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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Anna Maria variance denied, litigation possible

When is a street not a street? In Anna Maria, a majority of city commissioners believe a street is a street if it's platted, regardless of whether or not it actually exists.

That opinion could eventually lead to another lawsuit against the city.

Commissioners on Oct. 28 denied by a 3-2 vote a variance requested by Dr. John Guggino of 102 Maple Ave. for a five-foot variance to the required 15 feet in preparation for building a new house on the property.

That denial prompted attorney Ricinda Perry to ask for an order with written findings of fact "in preparation for filing an appeal" of the decision with the circuit court. The variance was denied because Commission Chairperson John Quam along with Commissioners Carol Ann Magill and Dale Woodland don't believe Guggino has a hardship to build without the variance.

The issue is whether or not his current house, built in 1923, sits on a corner lot of Gulf Boulevard, which is no longer a through street in that area of Anna Maria. A corner lot requires a 15-foot setback for construction while a side lot needs only 10 feet.

"The house was there before the plat, and the city turned it into a corner lot," thus taking away five feet of setback and creating the hardship, said Perry.

Commissioner Duke Miller agreed the hardship was caused by the city after the house was built, when the area was subdivided in the late 1920s and Gulf Boulevard platted.

"If [the lot] were platted today, he would have a side-yard setback," he said, not a corner lot, and he wouldn't even need a variance. Miller also noted Gulf Boulevard is no longer a through street at that location. In fact, it's not even there.

Guggino had proposed to remedy seven non-conformities currently on the property that have been "grandfathered," in return for the setback variance. Without the variance, he could only build a new house 25 feet wide, he said, and he's not going to do that.

But the commission majority disagreed that he has a hardship.

Woodland said he had concerns with the "uniqueness" of the house and the "precedent" that granting a variance would create. There are numerous 50- by-100-foot lots in the city that sit on the corner of a Gulf Boulevard that is no longer there. The hardship appears to be one of "want," not "what is necessary," he concluded.

Not fair, replied Guggino. "My lot wasn't even platted when the house was built. The corner came later."

But Quam and Magill maintained he could still build a house and meet the current setback requirements, just not the house he wants to build.

Guggino had proposed to construct a two-story-over-parking house and eliminate the detached garage that also serves as an apartment.

The planning and zoning board in a 6-0 vote had recommended denial of the variance.

After the commission decision, Perry made it clear, however, that at this point, her clients were just "weighing options" about any future action.

In other business, commissioners approved a motion to have Mayor SueLynn sign an agreement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District for a matching $270,000 grant for stormwater improvements in the Gladiolus Street area. City Engineer Tom Wilcox said he expects the design phase to start in December and take six to eight months for completion. Prior to the start of any construction, public meetings will be held with area residents and the contract must be put out for bid.

Commissioners also approved an ordinance transferring the Lake LaVista reserve parcel to a non-profit homeowners' association. In return, the association must maintain the property and associated docks, and assume all liability on the parcel.

The commission also agreed to meet in a worksession at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 instead of Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day. The November meeting will be held Nov. 18 as the regularly scheduled date, Nov. 25, is Thanksgiving. The swearing in and organizational meeting for the new commission following the Nov. 2 elections will take place at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12.

Mayor SueLynn said attorney Ralf Brookes will make a presentation Nov. 18 on the proposed mediation agreement for Manatee County and the Island cities with the City of Bradenton over the Arvida-St. Joe Perico Island project (see separate story).

The commission also gave consensus for a height restriction of 27 feet above the crown of the road for new construction in the residential-office-retail, R-2, C-1 and PSP zoning districts. Voting on the actual ordinance was continued to another meeting in order for City Attorney Jim Dye to write the proper legal language for the ordinance.