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Date of Issue: October 14, 2009

Anna Maria commission race heats up

The gloves are off in the Anna Maria election campaign for the three city commission seats up for election Nov. 3.

Commission candidate Harry Stoltzfus claims challenger David Gryboski is backed by the city’s business interests, and Stoltzfus says incumbent Christine Tollette, who is seeking re-election, also is in that category.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Gryboski has sided with the developers and I believe Tollette has also,” said Stoltzfus in a recent interview.

Stoltzfus, declined to identify the business interests, noting that there are many developers involved in projects in Anna Maria.

In addition to putting Gryboski and Tollette on the side of business, Stoltzfus also took exception to what he claimed were “major concessions” made by the city commission for parking and ingress and egress in the city’s retail-office-residential district. Those concessions are a safety hazard for motorists and pedestrians, he said, and benefited the developers, not the residents.

Stoltzfus said those same developers should “do better in the future or take steps on their own to mitigate the obvious hazards existing now.”

The parking issue is not the only concern Stoltzfus has with developers in the ROR.

“A lot of concessions have been made in the ROR that should not have been made,” said Stoltzfus, particularly the commission decision following the 2007 adoption of the revised comprehensive plan to allow split ownership of ROR units.

“Anna Maria has lost a lot of ground” because of these decisions,” he said.

“It was a mistake to give these concessions and they should be taken back,” he said.

Stoltzfus also indicated that there are not enough “pro-residential” commissioners on the commission and “three or four commissioners” who are “pro-resident” are needed to prevent a takeover.

Stoltzfus said, “Some of us have no ax to grind, but there are others supported by the business community with an ax to grind.”

What’s needed is a “better balance between development and residential peace of mind,” he said.

If elected, Stoltzfus said he would have the commission discuss whether or not a minimum rental period was needed in the Residential 1 district for a single-family home rental, and he is opposed to allowing residential units in the ROR to be rented.

Stoltzfus also claimed that a few years ago, several Pine Avenue businesses “shot down” an effort to construct a bike path in the city.

While Stoltzfus said he “personally” would prefer that all houses in Anna Maria be occupied by residents, he added “that’s not going to happen.”

“Many property owners need rentals to help defray the cost of ownership on the Island and I wouldn’t want to discourage that in any way. I’m not going to impose my personal preferences on the people of Anna Maria.”

Stoltzfus made no mention of incumbent commissioners John Quam and Dale Woodland, who are both seeking re-election.

Tollette later responded that Stoltzfus is apparently not aware of the all the debate, discussion and public input that went into the comprehensive plan and, ultimately, passage this year of the ordinance allowing multiple ownership of an ROR structure.

Decisions about how the city’s ROR district should be

operated and controlled were not made overnight, but after nearly four years of debate, she said.

That debate included the two years she was on the commission before the revised comp plan passed in November 2007.

At that time, commissioners and residents had “a real concern that we would lose the Pine Avenue business district to the larger homes like those that were built where Island Marine used to be,” she said.

The decision on ROR ownership was made to stimulate economic investment in ROR structures on Pine Avenue. The alternative, Tollette said, would have been the tear-down of the older Anna Maria cottages on Pine Avenue and the construction of two-story over parking “mega-mansions.”

Tollette noted that the commission voted 4-1 to allow multiple ownership of ROR structures.

Any suggestion that she favors business interests over the residents is ludicrous, she said, noting that she voted against a variance request by a developer that had an issue with parking on Pine Avenue.

Tollette also opposed the suggestion of a motel district in the city and is against any new motels, condominiums or housing sub-divisions, and opposes any minimum rental period for rental properties.

“When people can’t find legitimate complaints against one candidate or another, they start calling them names to see what will stick,” she said.

Gryboski laughed when he heard he was backed by business interests, but did admit that John Cagnina, son of the late Anna Maria Mayor Ernie Cagnina, encouraged him to enter the election. The Cagnina family owns the “old IGA” and some residential properties in the city.

“That means I’ve been campaigning on both sides, the business owners and the residents,” Gryboski said.

He declined to enter a discussion about residents- versus-business interests, saying such talk was “counter-productive” and only served to divide the community.
“It’s not helpful to get into that kind of division,” he said.

Gryboski said the lack of any minimum rental period for single-family structures was “working well” for the city and tourism, and there’s no reason to examine that issue.

 “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

 Stoltzfus, Gryboski and Tollette, along with Woodland and Quam will have the opportunity to discuss their positions with city voters and each other at The Islander Politics and Popcorn event at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 19, at the newspaper office, 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach in the Island Shopping Center.