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Date of Issue: November 04, 2009

Felled tree sparks anger, false accusations

Rumors flew in Anna Maria last week as voters prepared to head to the polls Nov. 3 to elect three city commissioners.

One rumor concerned a royal poinciana tree at 303 Pine Ave. that was cut down several days prior to the election.

 An Anna Maria resident said she was told by a “reliable voter” that the poinciana tree at that location was felled in preparation for a project by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC.

Another rumor circulated that Christine Tollette, incumbent candidate for re-election, and political newcomer David Gryboski, who has had no input to city government or tree preservation or landscaping ordinances, were responsible for cutting down the tree.

 Mike Coleman, a PAR principal, said his company does not own the property and has never had any plans for a project at that location.

And Coleman supports incumbent candidate Christine Tollette for re-election.

There were three political signs on the property at the time the tree was cut down — one each for candidates Dale Woodland, Harry Stoltzfus and John Quam.

According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office, the property, located at the southeast corner of Pine Avenue and North Shore Drive, is owned by Waterside Homes, a company owned by Robert and Nicki Hunt of Anna Maria.

The Hunts submitted a site-plan in 2004 for a retail-office-residential project on the property and are proceeding with development following a suit against the city.

The Hunts did not return a phone message left by The Islander and the contractor declined to comment, but it appears the tree was cleared by the owners in order to start construction.

Coleman said, “It's obvious who supports that project, look at the signs in the yard. Frankly, we find it curious that the so-called anti-developers support the largest building currently planned on Pine Avenue and did nothing to stop the wanton destruction of everybody's favorite tree.”

Last weekend, the tree was sprayed-painted with grafitti, saying “The Island loved this tree.”

And Mayor Fran Barford sent a letter to voters decrying false rumors and endorsing Tollette and Gryboski.