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Date of Issue: March 29, 2007

Sandbar gets rave reviews

Pavilion parties
The newly constructed pavilion at the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria is hosting outdoor weddings. The pavilion is part of an on-going renovation project that includes the construction of rest rooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sandbar owner Ed Chiles said those facilities should be in operation around April 1. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The old saying that "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" might have applied at the Anna Maria city commission's March 22 meeting when commissioners discussed 13 special event permit applications for April and May from the Sandbar Restaurant.

In somewhat of a surprise for Anna Maria, nobody at the meeting came in opposition to the applications or the restaurant, which has drawn considerable fire from nearby residents at previous commission meetings that dealt with issues related to the Sandbar.

This time around, however, a number of residents and business owners spoke in praise of the Sandbar and owner Ed Chiles.

Even Mark Morris, who lives near the Sandbar on Spring Avenue, said the beach weddings at the restaurant are "special," particularly since his daughter was married there.

Commissioner Duke Miller wanted to add a restriction to the permits that the weddings had to "abide" by the city's noise ordinance since a special event permit currently allows the event to exceed normal noise levels.

But Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick withdrew her second to Miller's motion after learning that the ordinance has no set decibel levels for noise. The noise requirement is simply that of a "reasonable level," said city attorney Jim Dye.

Besides, added Commission Chairman John Quam, "I trust Mr. Chiles to control amplified music."

Commissioner Christine Tollette noted that the commission was still going to review its special event permit ordinance, but cautioned that there are only 135 residential and retail-office-residential properties within a four-block area of the Sandbar.

"We don't want to get caught up in trying to rectify something for the benefit of a very few," she said.

The permits allow the restaurant to construct a tent on its beachfront for the weddings.

The permit applications were approved 4-1, with Miller casting the dissenting vote.

Quam said the commission will discuss changes to the special-event permit ordinance at its April 11 work session.


Lot split ordinance

A political football that's been kicked around more times than a World Cup Soccer game was finally settled by the commission.

After several months of discussions by the commission in both regular and worksession meetings, an ordinance requiring that all lot splits and division of land be done through the city's formal subdivision process was approved 5-0. The vote came after more than an hour of debate, particularly about the requirement in the ordinance that lots have easements and sufficient frontage on a public road that meet city codes. Only six lots in the city fail to meet that requirement.

The ordinance states that if an owner did not have an easement for access to his or her property by Jan. 1, 2007, they would have to file for a variance with the city for access.

 Commissioners briefly considered making the effective date several months in the future to give the six property owners time to obtain the required easement, but eventually rejected any change in the date.

One of the properties most affected by the ordinance is owned by Harry Lockwood at 703 N. Shore Drive.

Lockwood has a small cottage on one of the two adjoining lots he owns. Under the ordinance, he's now required to get a variance for access to the lot not fronting Shore Drive.

Lockwood told commissioners that he's in a unique situation. He's paid more than $150,000 in taxes since he and his wife bought the property in 1997, and he was assured at the time of purchase that he could build a house on the back lot. Now, he said, he's had to hire an attorney to defend his interests.

Commissioners were apparently concerned that Lockwood could sell the property and a new owner could build several single-family homes on the two parcels by subdividing and using the access on the front lot for the other properties.

Mattick suggested that commissioners pick a date several months in the future to give Lockwood time to obtain an easement to the back lot, but Dye said the city doesn't have enough information about the property.

He added that the ordinance does not affect the approved but not-yet-constructed Villa Rosa subdivision on South Bay Boulevard. That property has a private road, he observed.

The ordinance passed 5-0.


Grant application for land purchase

Mattick agreed to spearhead a grant application to the Florida Communities Trust that would allow the FCT to purchase Lockwood's 1.5 acres without any money from the city, then return ownership to Anna Maria.

If purchased, the property could be turned into a public park for native plants and wildlife, promote stormwater runoff and water conservation, she said.

The existing house on the property could serve as a permanent office for the city's environmental education and enhancement committee and offer programs and classes on conservation and the environment.

Mattick said that under her plan, the park would have "limited parking," no playground equipment and could not be used for special events or large public gatherings. She also proposed that adjacent landowners be kept fully informed of the city's plans.

Commissioner Dale Woodland agreed that neighboring property owners be advised of the plan immediately and be informed in writing of the grant application.

"I know this city and these people," he said.

But "time is of the essence," added Mattick

The deadline for the application is May 9 and the FCT will announce its awards in September.

Mattick said she's willing to "put forth the effort" to prepare the grant and Mayor Fran Barford said she and city staff will be happy to assist with the application.

Commissioners by a 4-1 vote gave approval to Mattick to move full speed ahead, with Miller casting the lone vote against the proposal. Miller indicated he was concerned about more public input on whether or not to proceed with the application along with any potential parking problems.

Lockwood said he hadn't been formally contacted by the city, but had discussed the property with Mattick. Although the property is currently for sale, he said he and his wife would welcome the opportunity to sell the land to the city and have it turned into a nature park.

"It sounds like a great idea," he said.