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Work sessions to consider building official, moratorium

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

During the first week in office that included major Holmes Beach issues including a department head hiring to his desk, Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti stands next to Commission Chair Jean Peelen, and one of the two new commissioners, Marvin Grossman, before a meeting to consider the issues. The commission also includes new member Judy Holmes Titsworth. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Two Holmes Beach work sessions are scheduled in the next two weeks to consider the need to replace the recently retired building official and a possible building moratorium.

        The city commission will hear an update on Mayor Carmel Monti’s building official selection at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29.

        Also at 7 p.m., on the following Thursday, Dec. 6, the commission will look at the possibility of a moratorium as a way to give the commission time — without sparking a flood of building permit applications — to decide a course of action for an issue labeled by Commission Chair Jean Peelen as the “big house problem.”

        Joe Duennes, the superintendent who directed the city’s building, public works and code enforcement for more than 15 years, retired earlier this month, leaving the city of Holmes Beach down a department head and building official.

        Duennes oversaw 14 employees and the city’s development, including the issuance of 1,044 permits as of Nov. 19.

        Duennes finalized his retirement with former Mayor Rich Bohnenberger Nov. 8, but an announcement was not made until Duennes’ last day, Nov. 16. It also was nearly Bohnengerger’s last day, as Monti and two new commissioners were sworn into office the morning of Nov. 19.

        At the Nov. 20 city commission meeting, Monti told commissioners — one day after being sworn into office— that three candidates were being considered for Duennes’ replacement, and “to give it a week” and he’d be ready with an update.

        Also at the meeting, the first chaired by Peelen, discussion of a building moratorium came up during agenda items listed as “important substantive issues for commission to address.”

        The substantive issues listed under “big house problem,” included possible floor or living area ratio rules, an underground footer prohibition and a possible one-pool-per-lot rule or including pools in coverage limitations — measures supported by commissioners Judy Holmes Titsworth and Marvin Grossman in their campaigns for office.

        Peelen suggested the underground footer issue be separated for discussion at the next work session but Titsworth interjected that city attorney Patricia Petruff advised a moratorium because of the many development related issues.

        “It’s not just the underground footer, although that is a huge one,” Titsworth said. “As a recommendation from Patty, that’s the only way to deal with it, or the best way to deal with it.”

        According to Petruff’s partner, Stephen Dye, who attended the meeting in her stead, recommended that Petruff, unavailable until the week of Dec. 3, be on hand for work session discussion as well as legal tailoring of such a measure.

        Commissioners then scheduled the discussion for a Dec. 6 work session.

        “My only worry is there is going to be panic in the community between now and the sixth,” Peelen said, adding she’d like to “get the word out there” that what’s being considered is short-term and narrowly crafted.

        Peelen suggested the proposed moratorium be limited by geography and type of building.

        Disagreeing on that point, Commissioner David Zaccagnino said he’d researched the issue earlier in the year, and would bring his findings to the next discussion, but recalled there had to be “a pretty darn good reason to do it.”

        Zaccagnino also reported, “Over the weekend I fielded many, many, many phone calls and concerns about the transition in our city, and am feeling confident after talking to the mayor that there’s going to be a smooth transition. I have complete confidence in him,” he said.

        Zaccagnino said people are concerned because “there are a lot of things in the process right now for a lot of building going on.” He pointed out the construction industry is part of the economy that supports the school and the community center.

        According to Treasurer Lori Hill, the city took in $375,613 in permit fees during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The 2012-13 budget projects $296,000 to be added to the coffers from building permits.

        Newly hired in the building department, David Greene reported to commissioners that there was a current 8-10 permit application backlog, “much less than when I started three weeks ago.”

        “We are still moving forward with building permit processing,” he said.

        With a degree in electrical engineering and 20 years of experience with inspections in the construction industry, Greene expects to gain his plans examiner and inspector license the week of Dec. 5.

        The city hired Greene Oct. 23 after former building inspector Bob Shaffer was fired following discipline for leniency to certain builders.

        According to Greene, both inspections and applications are continuing, with former Longboat Key building official John Fernandez — working for the city on a part-time contractual basis — signing off on inspections.

        In other business, the commission unanimously approved:

• The first reading of an ordinance changing the land development code to require stormwater management plans for residential construction.

• The first reading of an ordinance amending the LDC to require building permit applications within 90 days after site plan approvals, with provisions allowing for one 90-day extensions if approved by the commission and for a site plan expiration if a permit is not maintained.

• A resolution to relocate among 2011-12 budget line items, $10,000 from public works insurance to general government life and health insurance and $20,000 from public works insurance to police department health and life insurance. The budget remains unchanged.

A consensus of commissioners agreed to:

• Split off the regular meeting from work sessions, and hold weekly work sessions at 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

• Begin commissioner office hours in city hall conference room, 5801 Marina Drive, Titsworth on Mondays, Zaccagnino on Tuesdays, Commissioner Pat Morton on Wednedays, Peelen on Thursdays and Commissioner Marvin Grossman on Fridays. Hours for each day will be 10 a.m.-noon.

• Advertise open committee positions by press release to local newspapers and placing them on the city’s website.

• Attempt monthly open houses at city hall.

• Improve audio and video access on the city website.

• Create guidelines for citizen presentations.

• Meet periodically with neighborhood groups, including builders and real estate agents.

• Begin mayoral briefings to individual commissioners on substantive issues with the caveat of Dye’s recommendation the mayor and commissioners abide by sunshine laws, which limit commissioner discussion of public business to open and noticed public meetings.

• Hold shade meetings at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 11, on two ongoing lawsuits, one filed in May against Bradenton Beach and the Sandpiper Resort Co-op, and a second filed last month against Peelen by John F. Agnelli Jr.

• Allow commissioners to contact the city attorneys and to monitor costs.

• Agree to participate in liaison appointments. Liaisons previously have included legislative, parks and beautification, recycling/solid waste, building and grounds, roads, bridges, drainage and canals.

• End the city’s acceptance and lottery of local business gift certificates to employees, and research performance-based incentives.

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