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Date of Issue: October 14, 2009

Anna Maria monitoring wedding activities

Anna Maria city planner Alan Garrett informed city commissioners at their Oct. 8 meeting that some residences in the city have been advertised on the Internet as wedding sites and that’s a violation of city code.

A residence may be used for a private wedding, Garrett said, but city codes prohibit the commercial use of a single-family home for a wedding.

Garrett became concerned on learning an Internet site advertised an Anna Maria home as a wedding site that could accommodate 60-70 people for the ceremony and reception. The city handled this particular situation without resorting to a code violation, Garrett said.

 But Garrett wanted the commission to be aware of how the city dealt with the problem and asked if the commission wanted stronger language in the ordinance.

“This was a special case. We contacted the property owner, and they had the advertisement removed,” he said.

The property owner had no idea that the rental agent was advertising the property as a wedding location. It is not illegal to rent the house as an accommodation, Garrett pointed out.

“They wanted to be good neighbors and did the right thing.”

Garrett said he wanted to get a “feel” from the commissioners if they felt the ordinance was strong enough as is to halt the marketing and use of residences for weddings, or if stronger language was needed.

“If you see a concern, there is an easy way to remedy the situation,” Garrett said.

He noted that the wedding industry on Anna Maria Island has been growing rapidly and the city gets a number of inquiries each week about a wedding license and laws governing such an event.

Commissioner Dale Woodland, however, said he had no opinion on strengthening the ordinance until he sees if the problem develops further.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick did not want the city to go “overboard” with more regulation.

“That’s not what we want to do,” responded Garrett. “It’s advertising a home for a wedding on a regular basis that we want to watch.”

Garrett said that keeping track of a particular house that has 50 to 60 cars parked at the location each week would be a successful way to monitor the use of residences for a commercial wedding.

City attorney Jim Dye agreed that was a good solution. The city should not try to legislate the advertising of the property as a wedding location as that could become an issue of free speech.

“Focus on the use,” he said.

If the city tried to strengthen the current ban against commercial weddings in a residential zone by prohibiting advertising of the residence, it might be like “kicking an ant pile,” Dye said.

Commissioner Christine Tollette said there should be “absolutely” no commercial weddings in the residential district.

Commission Chairman John Quam favored the city’s current approach to the problem and agreed that no commission action was needed at this time.

However, he asked Garrett and Mayor Fran Barford to monitor the situation and keep the commission informed if they or city staff observe a particular home attracting a large number of vehicles on a regular basis.

Garret and Barford agreed.

If the commission was concerned about an escalating problem, Garrett said he and Dye would come up with a stronger ordinance for commission discussion.

That would cost the city money, Quam noted. Better to just monitor the situation at the present time.

City resident Mike Coleman agreed, saying these types of gatherings are “inappropriate in residential neighborhoods” in Anna Maria and applauded the city for its approach to the problem.

Boundary map

Expanding the city’s boundary to include portions of Bimini Bay appears to be opening a can of worms, according to Barford and Sgt. Dave Turner, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy in charge of the Anna Maria substation.

Turner told commissioners that if the boundary goes into the water, it would create an “unfunded enforcement mandate.”

The commission had directed Barford to expand the city limits after it learned several months ago that it had no jurisdiction over surrounding waters, only the land areas of Anna Maria. The issue arose when a homeowner asked for a variance to build a dock into Bimini Bay and the city discovered that the city limits ended at the water’s edge.

Turner explained that the substation has no watercraft for enforcement in the proposed expansion area and only one deputy at the substation is qualified to enforce Florida’s marine laws.

Barford said she needed direction because the commission had indicated the need to expand the city boundary. The boundary needs to be established as a line that the city can manage, she said.

Dye agreed. “I don’t think the city needs to expand to include more than Galati Marine and the finger piers. Leave Bimini Bay out of it,” he said.

Quam said the simple solution is to move the boundary closer to land and Barford agreed to work on that principle.

She, Garrett and Dye will establish a new boundary line that will meet the needs and current abilities of the MCSO and building department.

In other business, commissioners agreed to have building official Bob Welch publish a current zoning map for the public.