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Budget cut irks tourism officials

Don’t expect area and state tourism supporters to throw a luau for legislators anytime soon.

Concluding a dispute with Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature that played out like a bloody game of intramural rugby, the Legislature earlier this month cut the budget of Visit Florida, the state’s public-private tourism agency, from $76 million to $25 million, as part of the state’s $82.4 million fiscal year 2017-18 budget.

John Horne, chief executive officer of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, says Visit Florida has been “touting the brand of tourism in Florida. They have spent the money to tell people about” Florida, hoping tourists will visit the state.

Horne commented to The Islander while attending the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau’s National Tourism Week celebration May 12 at the convention center in Palmetto. Proponents of Visit Florida held off legislators’ attempt to eliminate the agency entirely from the budget, he said.

“We need someone marketing the state of Florida,” Horne added.

Visit Florida officials will have to figure out how to maximize a smaller budget. Ken Lawson, president and chief executive officer of the agency, was a guest speaker at the Manatee event.

Lawson, a native Floridian who described himself as “passionate,” addressed audience members with the enthusiasm of a football coach, thanking them for supporting efforts to stave off the cuts.

For Lawson, it’s halftime and his team is losing, but the game is not over.

“You don’t know how much I appreciate you for what you’ve done for the last several months in helping Visit Florida fight this fight in Tallahassee,” the former  secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation said, adding that people who work in tourism-related businesses will be impacted.

“The Legislature decided to engage in a philosophical debate. But the thing is they are debating about our economic health and the ability of 4.4 million Floridians to get to work for their families and live their lives,” he said.

Lawson, who took over Visit Florida in January, said the Legislature put “handcuffs” on his agency, hindering Florida’s ability to compete with other states for tourists from both the United States and overseas. Lawson said tourism adds value to Manatee County and to every community in the state.

“We know that with Visit Florida being an umbrella, small, medium and large markets can sell themselves across America and the world,” he said.

When tourists spend their vacation dollars in Florida, they are likely to pay a resort tax and sales tax. Manatee County resort taxes are allocated by the county commission on recommendations from the tourist development council.

Through advertising, public relations and other means, the CVB promotes the county in concert with Visit Florida’s state promotions. Lawson says the state gets $3.20 in increased tax revenue for every $1 it spends on destination marketing.

During his annual state of county tourism speech to the media, prior to the celebration, CVB executive director Elliott Falcione noted that 112 million people visited the state in 2016. Visit Florida brings awareness to the state, he said, but it’s the CVB’s job to “pull them in” to Manatee County, including Anna Maria Island.

He added that after the CVB gets tourists to the county line, it’s up to the local tourism industry to pull them to their businesses.

But with the Visit Florida budget being cut by more than two-thirds, Falcione said, Florida will lose its ability to be top-of-mind in the marketplace.

“I guarantee California or New York will send us all Christmas cards every year, or thank you cards, for the budget being reduced in Florida.”

Public safety forum joins Holmes Beach outreach effort

The public works department is building an audience for a forum in Holmes Beach.

The public works forum, part of a series of open community meetings, will take place in the Holmes Beach commission chambers at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18. Previous forums covering code enforcement and the police department featured an hour-long presentations and 30 minutes for questions and comments.

Commissioner Carol Soustek told the audience and commissioners at a May 9 meeting the previous forums have been “cotton-picking interesting” and encouraged everyone to attend.

“These meetings are very, very good,” Soustek said.

Building official Jim McGuinness, public works foreman Dave Benton and city engineer Lynn Burnett will conduct the forum. Benton will discuss environmental stewardship for parks, beaches and rights of ways, along with emergency management procedures for roads, sidewalks, signs and storms. Burnett will talk about drainage, boardwalks and wetlands. McGuinness will provide the introduction.

“You’d be amazed at the amount of work that this public works department does,” Soustek said. “Their list is endless.”

Holmes Beach City Hall is at 5801 Marina Drive.

Another Holmes Beach-Bert Harris case heads to courthouse

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The fourth Bert Harris lawsuit against Holmes Beach — attacking the city’s short-term rental occupancy rule — was served May 9 on Mayor Bob Johnson.

That same day, Holmes Beach commissioners met and spoke publicly for the first time about resolving the mounting claims and resulting litigation.

As of May 12, 54 pending claims, including four lawsuits, allege nearly $25 million in losses based on the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act.

Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes filed the newest suit in 12th Circuit Court over its property 211 54th St. The lawsuit builds on a November 2016 claim for a $395,000 loss blamed on the city occupancy rule.

The act gives property owners the right to sue for compensation against municipalities that inordinately burden property rights when their initial claim goes unresolved.

Three other lawsuits against the city were filed in 2017 — by Bob and Ellen McCaffrey for 7003 Holmes Blvd., the Patricia H. Hutchinson Trust for 104 75th St. and Swackhamer, Bmeehan and Kmeehan investment companies for 106 75th St.

Petruff called the new lawsuit filed by the FGCVH, a vacation rental company owned by Joe and Kelly Varner of Holmes Beach, the first “clear-cut occupancy” challenge. The city VRO allows up to 16 occupants in the eight-bedroom home.

“Their claim is they have regularly rented to 19,” she said.

A May 9 agenda item set up the commission discussion.

Petruff brought up the matter to discuss a “path forward” for settlement offers, particularly the occupancy cases.

“You don’t have enough insurance if you start losing these Bert Harris cases,” Petuff warned.

Of 54 pending claims, the city attorney said eight claims allege losses from four or more ordinances, while 41 claims relate to the occupancy rule.

Bert Harris claimants also allege inordinate burdens from other city rental and duplex regulations, such as parking, pool and building limits, enacted 2013-16, which hadn’t impacted their neighbors in the past.

Petruff suggested commissioners could discuss settlement options, such as the “Anna Maria-option” of “two per bedroom, plus two” at a work session.

The city of Anna Maria has settled some 58 of 112 claims, all of which have city offers extended, by relaxing its eight-person maximum occupancy rule.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said it troubled her to speak in public about litigation.

Mayor Bob Johnson said the Bert Harris topic was brought as “information,” not as an “urgent” matter.

“Quite honestly, there’s a lot of questionable claims from a layman’s perspective.”

After the meeting, Peelen said attorneys who bring the Bert Harris cases “fish for these cases” and may hope the city runs out of insurance.

The city has a 150-day period to respond to a claim with a settlement offer, which can include an offer of no change in government action.

If a settlement offer made by the city to the property owner is declined, the next step for resolution is for the owners to sue in court.

Thus far, the city has responded with no-change letters in 13 pending Bert Harris claims.

The next city response is due in June.

Aqua By The Bay development proposal draws ire

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More than 100 people gather April 29 to protest at the traffic circle at El Conquistador Parkway and 75th Street in unincorporated Manatee County near the proposed 529-acre development site for Aqua By The Bay. Please, see page 4 for more on Aqua By The Bay. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
The 529-acre parcel fronting Sarasota Bay is being readied for Aqua By The Bay. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Key players Jane von Hahmann, left, Stu Smith, Judy Johnson and Joe McClash gather at the April 29 protest to rally support in opposition to the proposed Aqua By The Bay development. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Mark Coarsey marked this aerial photo, where Aqua By The Bay appears on the left and the Legends Bay development on the right, to show where he observed mangrove trimming — the entire stretch of the Legends Bay shoreline. It was unclear from a DEP contact person if the former property owner’s mangrove-trimming permit had transferred to the new owner, Carlos Beruff. Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Mangroves were cut within the past few weeks at Legends Bay, a development on Sarasota Bay next to the proposed Aqua By The Bay. Islander Photo: Mark Coarsey

For about two hours April 29, the traffic-calming roundabout at El Conquistador Parkway and 75th Street in unincorporated Manatee County adjacent to a planned large-scale mixed-use development was anything but calm.

About100 environmentalists, commercial fishers and neighbors — protesting in advance of a May 4 Manatee County Commission meeting — chanted “No Way, Aqua Bay,” waved to cars, which honked in support, and spoke to onlookers about the issues.

The meeting is set for the proposed Aqua By The Bay general development plan and rezone.

In addition to an upland large-scale commercial and residential development on the 529-acre site, developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman propose to operate 260 acres of submerged lands as a mitigation bank.

Rally organizers Stuart Smith and Andy Mele of Suncoast Waterkeeper Inc. and the local Sierra Club, and former Manatee County Commissioners Joe McClash and Jane von Hahmann hoped to create a groundswell of opposition and increase attendance at the May 4 meeting.

Other groups and neighborhoods represented included Cortez-based Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Fishing for Freedom, Tidy Island, Legends Bay, Harbor Sound, Coral Shores and the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Aboriginal Peoples.

Mele summarized some of the issues in a position paper widely distributed before the rally.

“Beruff and his agents show one proposal to the DEP to get the bogus mitigation bank approved, with no mention of the dredged lagoon or upland development, another proposal to Swiftmud for wetlands dredge-and-fill permits, and a third proposal to the county.”

The proposed 2.5-mile lagoon and seawalls to run the length of the development are part of the developers’ applications to the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. However, the proposals are not in front of the DEP.

The plan submitted to Swiftmud fails to consider the upland development.

The county will not consider the mitigation bank.

Von Hahmann and McClash compared the developers’ 2013 proposal — which included plans to dredge a canal for an upland marina and hotel complex — to Beruff’s latest iteration.

In 2013, when the developers sought to amend the county’s comp plan, Beruff sued the county, challenging the constitutionality of the county’s coastal rules, and lost. The case was decided in 2016.

McClash called it a “dishonest approach” and von Hahmann said it a “very piecemeal.” Both believe it’s part of his plan to develop an upland marina.

Mele concludes: “In the middle of this shell game is one inalienable fact: Our communities do not want this crooked developer or this level of development on this shoreline and demand that critically important mangrove habitat be left untouched.”

 

‘Time certain’ set for Aqua discussion at county meeting

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners has set a time certain — 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at the Manatee County Commission chambers, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton — to consider a development on the Sarasota Bay, Aqua By The Bay.

Developer Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman-controlled companies, Long Bar Pointe and Cargor Partners VIII, propose a large-scale, mixed-use subdivision between the bay and El Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton.

The proposed development is a few miles south and east of Cortez and Anna Maria Island, across from Longboat Key.

Proposed are 2,894 homes and 78,000 square feet of commercial space, a 2.5-mile lagoon and seawalls running the length of the site as well as high-rise buildings on the shoreline.

The number of high-rise buildings depends on which Beruff-Lieberman plan they consider.

A county staff report counted two high rises — a 13-story and a five-story building, at 145 feet and 75 feet in height.

The plan submitted to the Southwest Florida Water Management District April 12 depicts 24 shoreline buildings, each 150-feet tall.

The developers are asking the county to rezone 191 acres.

A 260-acre mitigation bank for the submerged lands is pending state and federal permits.

People interested in speaking at the BOC meeting may sign up before the May 4 hearing with Bobbi Roy, Manatee County planning coordinator. Her email is bobbi.roy@mymanatee.org.

 

Mangrove fringe cut at Legends Bay development

Is a dead mangrove fringe the future for Aqua By The Bay?

Mark Coarsey, a Cortez commercial fisherman whose livelihood depends on the bounty of fish in Sarasota Bay, recently reported mangrove trimming on the shore of Legends Bay, a subdivision on Sarasota Bay.

It is adjacent to the proposed Aqua By The Bay project.

“It’s only going to get worse,” he said, noting development trends and having seen hacked mangroves April 14.

Sarabay Associates LLLP holds a 2006 DEP mangrove trimming permit for Legends Bay.

The subdivision is mostly owned by a Carlos Beruff-controlled entity, Legend Bay Real Estate LLC, which purchased 80 lots in December 2016. Beruff also is a principal in the Aqua development.

Coarsey said he sees “one developer after another” cut mangroves, adding he reported similar mangrove slashing near Tidy Island in the past year.

“Pretty soon we won’t have a tree left,” he added.

Angela Collins, Sea Grant scientist with the University of Florida extension office in Palmetto, helped Coarsey report the occurrence April 24 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

She agreed with the fisher and called the cutting “really bad.”

Mangrove trees start dying and birds abandon the mangroves when they’re cut, Coarsey said.

A site visit was arranged April 26 by DEP environmental specialist Andrea Grainger.

“We confirmed the activities at the site were in accordance with the permit conditions,” DEP public information officer Dee Ann Miller wrote in an Apri1 28 email.

“While most of the work at the site involved removal of Brazilian pepper, any observed mangrove trimming was found to be in compliance with the general permit,” she added.

Kathy Prucnell

Anna Maria finalizes last of more than 112 Bert Harris offers

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy announced April 27 at a city commission meeting that city attorney Becky Vose had successfully drafted initial offers for all 112 Bert Harris claims received in response to its vacation rental ordinance.

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 and settlements, in lieu of cash payments, can either fully or partly restore the rights that existed prior to the prohibitions. The city initially has 150 days to respond to Bert Harris allegations.

Bert Harris claims began coming to Anna Maria after the city’s vacation rental ordinance went into effect April 2016. The ordinance includes an occupancy maximum of eight people, which has prompted the majority of the claims.

The commission approved seven counter offers for property owners who rejected initial offers from the city.

The counter offers include occupancy for 10-14 people per property. For five of the seven counter offers, the city responded by sticking to its previous offers.

To date, the city has settled 59 Bert Harris claims. Fifty pending claims await action from the claimant and three require a counter offer from the city.

One of the 50 pending claims includes a potential purchase offer. Commissioners authorized an offer April 6 on 801 N. Shore Drive, giving property owners James and Jeanette DePorre the option to accept an occupancy rate of 12 or a purchase offer of $2.27 million.

Vose said there had been no response from the DePorres as of April 27.

Jeannie and Bill Bystrom, Holmes Beach residents and owners of the Stillshores apartments at 604 N. Shore Drive, approached the commission for a second time April 27 requesting that the city consider exempting their property, and others in Anna Maria like theirs, from the VRO.

According to the Bystroms, there are only three properties in Anna Maria that consist of four or more units.

Their four units in the duplex cannot legally be filled by occupants under the current law, said Jeannie Bystrom.

She also pointed out that although current city law would allow the couple to keep the units full if they rent them for a month or more at a time, they rarely find renters looking for a lengthy stay.

Vose said the city could not offer them an exemption from the ordinance outside of a Bert Harris settlement.

Chair Doug Copeland told the Bystroms that, depending on how legislation pending in the Florida House and Senate unfolds, the issue could be moot within the next few weeks.

Future AMI bridge aesthetics undergo final review

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Members of the Anna Maria Island Aesthetics Advisory Committee meet April 26 to review how they will present their recommendations for the Anna Maria Island Bridge in a public meeting. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

Design recommendations for a new Anna Maria Island Bridge are complete, but when it will be built remains to be seen.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge Aesthetics Advisory Committee met April 26 at the Bradenton Public Works Department, 1411 Ninth St. W., Bradenton, to finalize draft recommendations for the proposed 65-foot, fixed-span Anna Maria Island Bridge.

The committee began meeting in June 2016 to consider features for the bridge, including color palette, landscaping and design elements.

The committee’s final recommendations include a bridge with mudline footing, panel railing in the shape of a sunset, blue hammerhead piers with sea turtle impressions, and wall impressions of manatees, turtles and pelicans.

The bridge approaches will have native palm trees lining the road in groupings and in rows for a focus on bold landscaping that emphasizes trees over shrubbery, and includes canopy trees, such as silver buttonwood.

A trail for pedestrians and bikers will line both sides of the bridge structure and small pocket parks on both landing ends will feature palm trees and benches.

The committee was formed by the Florida Department of Transportation strictly for aesthetics, without consideration for the bridge budget.

The bridge, which will replace the existing Anna Maria Island Bridge that opened to traffic in 1957, is not yet funded.

A public meeting to present the committee’s recommendations will be scheduled for late 2017 or early 2018, pending more information on when the bridge design will move forward, according to DOT project manager Rick Lilyquist.

Lilyquist said “the official role of the committee is complete,” but the members could be consulted if any questions or difficulties arise.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon recommended the committee hold a public meeting during season to reach out to a large number of property owners and snowbirds. “You’ll probably have better participation” if the meeting is scheduled before Easter 2018, Shearon said.

The members of the AAC include Dean Jones, Anna Maria public works manager; Jim McLellan, Bradenton public works director; Shearon; Bob Rosas, Holmes Beach resident; Alan Lai Hipp, Manatee County project manager; Ingrid McClellan, Keep Manatee Beautiful executive director; and Nancy Deal, member of the Save Anna Maria Island organization.

CRA approves Bradenton Beach new pier AC, torn on funding

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A wooden deck on the roof of the Historic Bridge Street Pier, 200 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach, supports an air conditioner that leaks into the Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar. The problematic AC unit on the roof that cools AMOB on the city pier will soon be replaced by the city. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency approved a bid for engineering and construction for new air conditioners for the restaurant at the Historic Bridge Street Pier, but questions were raised as to who will pay.

In a special meeting April 25, Bradenton Beach public works director Tom Woodard presented a bid recommendation for Southern Cross Contracting Inc. to complete the work on the city pier.

The bid, including engineering by Delta Contracting & Inspection Inc. came in at $73,536.89 for construction of two air conditioning decks and the impacted roof area.

Wooden posts and the deck that support the air conditioners are wicking moisture, causing roof damage and leaks in the restaurant, which is leased to Anna Maria Oyster Bar.

AMOB is owned by CRA-member John Horne, who recused himself from the bid vote.

CRA-member Bill Shearon said he is concerned that the CRA is under-budgeted for the project at $70,000.

“The proper way to do this would be to have a budget amendment before we spend the money,” Shearon said.

Woodard said about $25,000 of the budgeted amount is for the air conditioners and the $70,000 appropriation was not based on estimates or bids. So the board would need to amend the budget.

Additionally, Woodard said AMOB would need to close for two weeks for the installation, which is planned for September.

CRA-member Ed Chiles asked how much AMOB pays in rent to the city, to which Horne replied, $8,000 per month.

Chiles said he doesn’t understand why the CRA has to pay for the project if the city collects $8,000 a month rent.

The money from AMOB’s rent goes into the city’s pier fund account, which currently has “north of $400,000,” according to city treasurer Shane Thompson.

CRA-chair Ralph Cole said the construction on the pier would be “enhancing the building with a new structure,” which is the intent of the CRA.

The CRA board budgets incremental tax dollars to enhance the historic district and promote tourism, but does not fund pier maintenance, which falls to the city.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, who chairs the pier team — a recommending body comprising Speciale, Woodard, Horne and building official Steve Gilbert — said there are two issues to be funded by the two entities — the CRA and the city.

Speciale said since the pier rebuild in 2014 was a CRA project, this structural replacement should be funded by the CRA, but the reimbursement to AMOB should be funded by the city as maintenance.

“Because it’s a city business issue, not a structural issue,” Speciale said.

CRA-member Jake Spooner said he does not think the city is using all of AMOB’s rent money on pier maintenance.

Thompson reminded the board that since the pier cannot be insured, money in the pier fund serves as a “reserve catastrophic event fund.”

Shearon said his recommendation would be to turn the project back over to the city.

“Take the CRA right out of it,” Shearon said, citing the complexities associated with determining which body should fund the project.

Shearon motioned to switch the funding source to the city and Chiles seconded the motion.

But the board decided the motion should be amended to include input from city attorney Ricinda Perry.

CRA-vice chair John Chappie suggested the body approve the bid from Southern Cross so they can move forward with the project, and Thompson and Perry could work out the math.

Shearon withdrew his motion.

Chiles motioned to accept the bid from Southern Cross and to instruct the city attorney to provide the funding instructions.

The motion passed unanimously, with Horne recusing himself.

The next CRA meeting will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 3, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Center plans city funding approval to alleviate year-end gap

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Center of Anna Maria Island staff and supporters arrive at Anna Maria City Hall April 27. The center board met April 26, a day after the April 25 Holmes Beach city meeting and a day before the April 27 Anna Maria city meeting where officials discussed funding options for the center. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

The Center of Anna Maria Island hopes funding from Holmes Beach and Anna Maria will decrease the nonprofit’s growing deficit before its fiscal year ends June 30.

However, even maximum city funding is unlikely to cover the majority of the year’s $190,000 deficit for the center.

The center board met April 26 to review financial reports for March and discuss programming, as well as summer plans for the community center.

According to board treasurer Jim Froeschle, the center will be $200,000 or more in the red by June 30.

For March, the center brought in $80,900 and spent $110,100, leaving the organization $29,200 in the red for the month.

Fundraising has been the biggest source of revenue for the center, with $433,200 raised since July 2016.

Only the sports program has earned income to offset direct expenses. However, the income does not cover overhead or indirect expenses.

Center staff and supporters appealed to Holmes Beach commissioners April 25 and Anna Maria  commissioners April 27 for city funding.

Holmes Beach contributed $10,000 and the city of Anna Maria put in $18,600.

The organization presented an impact report for the government officials to review that claimed 902 Anna Maria residents and 784 Holmes Beach residents participated in some manner at the center in the 2016-17 fiscal year based on data collected from users.

Approximately 1,500 people live in Anna Maria and 3,800 people live in Holmes Beach, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

In other news, the center board voted to add four new members: Holmes Beach resident Don Purvis, who recently played the starring role in the center’s murder mystery fundraiser, Longboat Key resident Emma Stringer, Frank Agnelli of the Holmes Beach-based Agnelli Pools and Construction, and former Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino.

The board currently sits at 17 members.

The center also is looking ahead to the summer. Along with a crawfish boil and Kentucky Derby celebration May 6, the center is registering children for its summer camp.

The next center board meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday, May 22, at the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Cortez, Sunny Shores push for long-term traffic solution

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Cortez businessman John Banyas and resident Jane von Hahmann talk in the lobby at the Holiday Inn, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota, before the April 24 meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Board. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
At the April 24 MPO board meeting, David Gywnn, Department of Transportation director of operations, explains options for changing traffic flow at 119th Street and Cortez Road West, part of a $3.7 million project between 86th Street West and 123rd Street West.
Bob Slicker, Swordfish Grill general manager, urges state and regional transportation officials April 24 to consider a long-term plan for Cortez Road.
Manatee County Commissioner Steve Jonsson, one of two county representatives on the MPO board, voices support for a permanent solution to address the 119th Street bottleneck.

Residents of Cortez and Sunny Shores met April 24 in Sarasota where their concerns merged for a long-term traffic fix for the Cortez Road West stranglehold.

At the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting — including an audience packed with residents — the Florida Department of Transportation presented its newest plans for the Cortez Road Safety Improvement Project with a $3.7 million budget.

DOT recommendations include an interim solution to be in place by the end of 2017.

According to David Gywnn, DOT director of operations, four 119th Street intersection options are under consideration:

  • Leave as is.
  • Remove the signal.
  • Modify intersection control to restrict movements.
  • Realign 119th Street from a staggered intersection, now with north and south legs separated by 200 feet on Cortez Road, into a “plus” intersection — if the corner at the Florida Maritime Museum property can be used.

Gywnn said the realignment “would probably be the best long-term solution” and predicted construction in the summer of 2019.

He also recommended the interim solution to modify the signal “so it’s not controlling the south leg” and to allow continuous — but for pedestrian option — eastbound traffic flow.

Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly said the change would be “very, very significant” to help get traffic off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in peak season.

Manatee County Commissioner Steve Jonsson thanked the DOT for delaying the process — in apparent reference to the DOT’s backpedal in mid-April on a proposal to eliminate a left-turn signal from Cortez Road West onto the south leg of 119th Street after the plan stirred opposition in Cortez.

Jonsson’s county district includes Cortez and Anna Maria Island.

He was the first to ask for a permanent solution.

“Before we agree to an interim plan,” he said, “I’d like to know what the permanent fix is going to be,” calling it “a mess” for the past 20 years.

With more traffic in Cortez and the future development of Peninsula Bay, “It’s something we should address sooner rather than later,” he added.

 

Cortez speaks out

John Banyas, owner of the Cortez Bait & Seafood, Cortez Kitchen, Swordfish Grill and N.E. Taylor Boatworks at the bay end of 119th Street, said it is “virtually impossible” for trucks — without taking out corners of people’s homes — to make turns on the village streets.

Banyas said 80 trucks — with 53-foot-long refrigeration containers — make the turns weekly in and out of 119th Street along with daily traffic from vehicles of 142 employees, mechanics, customers and others.

“We have a lot more traffic than you’re thinking,” Banyas said.

An April DOT study indicated a one-day count of 60-65 left turns per hour from Cortez Road south onto 119th Street — four times the number of such turns the DOT counted in 2014.

Jane von Hahmann, who lives and owns commercial property at the corner of 119th Street, said the DOT did not approach her about the prior plans.

She presented the MPO with a petition signed by 176 people, including 106 patrons of Cortez Kitchen April 22, who oppose removing a dedicated westbound left turn onto the south leg of 119th Street from Cortez Road.

“I like the idea that we’re stepping away from the no-left turn” from Cortez Road south on 119th Street, von Hahmann said, but, she added, she opposes the concept of eliminating 119th Street westbound left turns.

Due to the plan to de-signalize eastbound Cortez Road traffic, she predicted it will force westbound motorists wanting to turn left from the southside of the village onto Cortez Road “to play that shoot-the-gap game.”

Bob Slicker, Swordfish Grill general manager, implored the MPO and DOT to look long-term.

“Before you change our roads … in the oldest fishing village in the state of Florida,” Slicker said, planners should look at accurate traffic numbers, pedestrian traffic and the future development build-out.

Sunny Shores resident Vern Palsrok said two crosses have memorialized people who died at “very dangerous intersection” at 115th Street and Cortez Road.

At that intersection, motorists who want to turn left on Cortez Road from Sunny Shores must cross two lanes in a 45-mph zone.

Palsrok claimed DOT data indicating four fatalities is outdated — that an additional nine people have died at the intersection since 2015. He also said the neighborhood residents feel trapped in the subdivision.

“We’d love an on-demand light,” he added.

Palsrok reminded planners of the future development of Peninsula Bay, “We’re surrounded by the flower farm soon to be developed.”

In October 2016, Manatee County commissioners approved Peninsula Bay, with an expected build out over 12 years.

Developer Whiting Preston, owner of Manatee Fruit Co., plans 1,950 homes and 90,000 square feet of commercial space on 360 acres and access to Cortez Road West at 107th, 115th and 119th streets.

 

MPO concerns, DOT response

Another problem identified by MPO board members is a place where two westbound lanes merge into one on Cortez Road.

Motorists navigate around backed-up traffic in the right-hand merge lane or turn right and travel through neighborhoods to avoid the 119th Street bottleneck, according to Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac, who is an MPO member.

“Basically, they don’t like it that the lane ends,” she said.   Gywnn said the improvements to the “extremely inefficient” 119th intersection should solve the backup and eliminate the line-cutting and neighborhood shortcuts.

Benac also asked whether a roundabout at 119th Street using FMM property had been ruled out as a solution.

“We’ll look at it again,” Gwynn said, “but it may not be the best approach for that intersection.”

 

Deed restriction muddles DOT’s options for Cortez Road

A permanent fix to the 119th Street bottleneck on Cortez Road may depend on whether obtaining a right of way is permissible under a deed restriction for the Florida Maritime Museum.

The property is encumbered by the Florida Community Trust bond that funded 1999-2000 renovations for the 1912 Cortez School — now the museum.

The deed restriction provides the property “shall be managed only for conservation, protection and enhancement of natural and historic resources” and for compatible “passive natural resource-based public outdoor recreation.”

“Folks are looking into it,” David Gwynn, director of operations for the Florida Department of Transportation, said regarding whether the property can be used for a public safety project.

Gwynn said he’s spoken to a representative of the Manatee County Circuit Clerk’s office, who didn’t think it was an allowable use.

He also spoke with Bradenton Beach Commissioner John Chappie, an FMM board member, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and Manatee County’s public works director Ron Schulhofer.

Manatee County Commissioner Jonsson wrote in an April 27 email, “At this point, I have no new information other than the county is in discussions with appropriate parties to reserve the options.”

Gwynn said April 28 he is still waiting for a county or circuit clerk representative to figure out a “legal way” to use the FMM property.