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Date of Issue: October 20, 2005

Holmes Beach canal issue resolved - almost

Ten years ago, a headline in The Islander newspaper read "Holmes Beach solves T-end canal issue."

Ten years later, the headline reads "Holmes Beach almost solves T-end/Sunrise canal issue."

Well, at least the city is headed towards a solution, if at a somewhat slow pace.

Holmes Beach city commissioners at their Oct. 11 meeting discussed further revisions to the proposed ordinance that will allow the city to lease city-owned canal bottoms and docks to qualified residents in the T-end canal and Sunrise boat basin, yet absolve the city of any liability.

Actually, the city has been trying to solve the current T-end/Sunrise canal issue for the past three years after it discovered that the city owns the canal basin in these particular canals. The proposed draft ordinance has appeared before the commission numerous times the past year, with each successive discussion resulting in more and more "tweaking."

"But we're getting there," said Mayor Carol Whitmore, and commissioners agreed.

"It looks good," said Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens.

The commission did agree that people with a dock in the respective basins who sell their boats can't transfer usage rights with the sale of the boat, only with the sale of the property. Under the draft ordinance, a dock owner selling his or her boat would have 90 days to secure another vessel before relinquishing usage rights.

The commission agreed not to restrict houseboats from docking in either basin. People can still have a houseboat, but they are restricted from a "live aboard" by city codes.

"But that's certainly no reason to say you can't have this type of boat," said Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger.

The commission also struggled with the annual lease for a dock and the amount of insurance each boat should have, noting the need for liability insurance in the event a boat damages a city-owned dock.

The lease price will be fair, said Commissioner Roger Lutz, and will ensure the city is not in the money-making business, just covering its costs.

The city has already agreed to build docks in the Sunrise basin - including one that will meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act - then lease the spaces back to those residents with a legitimate claim to a dock in Sunrise.

Commissioners also agreed the proposed ordinance should have language that, while some people still claim to own the bottom land, the city does not recognize those claims, but will give those persons preference for dock space.

In other business, the commission agreed to give the Menendez family until Nov. 15 to submit another application for a street variance after attorney Mark Barnebey requested an extension of the original Oct. 26 deadline. Commissioners agreed Nov. 15 would be the "drop dead" date for the vacation request, which has been ongoing for the past 18 months. The commission has already denied one vacation request.

Commissioners also discussed Whitmore's proposal to charge large developers for major consultations with the city (The Islander, Oct. 5), and generally agreed that the "open door" policy of building officials had been abused by major developers.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff noted that it's common in other municipalities such as Sarasota and for the Manatee County government to charge a developer for an "administrative determination." The fee would not apply to simple questions from residents, just the as-yet-undefined major projects proposed by the "rich developers."

She said developers recently have simply "dropped by" the building official's office with a large set of plans to discuss what they'd like to do. They would then take this conversation back and send a formal letter to the city implying that the building official had given permission for the project.

"They are trying to make a formal record stating that the city has already told them what they can build," said Petruff. Implementing a fee and formal application process for major projects would eliminate any confusion over who said what and not tie up the building official in several hours of "informal" conversation about a major project.

Besides, said Whitmore, if someone wants to build a $10 million project, they can certainly afford to hire their own land-use attorney and professional planner, not rely upon a conversation with a building official for approval of their plans.

The commission must still approve the final proposal in the form of an ordinance before any fees are initiated.