Tag Archives: News

Some Cortez Bridge options — including rehab — eliminated by DOT

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The Cortez Bridge will be the subject of a Florida Department of Transportation public hearing at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. It will be the final public meeting before the DOT chooses to repair or replace the bridge that opened in 1957.
The Florida Department of Transportation began its study on the Cortez Bridge repair-replacement options in 2013.

The Florida Department of Transportation is down to three options involving the 61-year-old Cortez Bridge and a final decision will be made in October.

The DOT will hold its final public hearing to gather public input at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6110 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.

Bridge designs will be on display and DOT representatives will answer questions, according to Jerri McCants of DOT.

A formal hearing, which includes a video presentation on the available options, will begin at 6 p.m.,

“We’re expecting a pretty good turnout,” said Zachary Burch, DOT public information officer.

Public comment will be accepted at the meeting and until Sept. 12. The DOT will make its final decision roughly a month later, Burch said.

Options include repairing the 1957-built span, building a 35-foot vertical-clearance drawbridge or building a 65-foot vertical-clearance fixed bridge, according to the DOT.

“Each of the three options has its own advantages and disadvantages,” said Burch.

Three options have been eliminated: a rehabilitation expected to last 25 years and a 21- or 45-foot vertical clearance drawbridge.

“A leading alternative will be presented at the public meeting,” Burch said. “But we haven’t made a decision.”

Burch said the DOT will make its decision after the meeting. The favored option will be forwarded to the Office of Environmental Management for approval, he said.

“If they agree, it becomes the selected alternative,” he said.

A $1.5 million DOT options study covered a 1-mile stretch of Cortez Road,/State Road 684 from Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach to 123rd Street West in Cortez.

Estimated costs range from $4.5 million for repair to $72 million for the fixed bridge and $105 million for the drawbridge.

A new bridge would be designed to last up to 75 years, or until 2100, according to the DOT. A repair would last 10 years.

“The repair option is by far the cheapest,” Burch said. “The downside is replacement options have 75-year-service lives versus a 10-year service life.”

The repair estimate does not include maintenance or bridge tender costs, which replacement bridge estimates do, he said. This could drive up the actual costs of a repair, he said.

“If you’re constantly repairing a bridge it gets pricey,” Burch said. “Historic, iconic bridges require tons of maintenance and constant monitoring.”

Work on the repair option would likely begin in 2025. A repair project completed in March 2015 is expected to last until then.

The DOT study noted several reservations about repairing Cortez Bridge. It is too narrow with no shoulders and substandard curbs, is vulnerable to ship impact and storm surge and does not reduce bridge openings or delays.

Repairing Cortez Bridge would also mean closing it for nine weeks for construction and using a detour via Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach on the Anna Maria Island Bridge or to Sarasota’s Ringling Bridge.

The replacement drawbridge is the most costly option, according to Burch.

“It will have higher maintenance costs because it’s moveable and breakable, and you have to pay a bridge tender,” Burch said. “It still has to open and will still stop traffic.”

The fixed bridge exacts a greater toll on the environment but will reduce time lost to bridge openings, he said.

The fixed bridge also is the least popular with Cortez residents and business owners who have complained its large footprint will make it harder to reach their homes and businesses.

Bridge inspections between 2008 and 2012 determined the two-lane Cortez Bridge is functional but structurally obsolete.

Who: Open to the public.
What: Public hearing on Cortez Bridge replacement options.
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31.
Where: Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
Why: To discuss options and gather public comment on replacement or repair options for the Cortez Bridge.
How: Draft project reports are available at the Island Branch Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, and Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
Project manager: Marlon Bizerra, marlon.bizerra@dot.state.fl.us, 863-519-2250.
Website: cortezbridge.com.

DOT Cortez Road-119th Street improvements

Interim traffic signal improvements along Cortez Road should be operational by the end of the year, according to John Kubler, DOT director of transportation development.

The eastbound traffic signal at 119th Street West soon will be activated only by pedestrians to allow free flow of traffic off Anna Maria Island, according to Kubler.

A stop sign will be installed on the south leg of 119th Street West allowing vehicles to turn onto Cortez Road without waiting for a signal.

The signal for westbound Cortez Road will remain to accommodate 119th Street West traffic moving from southbound to eastbound, according to Kubler.

The DOT also is pursuing permanent realignment of the intersection through the adjacent Florida Maritime Museum property. The realignment option received the most support from attendees at the May 9 public hearing, according to Kubler.

Medians are not planned for the road west of 119th Street West as part of the permanent improvements, Kubler said.

County planners, staff deny Aqua, board vote expected Aug. 16

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Environmentalists hold signs Aug. 12 opposing Aqua By The Bay and motorists react by honking and giving a “thumbs up” at the corner of Cortez Road and 75th Street West. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Tidy Island resident Susan Widmayer shows a poster to the audience during the Aug 10 Manatee County Planning Commission public hearing for Aqua by the Bay, a proposed large-scale, mixed-use 523-acre development. The poster points to 16 high-rises in county submittals, which skirt land-development codes for structures proposed over the county’s 35-foot height restriction. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Manatee County planning commissioners Tim Rhoades and Matt Bower are two of the three commissioners who voted Aug. 10 against the Aqua by the Bay general development plan and rezoning request for 2,894 homes and 78,000 square feet of commercial space between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay, southeast of Cortez. The commission voted 3-1, condcluding a five-hour public hearing, to deny recommending the application to the county commission in Bradenton.

The stage is set for a showdown between developers and the county at an Aug. 16 land-use meeting.

Manatee County planners — previously recommending a large-scale, mixed-use project with an undetermined number of high-rises — flipped their position on Aqua By The Bay to denial four days before the expected vote by the county board of commissioners.

Manatee county commissioners have the final say on a 191-acre rezoning and general development plan for 2,894 residential units and 78,000 square feet of commercial space on 529 acres southeast of Cortez.

The development is proposed by Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII, controlled by developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman.

The vote is expected at a hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, in the commission chambers at 1112 Manatee Ave. W.

A new staff report was published Aug. 12 by principal planner Stephanie Moreland two days after a 3-1 planning commission vote recommending the project’s denial.

Planning commissioners Matt Bower, Tim Rhoades and Albert Horrigan Jr. voted for the denial. John DeLesline voted in favor.

In the new report, the staff concluded the plan was inconsistent with the county land-development code and comprehensive plan due to an unknown number of buildings and the lack of a 50-foot wetland buffer.

The new staff report is based on a revised report from the county’s environmental consultant and testimony at the planning commission hearing. The county contracted in July with the consultant Rummel, Klepper & Kahl of Lakeland.

Special approvals for variances over the county’s 35-foot height ordinance also were denied.

The project included four 145-foot buildings and 12 buildings with a maximum 95-foot height. However, the developers left open how many 35- to 75-foot buildings were planned, saying the number would be market driven.

Environmentalists calculated as many as 32 additional high-rise buildings based on the development’s proposed density.

In the new report, staff said its “best guesstimate” was 10 additional buildings but acknowledged it lacked expertise to make the determination.

Staff also pointed to the developers’ failure to provide “site specific conditions or physical restraints that would prevent a 50-foot buffer,” a comp plan policy limiting the use of a variable buffer.

The developers had proposed a variable buffer no less than 15-feet wide on Aqua’s 2.5 mile-boundary with Sarasota Bay.

The project also proposes a 12-foot wall and 8-foot deep lagoon running the length of the bayside boundary that environmentalists criticize as posing dangers to wildlife, fish nurseries, mangroves and seagrass.

“I don’t know about you, but for me this is a huge hallelujah praise the Lord for me,” wrote Jane von Hahmann, vice president of the nonprofit Florida Institute for

Saltwater Heritage, which, along with Suncoast Waterkeeper and Sierra Club, has opposed different iterations of the developers’ plans since 2013.

Pete Logan, president of Medallion Homes and spokesman for the developers, called the county consultant’s revised report a “surprise.”

Allison Aubuchon, of Allison Aubuchon Communications LLC, for the developers, relayed Logan’s comments in an Aug. 12 email to The Islander.

“We are working to ensure Aqua by the Bay is a neighborhood that will benefit the entire community and the environment. And we remain positive that, in the end, it will be a point of pride for Manatee County,” Logan said.

Arrest made in Longboat resort homicides

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Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming announces an arrest in the Aug. 14 double homicide at the Zota Beach Resort at an Aug. 10 news conference at town hall. Cumming said more information and witnesses are being sought in the continuing investigation. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Gathering outside Longboat Key Town Hall Aug. 10 are members of the Manatee County Homicide Task Force, MCSO Capt. Pat Cassella, Longboat Key detective Sgt. Robert Bourque and MCSO investigators, Sgt. Karen DeVries and Lt. Darin Bankert, whose work led to an arrest in the Zota resort killings.

“We will do everything to see justice is done here,” Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming said Aug. 10 at a news conference at town hall.

Darryl Vaughn Hanna Jr., 29, was arrested for the fatal shooting of two men Aug. 4 in the lobby of a Longboat Key resort at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The investigation continues into the double homicide at the Zota Beach Resort following the arrest of the Bradenton man, Cumming said.

He also acknowledged the investigation won’t bring back victims Timothy Hurley, 59, of Sarasota, and Kevin Carter, 51, of Bradenton, but hoped it brings closure for their families. Hurley was a night manager and Carter a security guard at the resort.

The resort opened in May at the site of the former Hilton hotel.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office arrested Hanna Aug. 9 at an east Bradenton residence on two charges of second-degree murder and a charge of armed robbery.

Bond was denied Aug. 11 and Hanna remains in custody.

Cumming credited the homicide task force, working with the state attorney’s office, with following tips, interviews and gathering evidence.

The chief said license plate recognition cameras at each end of Longboat Key had been “valuable” to the investigation.

“We’re not done with the investigation,” he added.

Questions as to whether Hanna acted alone and what was meant by a throat-slashing motion seen on video are unanswered, according to the police chief.

Portions of the video released by authorities show a person in a mask walking into an area where the victims were found, making the motion across the throat, and another of a person walking out with a cash box.

Hanna had been a part-time employee of Victory Security of Florida, the same company that employed Carter, according to police reports.

Cumming said Hanna targeted the resort and was familiar with the location of the safe and cash.

The chief called Hanna “a violent criminal,” having a robbery motive. He also noted that the incident was “isolated.” The last homicide in the village was in June 2000.

Three cash drawers and $900 were stolen.

Cumming also said Hanna may have been disgruntled.

He last worked at the resort Aug. 2 and told his supervisor at Victory he had taken a job as a cook in a nursing home, according to police reports.

Investigators also learned Hanna had complained to a co-worker and his supervisor about not making enough money and wanting more hours.

Hanna’s supervisor told police Hanna’s response to a fellow employee being killed was: “How many times did they get shot?”

Cumming wouldn’t rule out another person’s involvement or that the slashing motion observed on the video might have been a signal to an accomplice.

The arrest report states 10 phone calls were made from Hanna’s cellphone between 2:01 a.m. and 2:47 a.m. the morning of the shootings.

According to police reports, the killer entered the resort at 2:39 a.m. and the shooting occurred at 2:41 a.m.

However, the shots were apparently not heard and were not reported.

A guest found Carter at 3:20 a.m. and Longboat police responded at 3:26 a.m.

On Hanna’s Facebook account, according to the probable cause report, investigators found a photo of a firearm with notes it was a .380 but “I have a 9 as well.”

In January, Hanna was arrested in Sarasota on a theft of gift cards. He pleaded no contest in May and his adjudication was withheld.

In 2008, he was arrested in Manatee County for resisting arrest.

At the news conference, Cumming declined comment on a suspicious incident at the Zota resort two weeks before the homicides.

According to an Aug. 10 report in the Longboat Observer, Carter, who was on duty, reported a woman in an idling white car in the resort parking lot who told him that she had registered online. A man was leaning on a wall nearby, the report stated.

Carter went into the hotel to check the registration and call police, the Observer reported, and the people outside left.

A reward handled by the Manatee County CrimeStoppers and Gold Star Club — now at $50,000 — is being offered for information on the homicide case, Cumming said.

At press time, Hanna was being held in the Manatee County jail without bond.

A court date is set for 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 8, in the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Treehouse gets city ‘boot,’ owners stall, look to high court

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The fight to retain the beachfront tree house built in 2011 without permits at Angelinos Sea Lodge in Holmes Beach may go to the U.S. Supreme Court — if the owners have their wish. Story page 3. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

A letter from Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson giving the treehouse “the boot” was met with yet another step of litigation.
But the tree house still stood tall on the beach this week.

“It is now your duty to comply with the code enforcement board order of July 30, 2013, requiring complete removal of the treehouse,” Johnson wrote in a letter hand delivered July 28 to owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran.

The owners’ attorney, David Levin, of Icard Merrill, Cullis, Tim, Furen & Ginsburg, responded by letter dated Aug. 10, saying he was preparing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The mayor’s letter states the owners are expected to apply for a demolition permit by Aug. 10.

But Levin’s response states the demand is premature “under the circumstances.”

Tran and Hazen built the two-story beachfront treehouse in an Australian pine tree in 2011 at 103 29th St., Holmes Beach, where they reside and operate Angelinos Sea Lodge.

Since an anonymous complaint reported the elaborate structure, built without permits, the treehouse has gone before the city code board, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the courts, including two cases that went up to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The last legal foray ended with the 2nd DCA denying a request for a rehearing and written opinion requested July 17 by attorney David Levin, of Icard Merrill of Sarasota, for Tran and Hazen.

They had hoped to bring the fate of the structure to a citywide vote but their effort was denied by the court.

“They have a long, long, long road,” said attorney Jim Dye Aug. 11. Dye of Dye, Deitrich, Petruff and St. Paul has handled the ongoing tree house cases.

The owners have 90 days to file an appeal, which is limited to appealing the 2nd DCA’s one-sentence denial, according to Dye.

“I don’t think any lawyer would have expected” a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of a state court decision that said simply the appellate judges declined to hear or consider it, Dye said.

Throughout proceedings, the city has maintained the structure violates its land-development code, including a setback for the state erosion control line — a winning argument in the 2014 court decision, which the 2nd DCA affirmed in 2015.

The July 2013 code board removal order included a fine of $50 per day starting July 22, 2015. The fine is still accumulating.

Johnson’s letter also states the fine continues to accrue.

Turtle watch continues free beach talks in August

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A turtle-eye view People attending an Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring Turtle Talk and lighting workshop Aug. 12, look through turtle eye cards, a tool used to determine if lighting is sea turtle-friendly, at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW

We’re tallking about sharing the beach habitat with wildlife, especially sea turtles.

As sea turtle hatchling season peaks, it becomes more and more important for visitors and residents to understand turtle-friendly practices.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring will host informational talks and turtle-friendly lighting workshops at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 19 and Aug. 26, starting at the picnic tables near the south end of the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, and progressing on the beachfront, where there are numerous nests.

AMITW volunteers will talk about “a day in the life” of a turtle watch volunteer, offering tips and giveaways. Additionally, turtle watch volunteers will provide a display and workshop on proper lighting during sea turtle nesting and hatchling season, which runs through October.

During August, sea turtle hatchlings are emerging from nests on island beaches, and lighting visible from the shoreline can disorient them away from the water.

Through events like weekly Turtle Talks, AMITW is informing people about how to prevent disorientations and how to take part in an eco-friendly vacation on Anna Maria Island.

For more information about the Turtle Talk and lighting workshop, visit AMITW on Facebook or call Fox at 941-778-5638.

Sea turtle with tracker may have laid 4th nest on AMI

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A screenshot from the internet Aug. 8 shows the path in the Gulf of Mexico taken by Eliza Ann, who may have laid a fourth nest on Anna Maria Island. According to Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, a crawl with large tracks was found Aug. 6 on the beach near Maple Avenue in Anna Maria. The tracking map also indicates the more than 300-pound loggerhead may have come ashore that night. Since no one saw the nest being laid, Fox said she can’t be certain. Eliza Ann has been wearing a satellite tracking device since it nested June 20 and was tagged by AMITW and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, as part of the 10th annual Tour de Turtles. The tagged turtles compete in a “marathon” to see which turtle swims the farthest during a three-month survey. To track Eliza Ann, visit https://conserveturtles.org/trackingmap/?id=171.

Sea turtle nests hatching daily on AMI

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Three hatchlings race Aug. 9 to the Gulf of Mexico after being released on the beach near 33rd Street in Holmes Beach. The hatchlings were found in a nest that hatched three days before being excavated for data collection by turtle watch volunteers. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Turtle watch volunteer Alice Schubert shows a loggerhead sea turtle egg Aug. 10 to beachgoers Tyler Trejo, 12, of Bremen, Ohio, and Linda Collins, of Bradenton, during a nest excavation at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteer Amy Waterbury, left, is assisted by section 6 coordinator Annie Camp Aug. 9, during an excavation on the beach near 33rd Street in Holmes Beach.

A record-breaking sea turtle nesting season has led to flotillas of hatchlings emerging daily from nests on Anna Maria Island beaches.

As of Aug. 13, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 165 hatched nests with about 11,745 hatchlings making their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

With each nest containing about 100 eggs, turtle watch volunteers are staying busy collecting data from the hatched nests.

Volunteers with AMITW walk the beach each morning just after sunrise to search for tracks left the night before by nesting female sea turtles or hatchlings.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, when a nest is determined hatched, AMITW volunteers must wait 72 hours to excavate or dig into the nest to determine how many eggs hatched, didn’t hatch, or if there are live hatchlings remaining in the nest.

Turtle watch then ensures the remaining hatchlings make their way to the Gulf.

Excavations usually take place around sunrise or sunset, when the risk of dehydration or predation is lower for any hatchlings they may be discovered in the nest.

The public is invited to observe excavations and ask the volunteers questions about their work with sea turtles.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to see what we do and learn about the turtles,” Annie Camp, AMITW section 6 coordinator said Aug. 9.

Since the beginning of August, the moon has been bright and low over the Gulf, attracting hatchling sea turtles to their home in the water, according to Suzi Fox, AMITW executive director.

After nesting or hatching, adult and hatchling sea turtles are drawn by their instincts to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface.

Disorientations can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.

Fox is concerned that when the moon’s light starts to wane toward the end of the month, hatchlings may disorient away from the water.

“As soon as that moon is gone, they may head inland, because the brightest light visible from the shoreline will be upland,” Fox said Aug. 7.

Fox works with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to ensure beachfront lighting is turtle-friendly and beach furniture is removed at the end of the day.

Fox said people have been doing a great job keeping the beach clean and complying with lighting regulations.

“The beach has been looking great,” Fox said. “This month is peak hatchling season. So, now is the most important time to make sure you’re beachfront lights are compliant and beach trash is picked up.”

For more information about AMITW, contact executive director Suzi Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.


Sea turtle disorientation rate drops in Holmes Beach

With 477 nests as of Aug. 13, Holmes Beach has the highest number of sea turtle nests on Anna Maria Island.

More nests means more hatchlings, and Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox was concerned with the rising number of disorientations as nests started hatching in Holmes Beach in July.

Fox has been working with Holmes Beach code enforcement to bring lights into compliance with sea turtle regulations and inform people of turtle-friendly practices.

As of Aug. 6, no new disorientations — which typically occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water — were reported by turtle watch in Holmes Beach.

“We are very happy that no new disorientations have been reported in Holmes Beach,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said Aug. 8. “We are working with turtle watch to ensure everyone is in compliance with lighting and knows to remove beach furniture at the end of the day.”

Former BB mayor, city sue board members

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Bradenton Beach city attorney Ricinda Perry speaks with Vice Mayor John Chappie Aug. 7 during a meeting at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The city of Bradenton Beach has joined forces with a Sarasota legal team representing a former Bradenton Beach official who is alleging Sunshine Law violations by some members of the city’s planning and zoning board and Scenic Waves Partnership Committee.

Jack Clarke, former mayor and commissioner, filed suit Aug. 11 in the 12th District Circuit Court against planning and zoning board member John Metz and then-P&Z members Reed Mapes, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent, along with Scenic Waves chair Tjet Martin and waves member Rose Vincent.

At an Aug. 7 city meeting continued from Aug. 3, commissioners voted 3-1 for Mayor Bill Shearon to execute a contract with Sarasota attorney Bill Watrous for the investigation into the alleged violations. The cost to the city was not to exceed $5,000.

Shearon voted “nay” and Commissioner Marilyn Maro was absent with excuse from that portion of the meeting.

City attorney Ricinda Perry told commissioners Aug. 7 that Clarke is the complainant in the case.

Clarke’s involvement in the case was not announced at the Aug. 3 meeting and vote.

Metz lost a lawsuit to Clarke during a contentious city recall election that saw Clarke take the seat from Shearon in May 2015. Shearon then retook the mayor’s seat in the November 2015 election.

Mapes, Metz, Shay and Vincent were steering committee members of the new grassroots group, Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach. Mapes, Metz and Shay resigned from the CNOBB after the Aug. 3 vote. Vincent is chair and founder of CNOBB.

Perry said according to CNOBB meeting recordings, P&Z members were talking about a parking garage, which is included as a possible project in the updated community redevelopment plan.

However, Martin claims the parking garage discussion was focused on petitioning to eliminate parking garages from the land-development code, not a P&Z related issue.

Perry said land-use issues are prohibited discussion for board members outside of a city meeting.

The suit includes Martin and Rose Vincent for allegedly discussing unresolved matters that are being considered by Scenic Waves.

Perry recommended the city take action to prevent it from being “exposed to litigation.”

Mapes, Shay and Vincent resigned from the P&Z following the Aug. 3 meeting. As of Aug. 11, the P&Z board lacks a quorum. Metz remains on P&Z.

At the Aug. 7 meeting, Shearon said he “could not support the motion,” citing $350-per-hour attorney’s fees.

“I think this has been blown way out of proportion, especially with the associated fees,” Shearon said.

Chappie disagreed with Shearon, saying the problems with the P&Z board extend beyond this incident and need to be corrected.

“There has been a cloud over (P&Z) for the past year and we need to know if there’s been a violation,” Chappie said. “It’s part of our responsibility to the city to get a ruling from the judge.”

The next city commission meeting will be at noon Thursday, Aug. 17, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Kaleta, Anna Maria prepare for federal trial in ‘blackball’ lawsuit

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As part of a federal lawsuit, developer Shawn Kaleta and his company allege the city of Anna Maria required a chain-link fence and drainage ditch around a row of five homes on Magnolia Avenue during construction but similar requirements were not imposed on other developers.
Developer Shawn Kaleta and Beach to Bay Construction LLC allege the city of Anna Maria issued a 2015 red tag order shutting off power to a remodeled home at 9802 Gulf Drive in ongoing litigation in U.S. District Court in Tampa. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

Almost daily filings remind court-watchers of the federal case of Shawn Kaleta and Beach to Bay Construction LLC versus the city of Anna Maria.

For the past two months, attorneys for both sides have filed a steady stream of papers aimed at gaining an edge in the litigation first filed in February 2016.

The developer alleges the city has blackballed him to the tune of $12 million in lost permits and profits.

The case is set for a trial at the year’s end in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

In a move July 10 to end the case before a trial, the city filed motions for summary judgment and to strike the plaintiffs’ experts.

The developer’s case rests on constitutional claims, including a First Amendment argument the city deterred his free speech and rights to petition by restricting his projects, making false public statements and filing an “unsubstantiated” business complaint. Kaleta-Beach to Bay also bring a discrimination claim under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Kaleta and his company are represented by Bradenton attorneys Najmy and Thompson, P.A., including Louis Najmy and Aaron Thomas. With a June 19 appearance, a Lakewood Ranch attorney, Brian P. Kopp, joined the developer’s legal team.

Defending the city is the Orlando firm of Dean, Ringers, Morgan & Lawton, including attorney John T. Conner, hired by the city’s insurer, a Florida League of Cities’ affiliate.

In a summary judgment motion, Conner asks the court to end the case because of a lack of a genuine dispute as to any material fact.

It contends the plaintiffs have failed to: 1) show disparate treatment, 2) exhaust administrative remedies and obtain a final city decision; 3) offer evidence of a perceived ban against the developer and 4) show they engaged in speech or conduct protected by the First Amendment.

In the Kaleta-Beach to Bay response, Thomas contends the record indicates similarly situated properties and developers, evidence of a ban and a clear claim of chilling effects as a result of targeted actions against the plaintiffs. No exhaustion of administrative remedies is required, he wrote.

Thomas also labels the dispositive motion “nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid trial on the merits,” which paints a false narrative and mischaracterizes the record.

The city also seeks to disarm the $12 million damages claim, attempting to strike Kaleta’s experts under a court rule that limits expert testimony to that which is reliable, qualified and helpful.

The city points to plaintiffs’ co-experts as unqualified causation witnesses, unreliable because they misapplied facts and unhelpful due to their conflicting opinions.

Thomas responds the city’s causation argument is misplaced because the experts are qualified to show the plaintiff’s damages were related to, and not proximately caused by the city.

He called the city’s attempt to strike the experts “a blunderbuss” of a motion “easily put aside in the final analysis.”

In May, Kaleta filed the expert report of Matthew Clark of Kentucky and Lewis Olds of Arizona, estimating damages due to the city’s blackball against Kaleta and his company.

The experts’ joint report calculated developer losses based on an estimated 38 permits that would have been issued since 2015 but for the city’s discriminatory acts.

According to the report, the developer’s lost profits to 2020 were projected at $12,339,055 and lost earnings at $11,441,885.

By October, the court is expected to rule on the outstanding motions, according to Najmy.

A pretrial hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 6, before Judge James D. Whittemore, in the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa.

They’re back! Students fill halls at AME

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Cars line up in the Anna Maria Elementary dropoff, pickup loop and the school buses roll in as classes get underway Aug. 10 for the 2017-18 school year. AME officials are estimating about 265 students will attend the elementary school this year. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Keegan Shard waits with his mother Aug. 10 in the lobby at Anna Maria Elementary for the first day of the 2017-18 school year to get underway. Keegan is in Toni Lashway’s first-grade class. Islander Photos: Sandy Ambrogi
Holmes Beach Police Officer Josh Fleischer, Anna Maria Elementary resource officer, leads the first busload of students Aug. 10 into the school for the first day of class.
Incoming kindergartner Toby Phung gets a jumpstart on reading Aug. 10 while waiting for class to start on his first day of school.
Lillian Palmer clings to dad Matt Palmer Aug. 10 in the hallway as a younger brother watches on her first day of kindergarten at Anna Maria Elementary.
Kindergartner Vincent Gollamudi poses with Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer Aug. 10 before class on Vincent’s first day of school. Tokajer greeted students, parents and caregivers as the first morning got underway. Vincent will be in Bridget Querrard’s class. Islander Courtesy Photo

A little exciting, a little nerve-racking, a lot of work.

A line of buses and a caravan of cars poured onto the campus of Anna Maria Elementary School in Holmes Beach as the 2017-18 school year got underway Aug. 10.

Parents breathed a sigh of relief — though some also shed tears — as K-5 classes settled in at the “little school by the bay.”

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer and the school’s resource officer, HBPD patrol officer Josh Fleischer, greeted parents and students. AME staff also greeted students, distributing arm bands indicating dismissal instructions, answered questions and gave directions.

When the first chime sounded, most everyone seemed to be where they belonged.

Kindergarten and new AME parents and caregivers retreated to the school auditorium for the “Boo-Hoo Breakfast,” sponsored by the AME-Parent-Teacher Organization.

Principal Jackie Featherston mingled with other staff at the welcome event, and the new school year was underway.