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Date of Issue: April 02, 2008

Two complaints cause Anna Maria uproar over Center

The old adage that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” has never been truer than in Anna Maria regarding the city commission’s effort to define what the Anna Maria Island Community Center is and what are permitted uses at the facility.

Commissioners and city staff the past three months have been grappling with how to permit events at the Center after receiving several complaints about such activities, most notably when alcohol is served at a Center event and/or large numbers of people are in attendance.

Although the Center has been holding events since 1960 and alcohol is a permitted use at the Center, city attorney Jim Dye suggested an amendment to the public recreation ordinance that would “officially” define what the Center is and what activities are permitted.

Thus far, an inordinate amount of city staff time - not to mention the fees charged by Dye - stem from just two complaints, said a frustrated Commissioner Christine Tollette at the commission’s March 27 meeting.

“I’m just concerned about the number of people and hours we’ve spent working on this,” she observed.

 “This all started with just two complaints, and one man lives across from the Center and attends many programs,” the commissioner added.

The second person called her about 15 times during the construction of the new Center to complain, Tollette said, and nothing she offered would placate that person. He eventually called city hall and complained about the presence of alcohol at the Center for an event, among other complaints.

The situation prompted Mayor Fran Barford and city staff to ask the Center to begin submitting special event permit requests for every event, a daunting and time consuming task, considering the numerous activities at the Center that draw large numbers of people.

In an effort to end the impasse, Barford asked the commission solve the issue; hence Dye’s suggestion.

“But there are some individuals that no matter what you do are not going to be happy,” intoned Tollette. The city and Center have spent a great deal of time and money for something that someone will probably say “I’m sorry, I’m still not happy,” she said.

But Commissioner Duke Miller interjected that all the commission is doing by passing the amendment is “putting in writing” what the commission approved in the Center’s site plan for the new building.

The amendment proposes that the Center notify the city seven days in advance when it will have an event with more than 200 people scheduled to attend, or where alcohol will be served. “Events” do not include soccer or basketball games or yoga classes, noted Commissioner Dale Woodland.

Day-to-day activities are not events that the Center needs to notify the city about, Woodland contended.

Agreed, said Dye, who will modify the definition of the Center in the proposed amendment accordingly.

Regardless of opinions, the city still needs to pass a definition of the Center and define its allowed uses, he said.

Dye suggested that it might be easier to put language about definitions, permitted events and notification in the Center’s lease with the city, rather than an amendment.

Hold on a minute, suggested Woodland.

“We are over-complicating this. We are making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe the lease isn’t the best place to put the language.”

Agreed, said Miller. “This is only about splitting hairs. Just let Dye put the wording in the ordinance,” he said.

Commissioners agreed to have Dye return to the commission’s April 24 meeting for a final reading of the amendment with the appropriate language in its “proper place.”


Stormwater utility

In other business, the commission unanimously approved an ordinance establishing a stormwater utility and an appeal process. The amount of the fee will be passed by resolution at a future commission meeting, but prior commission discussion has indicated the standard fee per property will likely be around $50 to $75 annually, depending upon the size of the accompanying structure.


Comp plan accepted

 Barford reported that the Florida Department of Community Affairs has accepted the city’s revised comprehensive plan. The DCA must wait 21 days for any legal challenges to the plan before proceeding to final approval. The city has been working on the plan since 2003.


City hall hours during bridge closure

The mayor also announced that due to the 45-day closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge beginning Sept. 29, the city staff will be on a staggered 10 hours per day, four days per week schedule to reduce the number of trips they have to make to reach city hall. Some staff will be off at least one day each week during this period.

As only one staff member lives on the Island, the mayor said the daily roundtrip to reach Anna Maria via the detour route across the Cortez Bridge and north on Gulf Drive would be a hardship on staff. Making the roundtrip just four days each week will lessen the burden.

Barford assured the public that city hall will still be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and that she and public works director George McKay will cover the office in the event no other staff are unable to reach city hall by 8 a.m.


Submerged lands

Dye told commissioners that an old issue with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has “resurfaced.”

The DEP is claiming that the state of Florida owns the submerged land underneath the city pier, and the city should be leasing the land. The DEP is demanding back rent from 1985, he said.

Dye noted that this issue was addressed in 1999 by the city with legal documentation that proved to the state that Anna Maria, not Florida, owns the bottom land. Apparently, however, the DEP never processed the 1999 information and the file has now been lost.

Dye recently updated the ownership issue and forwarded the supporting documentation to the DEP, but that agency is now claiming that the city doesn’t own the submerged land underneath the boat landing at the end of the pier. The DEP wants the back rent from 1985 for that portion of bottomland.

Good grief, said Miller. “Haven’t they got anything better to do?” he said of the DEP.

McKay said he’s working on finding the supporting evidence to show the city has owned this submerged parcel of land since the pier was first constructed in the early 1900s.

Dye said the DEP has not given any dollar amount on what the city allegedly owes in back rent.