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Date of Issue: June 30, 2005

Community Center clears first hurdle for expansion
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Center stage
Anna Maria Island Community Center Director Pierrette Kelly (in white dress) was joined by a full house at the June 21 Anna Maria planning and zoning board meeting to hear the Center application for three variances and an alleyway vacation. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

The much-anticipated expansion plan for the Anna Maria Island Community Center passed its first obstacle June 21 when the Anna Maria planning and zoning board approved an alleyway vacation and three variance applications for the Center.

Approval of the variances will give the Center an additional parking area where staff and volunteers can park behind each other, allows visitors to back out of a parking space onto Magnolia Drive, and provides 16 feet of relief from the required 35-foot setback.

Vacating the alleyway that runs through the middle of the property will allow the Center to expand its main building into that right of way.

But the vacation and variance approvals are just the first step in the four-year effort to expand the Center. The board will take up the Center's siteplan at its July 12 meeting.

An overflow crowd of Center supporters packed city hall to hear speaker after speaker sing the praises of the Center.

Attorney Mark Barnebey, representing the AMICC, said the new Center will benefit the entire Island community. The site plan calls for a second floor that will add about 11,400 square feet of indoor space.

AMICC Director Pierrette Kelly said the expansion will allow the Center to focus on activities for teenagers at the same time that young children are utilizing the Center. The Florida Department of Community Affairs does not allow teenagers and toddlers to use the gymnasium or activity room at the same time.

Opposition to the variance requests and vacation came from residents living directly adjacent to the Center, who believe there is already a parking problem, particularly during the winter season.

Expansion will "impact the neighborhood," and could affect property values, said resident Hal Badger, who maintained that he and his neighbors are not against the Center and its goals, just concerned with future congestion at the Center.

Board member Frank Pytel suggested there was a safety issue with young children along Magnolia Avenue and the Center should address that issue. He stressed that the Center should schedule its activities to ensure the least amount of congestion or parking demand at the Center.

Colleague Fran Barford agreed, noting the Center should consider flashing lights or other means to warn motorists of children in the area.

Resident Wayne Seawold said there is no "perfect answer" to keep everyone happy while the Center strives to meet the recreational needs of the community.

Allan Garret, the professional planner hired by the city to review the Center's site plan, variance requests and vacation, said that while the Center has several non-conforming aspects by current city standards, those non-conformities have been "grandfathered."

In its site plan, the Center is proposing an estimated $3 million expansion and renovation project that will add a second floor to house classrooms, meeting rooms, offices, a computer center, family support room, an area for teenage activities, a performing arts studio and an auditorium.