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Date of Issue: March 15, 2007

Anna Maria special event diet: can of worms

The Sandbar Restaurant is famous for a lot of things: a scenic atmosphere, sunsets and lots of good food. One item customers won’t find on the menu, however, is a can of worms.

That specialty was apparently left to the Anna Maria City Commission at its March 8 meeting when it began discussion of plans to change the special event ordinance.

After hearing a host of draft changes to the ordinance proposed by city planner Alan Garrett, Commissioner Dale Woodland said the commission needs to identify “What’s the problem we are trying to fix?”

The problem, at least according to some adjacent and nearby residents, is the Sandbar Restaurant, which received 11 special event permits for outdoor weddings from the commission Feb. 22 that include erection of a tent on the beach for each wedding.

But Woodland cautioned that trying to change the ordinance just because a few people are dissatisfied with the Sandbar “will bring up a whole new set of problems.”     In fact, said Woodland, “The pro and anti-Sandbar people will never come together. We can pass ordinances until the cows come home and won’t satisfy everyone.”

Commission Chairman John Quam noted that everyone is “always talking about one restaurant.” He was concerned with the future, particularly on Pine Avenue. Quam also observed that with a special exception permit, violations of the noise ordinance are permitted.

Palmetto Avenue resident Robin Wall said that she and her husband are subject to loud noises at night from parties. The noises include yelling, music and disc jockeys. They have complained to the police, but nothing was ever put in a police report, she said.

“Our quality of life should not be degraded,” Wall added.

But Mayor Fran Barford said that only two noise complaints have been lodged with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sub-station in Anna Maria for many months. She said she’d check again with the MCSO and ask that a log be kept of any noise complaints.

Marie White, who lives adjacent to the Sandbar, chimed in that she believed that when the Sandbar got permission to build a pavilion for weddings, that would eliminate the need for outdoor weddings, outdoor noise and erection of a tent on the beach.

A special event should not be held at the restaurant every weekend from March to September, she said, noting that she’s just “trying to keep the village great and beautiful.”

Attorney Brendan Rowe, representing William and Barbara Nally who also live adjacent to the Sandbar, said limiting the frequency of special event permits would “go a long way to eliminating problems.”

He also threw Garrett’s proposals under the bus, particularly Garrett’s call for a “major” and “minor” special event permit application process. Rowe said Garrett had “missed completely” the reasons for when and why a special event permit should be issued.

But Anna Maria resident Mark Alonso chimed in on the side of the Sandbar, saying the commission was “on a wild goose chase.” By this action, the city is “not people friendly or business friendly.”

Commissioner Chris Tollette even wondered if having an “awareness” party with about 75 people at a home would require a special event permit. The same question was asked about a Super Bowl party at a private house or even a restaurant. A party of just a few people might require a special event permit.

Enough, said Commissioner Duke Miller.

The ordinance should at least define what a special event permit is, he said. Miller also thought there should be a limit on the number of special event permits received each year by an establishment or organization, but said he didn’t have enough information yet to make any decision.

He suggested that Garrett look at special event permit ordinances from three or four cities, not just the Sanibel ordinance that Wall provided in February, and send those to commissioners to provide an opinion of what changes should be put in the city’s ordinance.

“Until then, we don’t have much to work with,” he said.

Commissioners agreed.

They will send their comments to Garrett, who will re-draft his amendments for discussion and bring permit ordinances from other Florida cities to the April worksession.

The commission also gave consensus for Garrett to include a fee schedule for special event permits that would vary for non-profit organizations and for profit-making ventures.


Lake LaVista

In other commission business, the commission discussed whether or not the city should spend an estimated $65,000 for a study of the Lake LaVista channel depth and bottom and decided to wait on more information from engineer Tom Wilcox.


Uniform setbacks and lot coverage

Commissioners agreed to send suggestions to Garrett on lot coverage and setbacks for all zoning districts in the city, including retail-office-residential.

The commission is looking to get “uniform” standards in all districts and Garrett recommended the same setback requirements for construction in any zone.


City hall

Barford said it will be “months” before the mold and asbestos problems at city hall are fixed and the city can move from its temporary quarters at the Island Baptist Church back to city hall.

The city does have four bids for the project and the mayor will bring  those bids, along with a spreadsheet and timeline, to commissioners to study this week prior to approving a contract. She’ll ask for a special city commission when all the paperwork is ready.