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Date of Issue: April 15, 2009

Dock variance, environmental improvement sought

Anna Maria resident Jake Martin has spent the better part of the past year getting approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to construct a walkway on his canalfront property through the mangroves to a dock he wants to build.

And he now needs a variance from the city to build both the dock and walkway at his home on Blue Heron Drive.

The plan presented to the board will minimize the damage to the mangroves that border Martin’s property, attorney Scott Rudacille, representing Martin, told the Anna Maria planning and zoning board at its April 7 hearing on Martin’s variance request.

The board concurred and voted to recommend that the city commission approve Martin’s variance request.

The variance will allow Martin to build a walkway 10 feet or more in length and to place the dock’s mooring pilings more than 20 feet from the waterway boundary.

Prior to the vote, board member Jim Conoly asked that the hearing be continued until city attorney Jim Dye could render a legal opinion on riparian rights and jurisdiction of the canal and dock building permit.

City planner Alan Garrett, however, said the county is the authority in the waterway, but the city controls building permits, even for docks. Building official Bob Welch agreed with Garrett, noting that the city is the issuing authority for a dock-building permit.

The board proceeded to hear the request.

Rudacille said there are “a lot of misconceptions about the mangroves” at Martin’s property.

Under the DEP’s approved mitigation plan, Martin has to plant more mangroves than will be removed by construction of the walkway. The DEP will supervise and inspect the planted mangroves for compliance with the permit, Rudacille said.

“We are trying to avoid impacting the mangroves and this [plan] has the least environmental impact” on the area, he said.

The DEP appeared to agree, but Martin still must obtain a building permit from Anna Maria.

Welch said the DEP mitigation plan would be part of the applicant’s building permit and available for public inspection.

Rudacille said Martin met all eight criteria for a variance, including that the hardship to build was not created by the applicant, there are unique circumstances to grant the variance and that a dock is a permitted use for a canalfront home.

But board member Frank Pytel said he has concerns about seagrasses in the area and the reaction of Martin’s neighbors to the project. He asked Garrett if he had considered the letters to the city from adjacent landowners who opposed the variance.

Garrett said the staff’s position is only to “look at the code and not take sides.” Any decision is “up to the board,” he said, and the letters of objection were provided to board members and will be forwarded to the city commission.

One of Martin’s neighbors, Howard Payne, said he and his wife originally were “very concerned about the proposed dock” as it appeared to them the dock would extend into the mangroves.

However, after discussing the issue with Martin, Payne said he and his wife are “satisfied that’s not going to happen. We feel he is doing a very good job protecting the integrity of the environment in that area.”

The board agreed and voted 5-1 to recommend to the commission that it approve the variance request. Conoly cast the dissenting vote.