Tag Archives: News

Input sought on reduced bridge openings

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A boat passes through the opening on the Cortez Bridge. Islander File Photo

The first step of many to reduce bridge openings for the Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges is in sight.

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding possible changes to the opening times for bridges to and near Anna Maria Island.

According to the Feb. 13 Federal Register, the Coast Guard proposes to modify the operating schedule of four drawbridges across the Intracoastal Waterway: Cortez, Anna Maria, Siesta Drive and Stickney Point.

Area elected officials made the request to the Coast Guard through the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. Their goal is to change the operation of the bridges due to an increase in traffic on the roadways throughout the year.

This proposed rulemaking would change the bridges’ operating schedule from three times per hour to twice per hour, throughout the year.

The Coast Guard seeks citizens’ opinions about the proposed change. All comments and related material must be received by April 14.

Submit comments identified by docket number USCG-2016–0330 using the federal eRulemaking portal at regulations.gov.

For inquiries or more information about the proposed rule change, contact Lt. Ashley Holm, Coast Guard Sector St Petersburg, at 813-228–2191 ext. 8105, or Ashley.E.Holm@uscg.mil.

Rental management company drops VRO appeal

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Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy stands by the podium in the city commission chambers during a Feb. 10 interview. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Chalk up a win for Anna Maria.

A challenge to the city’s limit of eight guests in a vacation rental unit has been withdrawn.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said Feb. 10 he was “very pleased” with the withdrawal of the appeal and expects the case will return to the circuit court for a hearing on the attorney fees.

He said the judge will consider: “Was this a frivolous claim and, if so, what will the remedy be.”

The Feb. 7 withdrawal of Anna Maria Vacations v. the City of Anna Maria in the 2nd District Court of Appeal leaves in place an April 8, 2016, decision by 12th Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. that upheld the local regulation because it did not prohibit rentals “that have historically been rented to more guests.”

The vacation rental ordinance that became effective November 2015 has a grandfathering provision.

“It’s good news for the city,” city attorney Becky Vose said Feb. 10 of the dismissal.

“I feel certain we would have won the appeal for the city, but now we won’t need to go to the expense,” she said.

Vose also said she’ll be working with the court to set a hearing on a fee-shifting motion she filed after the April 2016 decision, seeking city attorney fees to be paid “in equal amounts by plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel.”

Plaintiff’s attorneys, Aaron Thomas and Randall Smith of Najmy Thompson LLP of Bradenton, filed the appeal in September 2016, challenging the circuit court rulings on the ordinance.

The plaintiff, Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes LLC, dba Anna Maria Vacations, is an agent for some 236 rentals on Anna Maria Island — 64 of them in Anna Maria.

The Najmy attorneys set the 2nd DCA’s dismissal in motion, filing for a voluntary dismissal Feb. 6 on behalf of the company and its corporate managers Joe and Kelly Varner of Holmes Beach.

Thomas said Feb. 10 he had no comment on why the firm withdrew the appeal or whether their arguments were frivolous. He said he may have “more to say” if the city fee-shifting motion is noticed for a hearing.

The Najmy attorneys had argued the occupancy restriction “prohibited” rentals under the state preemption law by limiting them.

Vose warned the attorneys in a March 2016 letter about her intention to file the fee-shifting motion, calling the preemption count in their complaint a “spurious allegation,” unsupported under state law and asked for the case to be withdrawn.

The Vose Law Firm has worked on the case since it was filed a year ago.

Anna Maria VRO lobbyist gets to work

What’s up in Tallahassee?

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy reported at a Feb. 7 city meeting that lobbyist Chip Case is at work on behalf of the city in the state capital.

Case was hired Jan. 23 on a $5,000 monthly retainer to battle state Senate and House bills that pose threats to the city’s vacation rental ordinance.

Murphy said Feb. 7 he would provide regular updates from Case.

On Jan. 12, commissioners discussed the bill introduced by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and the bill introduced by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-Polk, which would undo all legislation targeting vacation rentals passed after June 1, 2011.

Both bills are currently in committees.

The Senate measure would need to be approved by the Regulated Industries, Community Affairs and Rules committees before it goes to the floor.

The House measure must go through the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, Careers and Competition Subcommittee and Commerce Committee before a vote in the House.

According to Murphy, Case said the city has a chance of killing the Senate bill because the regulated industries committee chair, Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Flagler, has a history of supporting city rights.

Case also drafted letters and emails for citizens to send to their senators and representatives in opposition to the bills. The letters are posted on the city of Anna Maria website and include information for contacting Steube, Hutson, La Rosa and local district lawmakers, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

DOT-HB speed limit reduction creates ruckus

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Holmes Beach resident and fishing guide Mark Howard says he doesn’t mind the lower speed limit at the entrance to Holmes Beach but he had concerns for the way the change was handled. “There was really no notice about this happening,” he said. “There’s been talk about it but it never came down. To err on the side of caution, the speed limit should be lower.”
Sam Major

Going nowhere fast?

Some island residents and Holmes Beach commissioners are questioning the need for the recent posting of reduced speed limits on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 in the city.

“I actually think it’s causing it to be more dangerous in the first place,” said Anna Maria Island resident Sam Major. “It’s causing it to be bumper-to-bumper traffic all day, every day, no matter what. And that causes more accidents than a good, steady flow of traffic.”

Some officials were notified of the pending traffic regulation changes on portions of State Road 64/Manatee Avenue in a Jan. 24 letter from the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tanya King to Manatee County Commission Chair Betsy Benac. The letter was copied to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer but was not received by Tokajer until Feb. 1, after the Jan. 30 posting of the new reduced speed signs.

The DOT completed an engineering analysis that supported reducing speed limits on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue in response to a request from the city. The letter cited reasons for lowering the speed, including the “high pedestrian volume in the area,” along with the roadway and traffic characteristics of the segment.

“Although our studies did not indicate a need to reduce the speeds, the context of the area along with the reports of safety problems from the chief contributed to our reducing the speed limit,” DOT’s David Gwinn wrote in a Feb. 6 email to Mayor Bob Johnson.

“In years past, we would have been more likely to leave the speed limit near the existing speeds. However, we are becoming more sensitive to the context of each area and reducing speeds if it makes sense given the environment of the area.”

For motorists heading west into Holmes Beach by way of Manatee Avenue/State Road 64, starting at the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the speed limit is 25 mph, reduced from 35 mph.

The speed limit on the Anna Maria Island Bridge, connecting Holmes Beach to Perico Island, is 35 mph, reduced from 45 mph.

Florida statutes allow municipalities to set the speed limit on residential roads to a maximum of 20-25 mph after an investigation determines it’s reasonable.

One factor that contributed to the speed change was a 2015 bicycle fatality on the east side of the bridge. The estimated speed of the driver was 63 mph in a posted 45-mph zone.

Not everyone thinks the lower speed limit is a problem.Win Bishop thanked Tokajer “for making paradise a little safer.”

“As a local resident who lives and works in Holmes Beach and uses my low-speed vehicle as my primary form of transportation, I feel much safer,” Bishop wrote in a Feb. 7 email to Tokajer.

Resident Mark Howard, who has lived on the island for more than 20 years and runs fishing charters out of Keyes Marina in Holmes Beach, also likes the lower speed limit.

“Get over it,” he said. “Move on. We either are going to be a low-speed vehicle, bicycle-friendly island or not. Thirty-five is not friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, and 25 is.”

The biggest problem with the lower speed limit, Howard said, was the lack of public notice.

“When you throw surprises at people, it just throws people for a loop,” he said. “I think the police chief should have got the message out in a better manner. I did not like the idea of him just springing it on us.”

Tokajer issued a Feb. 6 news release apologizing “for not making the public aware of the change prior to posting the revised speed limits,” adding the city has “dodged the bullet so far.”

But the Jan. 30 posting of new speed limits also came as a surprise to Tokajer and his patrol officers.

Still, some commissioners are angry with the speed change “surprise.”

Commissioner Jean Peelen, in a Feb. 3 email to Tokajer, said the change was “sprung on the residents.”

“There was no public notice, no input. The first residents know was when Holmes Beach police were on the side of the road with a radar gun,” Peelen wrote.

Residents like Jordan Sebastiano said the lower speed is “too slow.”

“My initial reaction was ‘speed trap,’” he said, adding the limit of 35 mph should be reinstated.

Commission Chair Judy Titsworth wrote in a Feb. 7 email to Johnson that the speed change should have gone before the commission, adding the topic will be up for discussion at the Feb. 14 city meeting, after The Islander went to press.

“In the event that the majority of the commission votes to request that the speed limits go back to the way they were, it would be nice if that could be done rather quickly and without the city of Holmes Beach becoming a circus act,” Titsworth wrote.

However, Titsworth also reached out to the DOT in an email, asking whether the agency would change the speed limit back to 35 mph in the city and 45 mph on the bridge if the commission reaches a consensus to return to the prior limits.

The commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

The DOT letter and traffic analysis for Manatee Avenue

AM resident fights senate VRO kill-bill

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Amy Tripp. Islander Courtesy Photo

Anna Maria resident Amy Tripp is taking matters into her own hands.

Tripp has started an online petition against a bill sponsored by state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. SB 188 states, “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not restrict the use of vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use or occupancy.”

Steube claims local regulations on short-term rentals violate owners’ property rights.

On Feb. 5, Bill Vincent of Bradenton Beach, a planning and zoning board member, began circulating an email written by Tripp, containing a link to her online petition, “Stop Florida SB 188.”

“This Florida Senate bill, SB 188, would strip local governments throughout the state of self-governing vacation rentals,” the email read. “This would devastate small communities due to ‘investor homes’ that seek to have unregulated number of people, and allow for short-term rentals for any length of stay in existing residential neighborhoods. That’s why I signed a petition to the Florida State Senate, which says, ‘Saving local governments and small communities in Florida to be able to retain control regarding vacation rentals.’”

When asked by The Islander Feb. 9 if he knows Tripp, Vincent said, “I don’t even know the person, I just appreciate her cause.”

Vincent, a 2016 candidate for Bradenton Beach’s Ward 4 commission seat, advocated for home rule, saying he has strong feelings about the “firestorm created by Steube.”

He said Steube openly stated he and his wife were shopping for a vacation rental in Flagler Beach, but realized they couldn’t rent it out short-term due to local ordinances.

“This is another example of legislation for self-interest,” Vincent said Feb. 9. “This whole thing is because he wanted a vacation rental and I’m appalled by it.”

Vincent said he would continue to circulate the link to the petition, which had 229 signatures as of Feb. 10.

Steube is “hiding behind mirrors and smokescreens to cover his own self-interest,” Vincent said. “We need to do what we can to stop him.”

Tripp has plans to meet with Steube in Sarasota Feb. 17.

The petition can be found online at moveon.org.

County backs WMFR’s ASL request

After a meeting with the Manatee County Board of Commissioners, a goal of the West Manatee Fire Rescue District is closer to reality.

In a meeting Feb. 7, county commissioners requested that county attorney Mitchell Palmer draft legislation to allow WMFR to offer advanced life support services.

WMFR Commissioner Randy Cooper addressed the county board during public comment, asking for adoption of an ordinance expanding authorization to provide non-transport advanced life support services to the fire district.

Under current county code, “only the governmental emergency medical services of Manatee County and Longboat Key” are “authorized to perform as the first responders within the county.”

Cooper said the request would “allow us to upgrade our firefighter EMTs to firefighter paramedics so we can provide … advanced life support to our residents.”

County administrator Ed Hunzeker spoke in support of WMFR’s request. “We concur that more qualified hands at the scene would be better,” he said.

WMFR Chief Tom Sousa said the county commission could hear the ordinance in March.

“I commend the board for listening to us,” Sousa said, adding that he credited Commissioner Vanessa Baugh in particular for supporting WMFR’s effort.

If the ordinance is adopted, the fire district could offer ALS services in early 2017, Sousa said.

Of the current firefighters on staff, five are trained paramedics and eight are enrolled in paramedical school. If the program begins in 2017, he said, the WMFR would have 13 trained paramedics to offer advanced life support services.

Growing talent

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Anna Maria Elementary School fifth-graders Kylie Hoffman, left, Valeria Sanchez and Bryanna Sparks display their winning posters publicizing the Anna Maria Garden Club flower show. Each year, the garden club collaborates with AME in a contest to design posters for the show. Valeria’s “Blue Moon” poster won first, Bryanna’s poster won second and Kylie’s “Surfin’ USA” poster won third. The garden club’s “Sing a Song with Flowers” show will be 1-3 p.m. March 15 at Roser Memorial Community Church in Anna Maria. Islander Courtesy Photo

3 resign from center after-school program

Three employees at the Center of Anna Maria Island — all working in the Beyond The Classroom program either full or part time — have resigned.

Children enrolled in the BTC after-school program will remain at Anna Maria Elementary for BTC until March 10, when the center should hopes to have its staffing problem resolved, executive director Kristen Lessig said.

The normal monthly fee to host the after-school care program at the elementary school was waived, Lessig said.

Lessig said AME does not want to run the program long-term, mostly because the AME staff would be required to work longer hours. Other schools in the county either host an after-school program or organizations such as the Bradenton Y host the program at the school.

Until the center makes other arrangements with the school or hires replacements, recreation director Will Schenerlein, art/culture coordinator Susan Udermann and youth leadership coordinator Alyssa Hibert will assist in BTC, along with a volunteer, AME parent Shawn McCarthy.

Emily Moss, who led the BTC program, resigned in late January to care for a son who requires medical attention.

Moss had been on leave since November and, in the interim, center staff donated some 350 vacation hours “to keep her onboard while the Mosses figured out what they would do,” Lessig said.

Following Moss’s resignation, BTC program assistant Rainia Lardas resigned to take a position at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, where she had previously worked.

Additionally, sports manager Drew Mitchell, who held the required license to drive the bus that transports students from Anna Maria Elementary to the center, informed Lessig in January he was resigning to attend to family matters.

Lessig said she is accepting resumes for BTC program employees.

“We are meeting with all interested candidates who want to be part of creating quality youth programs at the center, so if anyone has an area of expertise they can contribute, even if it’s part-time, we’re considering all options,” she said.

For information, call the center at 941-778-1908 or AME at 941-708-5525.

Speeder, 2nd-DUI offender sentenced to probation

A 36-year-old man pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and was sentenced to 12 months probation and completion of an advanced DUI course.

Chandler Variot of Bradenton was sentenced Feb. 6 by 12th Circuit Judge Mark Singer.

Holmes Beach police arrested Variot in September 2016 after an officer stopped his vehicle traveling 70 mph between the 700 block of Manatee Avenue and the Anna Maria Island Bridge — an area recently changed to a 25-mph zone.

The state filed an elevated DUI charge due to a prior conviction and 0.15 or higher blood-alcohol content. The legal limit is 0.08. Variot was convicted of DUI in September 2004 in Sarasota County, according to court records.

As part of the 2016 case, the judge suspended Variot’s driver’s license for a year and ordered 50 hours of public service. Singer also ordered his vehicle impounded for 10 days and an ignition device installed for one year.

Variot’s speeding citation was combined and adjudicated with the DUI.

Holmes Beach mayor advocates city manager government

One mayor of three on Anna Maria Island is putting out a call for better city management.

Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson is ready to turn over the heavy lifting that goes with running a city with a $12 million-plus budget to a professional.

According to Johnson, development in Manatee County leaves Anna Maria Island as “the only beach in town.” He cites pressure on the beaches from developments at Lakewood Ranch and other proposed developments near Cortez Road and 75th Street.

For this, and other reasons, he believes Holmes Beach needs an experienced municipal administrator and, he says, he is not the man for the job.

With less than two years remaining on his second term, Johnson wants to see the city operating efficiently and smarter before he steps away and the time is short to accomplish his goal.

He proposes the creation of an ad hoc committee to examine the viability of moving to a council-manager form of government.

The city operates under a commission-mayor form of government. The five-member commission is legislative. It establishes policies and adopts ordinances, while the mayor, serving as administrator, carries out the codes and ordinances, and manages staff and budgets.

But Johnson, in his second term as mayor, wants commissioners to appoint a committee to examine long-range solutions for Holmes Beach, including the viability of moving to a council-manager form of government.

“When you go from a couple of hundred rental units to a thousand in a few years, and along with all of the building activities that are going on, just that whole wholesale shift in demographics makes a big change in the things you have to worry about in the city,” Johnson said.

Johnson said a committee working openly could best determine long-range solutions for the city.

“The volume and density of what this office is required to deal with is huge,” he said. “It still kind of has the same size that it’s had for a long time.”

Johnson proposed the idea during a Jan. 24 commission work session and he heard some criticism.

Commissioner Chair Judy Titsworth said the formation of another committee would burden city staff with more work.

“I think a mayor for the size of our city is still right,” she said.

But Johnson disagreed.

“I think you guys are missing the boat and the city will be worse off,” he said. “You can’t get cooperation with a novice sitting in here like me.”

Looking around at other beachside communities, Johnson said Holmes Beach is one of the “last hangers-on to this mode of running a municipal community.”

“There are more of them than not,” Johnson said.

Of the 37 beach communities with populations similar to Holmes Beach, 11 have a council-mayor form of government, according to Johnson’s noted.

“Everybody else has council-manager,” he said. “The 11 that have council-mayor are all small communities, except for Holmes Beach. Holmes Beach is the only one that has a big community.”

Included in the 11 are the cities of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

“Three of those 11 are on this bloody island,” he said, adding the creation of an ad hoc committee “needs to be seriously addressed.”

“We’ll have those discussions, maybe even as early as March,” Johnson said. “To me, it’s a matter of where do you prioritize things. At some point and time, this should be a priority, so all I can do is keep working in that direction. And there’s a lot of people that say I like what you have and what you do.”

In order to accomplish the switch from commission-mayor to a city manager government, the electorate will have to approve a change to the charter.

And the next election is in November.

Island officials last discussed in earnest — and rejected — consolidation and a study by the three cities for employment of a city manager in 2005-06.

Commissioners were scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

HB Mayor Plans