A Chicago snowbird has proposed the construction of a pier at Manatee Public Beach similar to the famed Navy Pier in his hometown. A merry-go-round is proposed but not a Ferris wheel. Islander Photo: Courtesy Navy Pier
The U.S. Bureau of Amusements and Entertainment will inspect Manatee Public Beach April 1 to determine whether a $22 million grant might be available to build a carnivalesque boardwalk and long pier at the site.
Federal officials recently announced that millions of dollars remain from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act due to substantial savings in initial projects.
A hail-Mary petition from a snowbird seeking a new pier to replace a structure demolished in late 2010 led to the federal review. In late 2010, Manatee County contracted for the demolition of a pier deemed structurally unsound. The top of the pier was taken down last year, and this spring removal of the foundation has taken place.
County officials, when the old pier was taken down, had focused on what type of pier — long or short — might be built in its place.
However, with local officials dealing with major budget cuts and the state dealing with budget shortfalls, finding money for a replacement pier seemed increasingly unlikely.
But in February, attorney John Da Bears, a snowbird from Chicago, read about the leftover stimulus funds and decided to lobby for a new pier similar to Navy Pier in the Windy City.
Navy Pier, which stretches into Lake Michigan, contains a 50-acre playground and features a 15-story Ferris wheel, retail shops, restaurants, an Imax theater and a ballroom. The attraction draws about 8.6 million visitors a year.
“I don’t think Holmes Beach could handle anything that big,” Da Bears said. “So I proposed a long fishing pier, with a couple of retail kiosks, a restaurant, a puppet theater and a merry-go-round. That makes more sense than a Ferris wheel.”
Da Bears wrote letters to congressional representatives, as well as various agency heads. A grant-handler at the Bureau of Amusements and Entertainment took notice.
Federal officials planned to visit the site early April 1.
“We want to be out there for breakfast,” said a spokesman for the bureau. “We heard the cafe has all-you-can-eat pancakes.”
Editor’s note: Happy April Fool’s Day — a bit early.
Although Circuit Court Judge Peter Dubensky ordered mediation in the lawsuit brought by William and Barbara Nally against Anna Maria, a hearing on a Nally motion to dismiss Pine Avenue Restoration LLC’s affirmative defense as an intervenor is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 6.
The Nallys sued Anna Maria in March 2010 for the city’s approval of a PAR site-plan for 216 Pine Ave., which is now completed and occupied by tenants. PAR was invited to intervene by the city, and was granted status as a co-defendant by Dubensky in February 2011.
Depending on the results of the mediation, Dubensky has ordered a non-jury trial during a two-week period that starts at 8:30 a.m. June 13 at the Manatee County Judicial Center.
The Nallys allege in their lawsuit that the city’s method of determining density when it approved the PAR site plan for 216 Pine Ave. should have been calculated on individual parcels. That method, the Nallys claim, resulted in the present density of 8.7 units per acre, higher than the six units per acre they claim are allowed by the comprehensive plan.
The Nallys also claim the project at 216 Pine Ave. has a detrimental affect on their “health, safety and welfare.”
The Nallys own a home-rental accommodation on Spring Avenue and reside in Lakeland.
Anna Maria’s response to the Nallys is that the smaller lots used by PAR for 216 Pine Ave. are grandfathered for use by the city and the density calculation method was accepted by the Florida Department of Community Affairs in July 2010 as consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.
One Anna Maria commissioner told attorney Jeremy Anderson at the March 24 public hearing on a Pine Avenue Restoration LLC site-plan hearing for 210 Pine Ave. that his challenge to the city over density is a “dead horse”
And city attorney Jim Dye took offense to claims by Anderson that he might have deleted some terms in the city’s comp plan, saying he’d like to know what Anderson was smoking before the meeting.
Anderson represents Anna Maria property owners William and Barbara Nally and other parties who claim the city wrongly calculated the density of the PAR project at 7.5 gross units per acre. He said that amounts to more units than what he claims is the limit of 6 units per gross acre.
He questioned who had eliminated provisions from the comp plan that allowed the city to approve the site plan and forward it to the commission.
“This city has incorrectly assisted in deletion of policies” when it comes to approving new developments, Anderson insinuated.
“This is an integral part of whether this or all the other (PAR) projects are valid,” he claimed.
But Dye took offense that Anderson appeared to be accusing someone in the city of deleting or ignoring language from the comp plan to approve a site plan.
Nothing has been deleted from the comp plan in approving site plans, and nothing has been ignored, he said.
“It sounds like he’s accusing me of deleting language in the comprehensive plan. I’m not sure what he’s smoking, but it’s good stuff. And I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Dye responded.
“You are dancing around the questions,” Anderson said to Dye and Garrett after being denied the opportunity to directly question Garrett about density calculations. Anderson claimed the city was avoiding an “on the record” statement and to say it uses gross acreage to calculate density in the ROR.
“Let’s not get into cross-examination,” said Commission Chair Chuck Webb.
But, Anderson told Webb, the commission might be “violating due process” for his client.
Dye responded that density was calculated on this project in the same manner it was calculated for other developments on Pine Avenue. The method is the same as that which was challenged in a complaint to the Florida Department of Community Affairs in 2010. The DCA “found the city conforming to the comp plan,” Dye replied.
Anderson’s law firm, Lobeck and Hanson, P.A., of Sarasota, also represented the client in the complaint to the DCA, and currently represents the Nallys and Robert and Nicola Hunt in separate legal actions against the city.
“You’re beating a dead horse,” said Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick to Anderson. “We’ve talked about this numerous times and we agree with the DCA, and I don’t think our planner needs to keep answering questions.”
Mattick’s statement prompted applause from the gallery.
Webb said the under-size lots on Pine Avenue, although non-conforming, have been grandfathered for use by the city, and the DCA has agreed.
But Mike Coleman of PAR was unhappy with Anderson’s comments.
He said Anderson knows how the city calculates density and knows of the DCA decision of July 2010.
Coleman said Anderson’s law firm has been shopping for clients to sue the city, resulting in three legal actions against Anna Maria that have cost the city money.
“Enough is enough,” he said.
Webb asked Coleman to stay with the site-plan issue.
Before adjournment, Coleman apologized to commissioners and Mayor Mike Selby for his comments about Anderson.
The commission eventually approved the site plan 4-1, with Commissioners John Quam and Gene Aubry voting yes with Webb and Mattick. Commissioner Dale Woodland cast the dissenting vote.
Woodland said he still holds the view that the city is not calculating density according to the comp plan.
In other business, commissioners agreed to continue the public hearing of an ordinance for Pine Avenue parking to 6 p.m. Thursday, April 14.
Aubry wanted to vote that night on the ordinance and amendments suggested by the commission, but Webb said that the special exceptions have “not yet been pinned down,” and it would be better to have a correct ordinance when the vote takes place.
The proposed changes will create Chapter 91 of the parking ordinance and require new developments on Pine Avenue to have all parking on the property, provide a sidewalk between parking spaces and the structures, and reduce the maximum lot coverage to allow developers more room for parking. Any restaurant plan would have to conform to the original ordinance and configure parking based on the number of seats at the restaurant.
A suggestion by Garrett to have developers plan parking using parts of both chapters was rejected by the commission.
Woodland expressed concern that the proposed ordinance creates too many access points along Pine Avenue and does not follow the comp plan objectives to limit access points on major roads.
Commissioners also got an update on the planned boardwalk along the city pier shoreline that is funded by a federal grant administered by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Matt Anderson, of Woodruff and Sons Construction, no known relation to Jeremy Anderson, said much of the background work on the boardwalk has been done. The company expects to begin actual construction a few days after the May 13-14 Anna Maria City Pier Centennial Celebration. The project should be completed by late September, he said.
During some of the construction, the Island Trolley will make stops in the city pier’s south parking lot. A new trolley stop and shelter will be built on the north side of a new pier entrance.
In other business, the commission gave preliminary approval for a two-lot subdivision at 216 Archer Way to allow the owner to remove a duplex and build two single-family homes. The owner offered to dedicate some of the property to the city as a right of way and obtain approval in the form of signatures from adjacent property owners.
Commissioners also approved spending $5,218 for a system that will digitally record meetings. The recordings can be put on the city’s website minutes after a meeting ends.
The Florida Department of Transportation said the night-time maintenance project on the Anna Maria Island Bridge — State Road 64 — will end March 31 at 5 a.m.
The three-day project went from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. March 28-30 and involved occasional nighttime lane closures with a flagging operation.
Motorists are advised to use caution when driving on the bridge during the project and to expect possible delays.
The number of homestead exemptions on the Island has dropped since 2003, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office.
In 2010, Anna Maria had 609 homesteaded properties, amounting to a decline of 6.3 percent from the 650 reported in 2003.
Bradenton Beach had the largest decline among the three Island cities, falling 13.6 percent from 2003, when there were 309 homestead properties in the city, while 267 were recorded for 2010.
Holmes Beach also lost homestead exemptions, and by inference population, between 2003 and 2010.
The city had 1,391 homesteaded properties in 2003, but that figure dropped to 1,337 in 2010, down 3.9 percent.
“There has been an out-migration” of people from the Island, said Dale Friedley of the MCPAO.
While it’s safe to say the Island has lost some population, the decline in homesteaded properties does not take into account the number of people who lived in those houses, Friedley noted.
To qualify for a homestead exemption and a $25,000 discount on a home evaluation, the owner must meet certain criteria to establish permanent residency at the address and submit application to the property appraiser’s office.
The late Holmes Beach City Commissioner Don Maloney said in 2005 that the last person to leave Anna Maria Island should “turn out the lights.”
Maloney made the comment after learning that the number of registered voters in the three Island cities had declined 12.3 percent from 2000 to 2005, while Manatee County voter registration increased 19.1 percent during the same period.
People were selling their Island homes to investors at a profit and moving away from AMI, Maloney said.
The investors turned those single-family homes into rental properties and that trend would continue, he predicted.
The jovial Irishman was right, at least according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 census.
Population figures from the 2010 census recently released by the bureau show Anna Maria Island’s population dropped 21.2 percent from 2000 to 2010, losing 1,752 residents.
Holmes Beach lost the most people, declining from 4,966 residents in the 2000 census to 3,836 for the 2010 count, a drop of 22.8 percent.
Bradenton Beach fell 21 percent in population, falling from 1,482 residents in 2000 to 1,171 in the 2010 census.
Anna Maria’s population decline was 17.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The city had 1,814 residents in the 2000 census, while just 1,503 were reported in 2010.
Islandwide, the population declined from 8,262 in 2000 to 6,510 in 2010, the census reported.
For the same decade, Manatee County’s population rose 22.3 percent, climbing from 264,002 in 2000 to 322,833 in the 2010 census, a gain of 58,831 people.
However, Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger called the 2010 federal census “a joke.” He said he knew several people who never got a census form, while others received two or three in the mail. He received three forms in the mail at his house.
“The census bureau can’t count. They botched the census, it’s completely useless,” Bohnenberger said.
If the city’s population drop is correct, “We’d actually be getting more tax revenue because many houses would no longer be homesteaded. In fact, our tax revenues are about the same.”
Bohnenberger observed that 59 percent of Holmes Beach residents filled out a census form, according to the census bureau, compared to the Manatee County and national average of 74 percent.
Bohnenberger may have an unwitting ally in his claims against the U.S. Census Bureau.
In September 2008, the bureau published a Florida city population report that estimated the population of Holmes Beach at 5,017, while it said Anna Maria had 1,829 people and Bradenton Beach 1,553.
“Where did everybody go in two years?” Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt asked.
Likewise, the number of registered voters in each Island city appears inconsistent with the 2010 census.
For the November 2010 elections, Holmes Beach had 3,612 voters, according to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections website, 224 less than the population number reported in the census.
Bohnenberger said he’s not decided if the population figures from the bureau should be a political issue. Some federal grants are based on population, he said, but most Holmes Beach grants come through the county.
With the county’s population up by 22.1 percent, Bohnenberger was confident that grants would trickle down through the county to the Island cities.
Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby also was disturbed by the census figures. He acknowledged the city may have lost a few residents the past 10 years, but not that many.
“I don’t know what the figures mean. People tell me they want to live in paradise and they keep buying homes,” he said.
At the same time, said the mayor, he knew of several people in recent years who sold their house and left the city. The buyer then turned the dwelling into a rental for the income, he said.
Those investors are “likely waiting until it’s time to retire before moving to Anna Maria permanently,” Selby suggested. But he said that number is nowhere near the 311 people the city lost according to the 2010 census.
The mayor said he would have expected ad valorem tax revenues to rise as more and more houses had homestead exemptions removed, increasing the tax rate on the property. That’s not the case.
Selby also noted that only 49 percent of Anna Maria residents returned a census form, according to the 2010 census.
That could have something to do with the low population reported for Anna Maria, he indicated.
As in Holmes Beach, Anna Maria’s number of registered voters does not appear to be consistent with the population.
For the September 2010 recall election, the city had 1,367 active voters and 138 inactive for a total of 1,470 voters. If the present census figure of 1,503 is accurate, then only 33 people in the city would not be registered voters, Selby observed.
In Bradenton Beach, Mayor Bob Bartelt also questioned the census bureau figures.
For example, he said, the 2010 census reported only 51 percent of city residents returned a census form. At the same time, the number of registered voters in November 2010 was 928 active and 132 inactive for a 1,060 total.
Comparing that figure with the 1,130 official census bureau population led Bartelt to question the bureau’s accuracy.
“Something is not adding up. The census numbers sound skewed. I haven’t seen or heard of a large exodus,” he said.
Bartelt was concerned that the population decline might affect the city’s ability to obtain grants and federal funding.
If that’s the case, he wouldn’t mind joining the other Island mayors and pushing U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, to have the census numbers investigated and get an explanation from the census bureau.
Buchanan might have a reason to get some answers from the bureau.
Longboat Key’s population fell by 9.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the census bureau figures.
In 2010, the town had 2,591 Manatee County residents and 5,012 Sarasota County residents, a total of 7,603 people. In the 2010 census, however, Longboat Key’s population was listed at 6,888, a loss of 715.
Getting Buchanan involved “might not be a bad idea,” Bartelt said.
“Maybe we’ll find out that the people at the census bureau really can’t count.”
Efforts to reach Buchanan’s office for comment on the census figures for his district were unsuccessful.
Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ed Straight played dual roles — commissioner and wildlife expert — when he recently surveyed a tree recommended for removal from the right of way at the Annie Silver Community Center.
The public works department, responding to a neighbor’s concern, said a tree-removal company recommended taking out the Cuban laurel because it is dead and a potential storm hazard.
The commission, during a meeting in mid-March, tentatively approved removing the tree and its roots, but asked Straight to investigate.
Straight, in addition to being a first-year commissioner, is the co-operator of Wildlife Inc., a rehab and education center he and wife Gail run from their home just blocks from the community center, which is at 23rd Street and Avenue C.
So Straight investigated, and what he found prompted the city to put any tree removal on hold. Straight said red-bellied woodpeckers may be using the old tree to nest. Removing a tree with nesting birds — any species — is prohibited under federal law.
“I need to go back and confirm more,” said the commissioner, who recently spent about an hour sitting by the tree.
The commission’s tentative vote to remove the tree triggered a series of e-mails among citizens, including members of the community center, about whether the tree is a liability.
“This tree is extremely old and immense,” said Bradenton Beach resident and center member Pat Gentry. “It offers shade and habitat for birds and many other creatures. It gives off oxygen, takes up carbon dioxide and is beautiful beyond description.… In no way is this tree dead, as there is a huge canopy of green leaves right now.”
Mayor Bob Bartelt, responding to the digital discussion, said the assessment was “the tree was at risk to lose large, heavy limbs in a windstorm event. To this end, and to prevent exposure of the city to unnecessary liability risk, the decision was made by the city commission … to remove the tree.”
“Concern was raised at that meeting that there may be fauna living in the tree, as this is nesting season for so many species,” the mayor continued. “So we asked our resident wildlife expert Ed Straight of Wildlife Inc. to assess the tree.”
With Straight’s initial survey, the “removal of the tree was put on hold,” Bartelt said.
Mike Sales and the Sales-etts, Barbara Bourjaily, Judi Manke, and Sharon Tollner, perform March 27 at the Beach to Bay Eco Day on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. The event hosted by the Bridge Street Merchants featured blues notes, green products and a rainbow menu. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy
Artist Rhonda K, a regular the weekly Bridge Street Markets, showcases her work at the Beach to Bay Eco Day held March 27 in Bradenton Beach.
Festivalgoers attend a kayak seminar presented by Shawn Duytschaver of Native Rentals during the Beach to Bay Eco Day.
Bridge Street is line with vendors and crowded with festivalgoers for the Beach to Bay Eco Day organized by the Bridge Street Merchants. The nonprofit also hosts a weekly market on Sundays.
Leonardo Rojas with his fine chocolates — some specially made to attract Privateers — works his charm at the back of the Back Alley on Bridge Street during the Beach to Bay Eco Day held March 27.
Since January, Holmes Beach city commissioners have postponed the second reading of a police pension fund amendment and, despite receiving requested legal advice in time for their March 22 meeting, they again deferred on the matter, this time until May 24.
Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens suggested the continuance based on the fact that Gov. Rick Scott has unveiled a plan to reform the state’s employee pension system.
“The senate is reviewing 19 pages of amendments and the legislative session isn’t over until May,” she said. “We should see what the governor signs to make sure we aren’t spinning our wheels and get our plan right.”
Adjustments to the city’s ordinance have been ongoing to comply with changes made to the Internal Revenue Service code and regulations, as well as changes to state law.
The amended ordinance also includes two new benefit options for retirees: the deferred retirement option plan and the partial lump option plan.
If a police department employee elects to enter the DROP, he or she represents a cost savings by ending the city’s retirement contribution. However, the employee may continue to work and draw a salary for up to five years after entering the DROP.
The commission initially postponed discussion in order to seek legal advice from Tallahassee attorney James Linn of Lewis, Longman and Walker, regarding the calculation of unused sick time for police department staff entering the DROP.
As the ordinance reads now, it appears officers would be compensated for unused time upon entering DROP, while also retaining the ability to accrue sick days for use during the DROP period.
The question may be a moot point depending on what action the legislature takes. Scott has proposed ending DROP effective on or after July 1, 2011.
Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson objected to further delay. “The pension board has given you all the information we can for you to make a decision. People have come from home or stayed over from work to listen to a dialogue, and you haven’t even talked about Mr. Linn’s response, that’s the bad part of this,” he said.
“We can have special meetings if you want, but I hate to pass something and have the Legislature take it away,” said Haas-Martens. “We want to get it right for all of you.”
Dan Hardy, a member of the Holmes Beach police pension board, also expressed his disappointment that the commission didn’t make progress on the proposals.
“We’ve got the best department on the Island, one that is well respected in the community,” said Hardy. “We’ve proposed a cost-saving measure — several people ran on that — we have a fully funded pension plan while most are not.”
Hardy noted that all but one item, the, in the proposed amendment DROP housekeeping efforts to comply with changes already made to codes and regulations.
“We hoped you would at least have passed all but the one item that might change,” said Hardy. “Ninety-five percent of these changes are corrections.”
Commissioner Al Robinson questioned the urgency of passing the ordinance rather than waiting until May or June.
“The ball has been rolling a long time on this,” Hardy responded. “We all know changes from Tallahassee come and go like the wind. There will be more changes to make after you approve this.
“We have been trying to get a DROP plan approved for five years,” said Hardy. “We’re not getting anywhere with it. We’re not getting any discussion. It’s a can that keeps getting kicked down the road. Other city employees have DROP, and we’re just trying to level the playing field.
“DROP does save money and it sends a message of support,” he said. “I don’t think the homework on this was done. I don’t think anyone cracked open a page.”
Robinson asked several times for an explanation of how a DROP program benefits the retiring employee.
“I hear loud and clear why it’s good for the city,” said Robinson. “What I don’t understand is why the police are pushing for it? When you’re so eager to give something to me, what’s in it for the policeman? I question if it is a way to spike the pension somehow. After 30 years, I don’t believe anyone wants to work for nothing.”
Stephenson responded that officers have no feasible way to spike the pension with pay for hundreds of hours of overtime. Holmes Beach officers are not offered overtime hours.
Stephenson also explained the benefit for an officer to enter a DROP. “We pay 6 percent of our salary into the pension plan. When I go into DROP, that stops and I get $350, let’s say, more in my salary. I still have a health plan and I can focus my time on getting my ducks in a row and leave the city on good terms.”
“Dale, thank you so much for explaining it,” said Robinson. “I finally got the answer — it doesn’t cost us anything and it puts more of your salary in your pocket — I got an education here. It makes sense.”
After more discussion, the commission passed a motion to continue the second reading to its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 24.