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Date of Issue: November 01, 2007

Rezone, property vacation requests draw crowd

The Holmes Beach City Commission wrestled last week with two issues in which there are, all agreed, no take backs - the granting of a rezoning application and the vacating of city property.

On the vacation of property, commissioners made a quick takedown. The majority of commissioners voted against a request from Holmes Beach property owners Richard and Sally Wheeler for the city to vacate about 100 feet of unimproved Fourth Avenue south of 35th Street.

The rezoning application, filed by LaPensee Plumbing to change the zoning at 401 Manatee Avenue from C-1 to C-2, will be reviewed again Nov. 13.

City planning consultant Bill Brisson has expressed concerns about rezoning the property, questioning whether the plumbing business fits in a C-2 zoning category and suggesting that C-3 would open the door to unwanted commercial activity. C-1 is generally for office, C-2 for office and retail and C-3 for office, retail, and more intensive commercial uses.

The city planning commission during a meeting last month endorsed a rezone to C-2, but during a subsequent meeting seemed divided on the issue.

During last week’s meeting, city commissioners held a lengthy public hearing on the rezoning application, which was explained by Mike LaPensee and his wife, Karen, as well as their attorney, Chuck Webb.

“We believe in Holmes Beach. We give back as much as we can. We’re not going to invest in the property and let it go down hill,” Mike LaPensee said, referring to the Manatee Avenue property he wants to buy.

Karen LaPensee added, “Our ability to move to the new site would give us so much elbow room, we’d probably dance.”

Webb presented most of LaPensee Plumbing’s case. He told commissioners that the rezoning request is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and future land-use map, the plumbing business would not impact services or traffic in the area and the LaPensees are eager to beautify the property and continue to be good citizens if they relocate from 5362 Gulf Drive to 401 Manatee Ave.

Webb also refuted concerns that 19 vehicles would be parked overnight at the Manatee Avenue property. He said as many as four vehicles might be parked at the location, not 19.

The attorney added that the Manatee Avenue building is “walking down the road to being a problem property” after a series of vacancies.

The commissioners reviewed several letters from residents for and against the rezoning and then heard from residents attending the meeting.

Two people spoke against the rezoning, a third raised some concerns and a fourth endorsed the application. About two dozen others in attendance raised their hands in a show of support for the LaPensees.

Opposing the application, N.J. Logan, president of the Holmes Beach Condo Association, said the area already gets too much traffic. “Living on the Island,” she said, “was to get away from the hustle and bustle.”

Bill Shuman of Westbay Cove condominiums said he’d like to see the LaPensees put in landscaping to shield the service vehicles from Manatee Avenue.

Barry Gould stated his support for the application after observing that it would have been nice to see such a crowd for the budget hearings held last month.

“In the years since I have been in property management, I’ve seen many service organizations move off the Island to reduce costs,” Gould said. “If the LaPensees were interested in the bottom line, they’d be half-way down Manatee Avenue at half the cost.... And if the DOT gets their way, we’d have to wait 75 days to get our toilets fixed.”

The commissioners unanimously approved a first reading of the ordinance to rezone the property, but after a lot of listening, they continued the discussion on the application to a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The commission did not continue a discussion on the request that the city vacate about 100 feet of property - unimproved Fourth Street - south of 35th Street near the beach.

Richard and Shelly Wheeler of St. Petersburg requested the city vacate the property and, in exchange, offered to provide in perpetuity the public beach access on their Holmes Beach property on 35th Street.

The Wheelers’ application stated, “The property to be vacated is a platted, but unconstructed roadway which runs parallel to the coastline. The vacation of this roadway would not deprive any landowners of access to their property, nor would it deprive public access to the beach, which is available at the western end of 35th Street.

“Additionally, the reversion of this parcel to private ownership would provide the city with revenue through the collection of ad valorem taxes.”

Asked by City Commissioner John Monetti why the Wheelers wanted the property, attorney Derin Parks said the property owners want to “keep it nice and groomed.”

“I think there might be a number of people who think it doesn’t need any improving,” Monetti replied.

Two people spoke against the application - David Spicer, a contractor working on a Holmes Beach home for Jimmy Lee Didier, and Tom Scygiel of the Gulf Beach Place Condo Association.

Scygiel said that he had a good relationship with the Wheelers but warned that once the city vacated the property it could not get it back.

‘The value, it just doesn’t seem that significant,” Scygiel said. “Vacation is irreversible.... To me, that says it all right there.”

Scygiel said that if the vacated property, in combination with other landholdings, could be used for building improvements or a home, it could be worth $500,000.

Spicer said to vacate the property would adversely impact neighbors. He added, “My client is all for keeping the natural Florida look.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said the city would gain a dedicated beach access by vacating the unimproved road. Without vacating the property, the Wheelers or a future property owner could cordon off the beach access.

“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that he could block it off,” said city attorney Patricia Petruff, adding that the city could probably create a beach access point at Fourth Avenue.

Zaccagnino motioned to approve the first reading of an ordinance to vacate the property, but he lacked a second.

“We don’t have to give property away,” said Commissioner Pat Morton. “The only thing I can see is that it’s going to improve (the Wheelers’) property ... right on the beach. I can’t see doing it.”

Commission Chair Sandy Hass-Martens added, “I have a problem vacating something that goes directly to the water.... It’s just too close to the water as far as I’m concerned.”