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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Island election winners face difficult issues

The euphoria of victory felt by all the Island winners in the Nov. 2 elections is now replaced by the harsh reality of serious issues those elected officials face.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn easily defeated former Mayor Gary Deffenbaugh, garnering just under 75 percent of the vote in her 877-305 victory. But getting re-elected was the easy part.

"We have some very difficult issues to deal with in the city," said the mayor, including long overdue stormwater improvements, a facelift for the exterior of city hall, a parking plan, a new comprehensive plan due to be completed in early 2005, reviewing and rewriting the land development codes to fit the comp plan, revising the recently completed site-plan review procedures, and keeping the "look" of Anna Maria in the face of rising property values that may force many residents to sell out to investors and move elsewhere - or drive the small businesses the city is famous for out of business.

While some of those issues are questions of policy that will be decided by the city commission (the mayor is a non-voting member of the commission), input from the mayor is often of crucial importance in those decisions. As the city's administrative head, the mayor implements commission policy.

"The next two years are going to be extremely important for our city if we're going to keep it as a residential community with a few small businesses," she said.

"It's significant that the voters approved the direction my administration has taken and I intend to continue to work on solving our issues and helping our residents."

The 2005-06 budget will be of major importance for SueLynn's second term, as a number of projects need to be included without increasing taxes or tapping the reserve account.

For Holmes Beach City Commissioners Sandy Haas-Martens, who led all candidates with 1,480 votes, and Commissioner Roger Lutz who had 1,250 votes, the future also holds some difficult issues.

Lutz said growth, redevelopment and litigation will be critical to the city the next two years as more and more older properties are sold to investors, either for conversion to condominiums or to rebuild a single-family home. The city has to rewrite its comprehensive plan and create a new future land-use map next year, and that's going to be a daunting task for the commission.

"We can't stop all of the redevelopment," said Lutz, "but we can ensure that what is built is compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods and blends in with our community. We've got a lot of work to do."

Lutz, an attorney, has noted the increase in litigation against the city the past year when rich people don't get what they want with a variance or site-plan request.

Haas-Martens, who served as commission chairperson the past year, agreed.

"We've got a lot of work to do the next two years, a lot of reading and updating of our comp plan and codes. We've got to work to protect the character of our city. We don't want it to become another Marco or Sanibel Island," she said.

But with rising property values and accompanying taxes forcing many long-time Island residents to sell out, or "mom and pop" businesses to disappear in favor of condominiums, Haas-Martens said the task won't be easy.

"If we're not careful, Holmes Beach could look a lot different in just a few years than the way it looks now. The commission has a lot of work ahead."