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Date of Issue: July 05, 2006

City moves to curb rogue skaters

While no one in Holmes Beach is doubting the success of its "mini" skateboard park, not all skateboarders in the city are utilizing the facility.

In fact, Commissioner Pat Morton has said that rogue skaters are using shopping centers and public facilities for skating, often destroying property in the process.

Morton presented ordinances from the cities of Bradenton and Sarasota at the city commission’s June 27 meeting that deal with skateboarders trespassing on public and private property. Commissioners agreed the City of Bradenton model was a better solution than Sarasota’s, which was deemed "too restrictive."

The "trespass" program established by Bradenton is optional for a business owner, but if they do join the program, law enforcement officers can ticket an individual for trespassing without the owner being present.

 Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens favored the program because it gives police "something to use and it’s optional."

With a trespass ordinance, police can take action against a trespasser without the owner being present. The ordinance would also apply to public property.

Agreed, said Lt. Dale Stephenson of the Holmes Beach police department, who noted that there are only a few skaters who don’t use the city’s park, primarily because of the helmet requirement.

"There’s only about six or seven street skaters," said Stephenson, and their activity normally occurs at night and on weekends.

Mayor Carol Whitmore observed that once skateboarders reach a certain age, it’s no longer "cool" to go to the city park and wear a helmet. She said Manatee County has plans to build a full-size skateboard park at G.T. Bray Park where skateboarders would not be required to wear helmets.

"This might help us with our problem," she said.

Morton, a former skateboarder,  suggested that the city look into adding a "half-pipe" or "staircase" at the city park to attract older skateboarders.

Commissioner Chairperson Rich Bohnenberger asked the city attorney to prepare a draft ordinance modeled after the Bradenton ordinance for further discussion at a future commission meeting.

In other business, Bohnenberger suggested that the city might want to use a special magistrate to settle code enforcement issues instead of the code enforcement board.

While praising the work of the board, Bohnenberger noted that there are problems with the board, such as finding new members, attaining a quorum for meetings and some cases often involve neighbor versus neighbor.

In addition, the city has to pay for two attorneys in code enforcement cases and, in some instances, board members have to recuse themselves from cases.

Using a special magistrate, who does not reside in Holmes Beach, would be "cost effective" for the city and reduce a lot of friction among residents.

Whitmore agreed.

"It’s time to look at this. It’s not that the code enforcement is not doing a good job, but this town is too small," she said. A special magistrate would be completely objective in hearing cases.

She said she’ll have city staff look at other Florida cities that utilize a special magistrate and report back to the commission.

The commission also received a list of suggestions from real estate agents Don Schroder and Will Bouziane for the proposed sign ordinance. A majority of the suggestions had been rejected by the city’s planning committee when real estate agents appeared before that body, but the commission later said that these were legislative issues that the commission should deal with, not the planning committee.

Commissioners will review the suggestions and discuss them further at a future workshop.

The commission also approved the final site plan for the AmSouth Bank building that will be located at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and East Sixth Avenue.

Haas-Martens noted that the architectural design and color of the building had been redrawn to reflect an "Islandstyle" structure.

Commissioners also approved adding extra trash cans at beach access points on all weekends, not just holidays. In addition, the commission will have recycling bins placed at three beach access locations on a trial basis to determine if visitors will utilize them for recyclables.

Morton said the recycle bins will cost $42 each from Waste Management Inc.


Deltona is special for magistrates
By Rick Catlin Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach has now joined with Anna Maria in looking into establishing a special magistrate system to deal with code enforcement violations.

It’s a system that has become quite popular in many Florida cities as a way to eliminate the "neighbor vs. neighbor" battles that often occurs in small towns, said Sharon Barrian of the Florida League of Cities.

A special magistrate is an attorney who has had intensive training in land use and code enforcement issues and is generally board certified by the Florida Bar Association. Their function is to act as a "judge" and settle code disputes or variance requests. They can also be involved in traffic cases, she said.

In addition, Barrian said, the special magistrate must have a thorough knowledge of the city codes of every city that retains his or her services.

The Florida Supreme Court has upheld use of a special magistrate because variance and code violation hearings are considered "quasi-judicial" in nature, she said.

One city that tossed out its code boards and instituted a special magistrate system several years ago was Deltona, located between Orlando and Daytona Beach.

"We’ve had a special magistrate for two years," said Sonya Williams of Deltona’s code enforcement office, and she and city elected officials couldn’t be happier.

"It cuts through all the neighborhood feuds. You have an impartial person paid by the city, but who represents all parties. He goes strictly by the book," she said.

The city turned to the special magistrate system after experiencing a number of "neighbor vs. neighbor" incidents where nobody on the code enforcement board could agree to make a decision against a friend and neighbor, she said. Some decisions left bitter feelings on one side of the issue or another, accusations were hurled and some people became extremely "vehement" about a decision.

"But the special magistrate has worked out very well. He doesn’t live in the city, so he has no special interest in either party. He acts like a judge and must be an attorney licensed by the state, and nobody is ‘under pressure’ to make a favorable or unfavorable ruling like we had in the past," said Williams.

In addition, the special magistrate system cuts down on the time it takes to reach a decision.

"We used to have cases drag on for months. Now, the magistrate either makes a decision that night, or gives a decision the following month after studying the city codes. But the rulings are always based on impartiality and the law," she added. In Deltona, with a population of about 80,000 people, the magistrate holds a hearing every month, with several cases usually heard.

While the magistrate’s rulings are binding, the amount of the fine can be appealed to the city commission, she said, and often is when a fine has accumulated for a number of months or even years.

Deltona uses the services of attorney Charles Cino of Ormond Beach. Cino said he is a magistrate for a number of other communities in the Daytona Beach-Deltona area, in addition to magistrate for the Volusia County traffic court.

Barrian said most major counties in Florida now use a special magistrate for code enforcement, including Manatee, Dade, Broward, Brevard, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, among others.

Florida cities that utilize a special magistrate system in lieu of a code enforcement board have a varied population. Cities include Fort Lauderdale, Wellington (near West Palm Beach), West Palm Beach, South Daytona Beach, Margate, Hollywood, St. Petersburg, Port St. Lucie and Islamorada, among others.