to consecutive prison terms in the Florida Department of Corrections — 11 months and 29 days for a misdemeanor battery and, for the felony counts, 15 years on the sexual battery and 10 years on the aggravated battery.

In sentencing, Carroll credited Fossett for serving 449 days in the Manatee County jail since his arrest and designated Fossett a sexual predator.

Nov. 18, the 12th Circuit State Attorney’s office dropped a separate state case against Fossett for failing to register as a sex offender.

Assistant State Attorney Dickey Hough said the state decided not to prosecute that case because the federal system “could do more” than the state’s five years in prison for a third-degree misdemeanor.

Committing another sex crime while violating the registration laws — as was the case with Fossett — is an aggravating factor under federal law, he added.

Fossett was next transported Nov. 21 to the Pinellas County jail at the request of the U.S. Marshals Service, where he awaits proceedings in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida.

The indictment alleges Fossett became a sex offender subject to registry laws in January 2005 when he was convicted of a sex offense with a minor in Hamilton County, Ohio.

It also alleges Fossett registered as a sex offender in Kentucky 2006-2015 but then moved across state lines to Florida, where he failed to register.

Florida law requires sex offenders to register with law enforcement within 48 hours of a visit.

Bradenton man gets 6 months for 4th DUI

A Bradenton man arrested for drunken driving in Holmes Beach was sentenced to six months in jail.

Douglas Pupek, 52, pleaded no contest Nov. 16 to a charge of driving under the influence with four or more prior convictions.

He also pleaded no contest to possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana, obtaining food with intent to defraud and driving on a suspended driver’s license for a second time.

Pupek was arrested April 1 after a disturbance at Mr. Bones BBQ, 3007 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, where a restaurant employee told police he failed to pay a $12 bill. A witness then snapped a photograph of Pupek as he left the restaurant on a scooter.

After his plea, 12th Circuit Judge Susan Maulucci sentenced Pupek to 36 months of probation, revoked his driving privileges and ordered Pupek to complete an advanced DUI course, a victim-impact panel and 100 hours of public service.

Maulucci impounded his vehicle for 90 days and ordered the installation of an alcohol-detection ignition device.

Pupek was credited for time served in jail after his arrest.

Costs and fines of more than $3,100 were assessed against Pupek and restitution was ordered.