Tag Archives: 05-22-2013

Lawyers, liquor and LAR discussions expected at AM meet

The Waterfront Restaurant, 111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, plans to propose a new liquor ordinance at the city commission’s May 23 meeting.

Jason Suzor, owner of the Waterfront, emailed a number of customers asking they attend the May 23 meeting to hear his proposal.

In his email, Suzor said customers at the Waterfront have expressed that they want cocktails with dinner, “martinis and margaritas,” but a city ordinance restricts restaurants to serving beer and wine based on maintaining 60 percent of gross revenues from food sales. Restaurants in the city with a full-service bar were grandfathered when the ordinance was adopted many years ago.

Suzor would like to see the ordinance amended to conform to state guidelines, which requires a minimum of 60 percent food sales for a full-service liquor bar.

He will propose to commissioners that they amend the code to allow any restaurant that has been serving beer and wine for a minimum of five years and shows responsibility in serving alcohol to be allowed a full-service bar, subject to specific hours of operation — 10 a.m. to midnight — and obtaining a state liquor license.

Suzor, who has owned the restaurant since 2002, said the Waterfront and other local restaurants that have demonstrated responsibility in serving beer and wine should be given the opportunity to serve cocktails.

The meeting also is likely to bring out lawyers, said Mayor SueLynn. The commission is holding the final public hearing on a living-area ratio ordinance that limits the size of new homes and further reduces the amount of building coverage on the second-floor of living area based on a percentage of lot size.

SueLynn said city attorney Jim Dye is confident the LAR ordinance does not violate the 1995 Bert Harris Jr. property rights act passed by the Florida Legislature. Still, she’s heard some property owners may challenge the ordinance.

The Florida statute essentially provides that the city cannot pass a law that lowers the value of a property. If it does, the two sides must attempt to mediate a settlement. If no settlement is possible, the property owner can proceed to sue the city.

City attorney Jim Dye has said courts do not assume property values will always rise in Florida if a new home is built on a lot. Therefore, there is no expectation a new home will increase in value, and the city’s LAR ordinance is not “a taking” of value from a property owner.

Anna Maria’s LAR ordinance is based on lot size. A lot that is 5,000-15,000 square feet can have 40 percent for first- floor living space, and 33 percent of the 40 percent total for a second floor of living space.

Property owners who demonstrated substantial financial investment in building a new home when the building moratorium was enacted by the commission in March were allowed to build under the old ordinance. Those properties include the 11 home sites at the former Villa Rosa property, now known as Bimini Cove, on South Bay Boulevard.

The ordinance was formed to halt the proliferation of “box-like” homes in the city and prevent the “canyon effect” of such homes, as found on Pine Avenue, where the former Island Marine was located, the mayor said.

Commissioners discussed the ordinance for almost five months before agreeing on a LAR that received a majority vote of commissioners.

The commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 23, at the Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

Fundraising phone call a scam

Holmes Beach Police Officer Brian Copeman is alerting the public that a phone call from someone claiming to be raising funds for the Anna Maria Elementary school is a scam.

“I contacted the school principal, Dave Marshall, and he said there is no fundraiser at this time of year, so late in the school year,” Copeman said.

Two area businesses were called last week by the scammers and reported the call to HBPD, said Copeman, who is the AME resource officer.

Marshall said he learned the scam call to one business was made from Texas and the caller alleged to be accepting donations for a student activity book, “No Time for Crime.”

Although the caller used the name of an AME teacher, Marshall said it is not a legitimate fundraising campaign.

Marshall said the caller may have obtained information from the school website.

Copeman said anyone receiving a phone call asking for a donation for AME should try to get a call-back number or name, then report the incident.

Call HBPD at 941-708-5804 to report any suspect solicitations.

Aaargh! It’s Kid’s Day, mateys

The Anna Maria Island Privateers’ annual celebration of the school year coming to a close and the beginning of summer vacations for kids filled the pavilion and the beachfront at Anna Maria’s Bayfront Park. May 17. Islander Photos: Edna Tiemann

Kids take off in the sack race at the 59th annual Snooks Adams Kids Day, hosted by the fun-loving Anna Maria Island Privateers May 17 at Anna Maria’s Bayfront Park. The event included free sodas, hot dogs and pizza for kids and plenty of games, beads and pirate tales. The annual event began in 1954, when the late Holmes Beach Police Chief Snooks Adams carried kids in his Jeep to Coquina Beach to celebrate the end of the school year. The Privateers took up sponsorship in the 1980s, while Adams continued to raise funds and make appearances at the event. It grew to accommodate hundreds of kids seeking summer fun. More kids and Privateers, page 11. Islander Photo: Edna Tiemann

Ava Leechford, 7, enjoys a soda at Kid’s Day.

Mylie Belcher, 2, and sister Kylie Belcher, 3, at Kid’s Day.

The commemorative Kid’s Day button.

The Privateers lead a game of water balloon toss.

Privateers give a hardy “Hi, ho” to some new arrivals at the 59th annual Snooks Adams Kid’s Day party at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. The event gives kids a day of fun and celebration in advance of their summer vacation. W. H. “Snooks” Adams’ name and legacy live on at Kid’s Day and in the hearts of many young pirates. Adams, a local law enforcement officer most of his life, first took a jeep full of kids in 1954 to the beach for a cookout. Snooks’ outing grew and, in 1980, he partnered with the Privateers. He continued raising money and supporting the event until his death in May 2010. As a local nonprofit organization, the Privateers sponsor community and local youth events throughout the year, and offer a scholarship award program for local students attending college. Scholars are announced at yet another party at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, following the Privateers Fourth of July Parade.


BB terminates Rotten Ralph’s pier lease, locks out restaurateur

In a May 17 special meeting, Bradenton Beach commissioners unanimously voted to terminate the lease of Historic Bridge Street Pier concessionaire Dave Russell, operator of Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant on the pier for the past five years.

Commissioners had granted a 30-day extension of the termination April 18 in order to give Russell time to come into compliance with his lease obligations after falling behind in his rent payments dating back to June 2012.

The amount owed to the city varied over the past two months as city officials and their attorney calculated back rent, late fees and maintenance fees.

The city first announced the debt in March, saying Russell owed the city about $56,000. As more calculations were considered, city attorney Ricinda Perry said in April that the debt was closer to $250,000.

Russell said he had been negotiating with city staff in good faith to turn some restaurant equipment over to the city but, in spite of the fact he cleared up liens as requested, the city attorney denied the arrangement, saying it was only discussed, never finalized.

Russell disputed the amount owed when Perry announced her calculations, including late fees and other charges, and hired an attorney, who offered the city several options to end the dispute. Russell believed his debt was $65,000 and agreed to pay that amount in exchange for a new lease allowing Rotten Ralph’s to remain on the pier for the next 15 years.

He also offered the city $15,000 and would amicably walk away from the lease.

Commissioners discussed the various options and decided something is better than nothing, fearing Russell could reserve the right to file bankruptcy, leaving the city with nothing.

The two sides agreed upon the $15,000 payment with a stipulation that Russell pays all utilities and a $14,000 Waste Pro bill.

Perry said Russell had until May 20 to pay his obligations to the city, utility companies and Waste Pro.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh asked what would happen if the deadline expired without payment.

“We would have to sue him,” said Perry. “But I want to be clear that if we have to go after him, we will pursue the full $250,000, not the $15,000.”

As of Islander press time, the financial obligations outlined in the agreement had not yet been met.

Police Chief Sam Speciale asked for a consensus to change the locks on the restaurant and received it.

City staff and Mayor John Shaughnessy were expected to conduct a final walk-through of the facility May 20, after The Islander went to press.

Hometown hero


U.S. Rep. Vern Buchannan, R-Longboat Key, right, presents Holmes Beach Police Officer Joshua Fleischer the Congressional Law Enforcement Preservation of Life Award. Fleischer received the award in a presentation of law enforcement awards by the congressman May 13 for his quick actions in saving the life of a Holmes Beach man overdosing on drugs in November 2012.

HB code officer resigns

Holmes Beach code enforcement officer Dave Forbes has submitted his letter of resignation to Mayor Carmel Monti effective May 31.

Forbes said his resignation was “to relocate to Ohio to assist in the caretaking of family members.”

He added that he would “forever appreciate the opportunity I have had to play an instrumental role in providing the citizens of Holmes Beach a higher quality of life.”

Other Holmes Beach staff who have resigned since Monti was elected in November 2012 include Police Chief Jay Romine, superintendent of public works Joe Duennes and HBPD interim Chief Dale Stephenson.

Swift action promised against HB short-term rentals

Holmes Beach Commission Chair Jean Peelen promised swift action would be taken against Anna Maria Vacations, a company using annamaria.com to advertise rental units for less than seven days in the R-2 and R-1 districts.

Commissioners said they have been receiving complaints from residents and followed up with research into the agency’s advertised properties.

According to the city’s land development code, rental units in the R-2 and R-1 districts cannot be rented for less than seven days, but an advertisement on annamaria.com states, “Would you like to vacation on Anna Maria Island but can’t stay seven days? We have some special shorter stays just for you.”

According to the Division of Corporations, Florida Department of State, Anna Maria Vacations is a fictitious business name operated by Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes LLC and owned by Joseph Varner.

Peelen said Varner has been cautioned in the past about his rental practices in Holmes Beach. The ads to rent homes for less than seven days appeared in the past, according to Peelen, who said Varner agreed then to remove them.

But the ads began to reappear on annamaria.com, she claims.

However, The Islander reported in the past that website advertising is not regulated by the city, and advertising is not illegal.

Peelen said there also are occupancy issues, noting that one rental with four bedrooms was advertised to sleep 16 people. A report compiled by code enforcement lists eight properties being advertised to sleep more people than what the floor plan filed with the building department allows.

The report also notes that six of Varner’s properties do not have business tax receipts — the city’s licensing method — on file.

Code enforcement concludes there may be “multiple code violations pursuant to this consumer complaint.”

The city claims at least one of Varner’s properties, listed on the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office as a homesteaded residence, is being rented.

A report from the building department also states Varner owns 118 properties in Holmes Beach.

However, Varner disputes that total, saying, “I wish I did.”

“We’ve done the research and it’s all true,” said Peelen. “Code enforcement is on it and action will be taken in the short future. They were told about this last year and they continue to do it. Enforcement will be happening very soon.”

But Varner says “there are so many errors and false accusations, I am not really even sure where to start as it would take a full article to rebut. I have been told by many that Jean Peelwn was going to be ‘coming after me’ and I guess that looks to be true.”

Varner said he’s trying to decide if it’s best to engage an attorney.

“For the two and a half years I have been involved in business on the island, I have seen so much division and hate created by a few people, it is a real shame — and it only looks like it will be getting worse with the departure later this month of a good and reasonable man, David Forbes, in code enforcement,” he said.

Forbes said Varner claims his properties frequently have gaps between rentals that account for the seven days, regardless of whether some guests stay a shorter period or the full seven days.

It’s unclear as to the code, whether the seven days are to be within a calendar week, as many rentals are Saturday to Saturday, and Forbes was unsure who will eventually be cited in the event of a violation; the vacationer, the rental management company or the owner.

Tentative code hearing set on HB treehouse HB prepares to hear alleged treehouse violations

Richard Hazen and Linda Tran, owners of Angelinos Sea Lodge, 2818 Ave. E., Holmes Beach, have been cited by the city for violating the setback and removal of sea dunes with the construction of a treehouse, according to code enforcement officer David Forbes.

Forbes said the citations came from building official Tom O’Brien, who inspected the property and provided Forbes the list of violations.

Additionally, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claims the owners may have built the treehouse seaward of the coastal construction control line without a DEP permit.

The DEP required the treehouse owners obtain a letter of no objection from the city, and the city notified the owners that in order to obtain such a letter, they would first need to provide engineering and a site plan for review.

Tran and Hazen have retained attorney David Levin with the law firm of Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A., of Sarasota, to help with the DEP permit. She said the DEP only requires a letter that the treehouse is not within the city’s setback limit and it will provide an after-the-fact permit.

Tran and Hazen have been at odds with the city since November 2011, when the city issued them a citation for building the treehouse without a permit.

Tran said she thought that issue was settled.

“Now, all we can do is address each issue one at a time. I have not received a notice of a code board meeting, however,” she said.

When she does, she’ll pass that on to Levin. Tran said the situation is confusing, and she was unsure if Levin would represent them at the code board meeting.

“We just want to keep the treehouse and do the right thing. We are a small mom-and-pop resort and I just want to go back to living peacefully on the beach in Holmes Beach,” she said by phone while she traveled with her husband.

But Angelinos and the treehouse are no longer a small story of a code violation.

Bay area media, including television and cable networks, have picked up the story, which has helped draw attention from around the world.

A television station in Australia contacted The Islander asking how to reach Tran and Hazen for an interview on a morning show.

Tran said the station reached her and she did a phone interview, and a European television station also has been trying to reach her for an interview.

Originally from Romania, Tran lived in Russia before moving to the United States. She said she wouldn’t be surprised to hear from Russian and Romanian television stations.

“I guess I can no longer be just the owner of a small mom-and-pop resort,” Tran said.

At Holmes Beach City Hall, staff members said the code board hearing is tentative due to a board vacancy. The seat must be filled by the mayor prior to June 20 to ensure a quorum or the hearing would be postponed 30 days.

A hearing before the city code enforcement board is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, June 20, at the Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

But Tran said she has yet to be formally notified of any code enforcement board hearing, and she and her husband are dealing with the alleged violations “one at a time.”

The owners said they received a letter from Forbes listing the alleged violations.

“Many of them are just untrue,” said Tran. “We want to do the right thing, and we have asked O’Brien to give us a legal interpretation of why we are violating these codes.”

HBPD introduces new sergeants, new direction

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer introduced newly promoted Sgt. Mike Pilato and Sgt. Vern McGowin to the city commission May 14.

McGowin began his law enforcement career in 1988 in Alabama before taking a job with the Palmetto Police Department in 1992.

He joined the Holmes Beach Police Department in 1997 and is one of the department’s Coast Guard captains, as well as a senior officer on the dive team.

He has received advanced training as a field-training officer, and in middle management and is one of the department’s firearms instructors.

Pilato began his law enforcement career in 1996 in Texas, where he worked for eight years before joining the HBPD in 2004.

He has received advanced training as an instructor with specialties in firearms, armorer and firearms instruction. Pilato also is a department Coast Guard captain and senior officer of the dive team.

Tokajer said Pilato has received advanced training as a field-training officer, and in middle management and line supervision.

Tokajer also presented Officer Joshua Fleischer to the commission, as a recipient of the Congressional Law Enforcement Preservation of Life Award. Fleischer received the award in a presentation of law enforcement awards by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchannan May 13 for his quick actions in saving the life of a Holmes Beach man overdosing on drugs in November 2012.

Thanks to his actions, the man went on to make a full recovery.

Tokajer also introduced two newly hired members of the department. Kevin Powers started patrol duty May 20 and Mike Dinius to be the department’s dispatch supervisor. He will begin work May 27.

As part of the May 14 city commission proceedings, Mayor Carmel Monti presented a proclamation announcing May 13-17 as National Police Week.

May 15 was National Peace Officer’s Memorial Day.

“There were 72 officers feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2011 nationwide,” said Tokajer. “There were 47 killed in 2012. In Florida, there were 14 officers killed in 2011. There were five killed last year. We are praying those numbers continue to go down.”

As part of a new city policy, each department is required to present the commission with a monthly report, Tokajer’s detailed report received praise from commissioners.

April arrests included six for battery, two beverage law arrests, four driver’s license arrests, three DUIs, one resisting arrest without violence, one violation of a no-contact order and one warrant arrest.

The department issued 27 citations, 33 written warnings and addressed 15 noise complaints in April. Eight of the 15 complaints proved to be unfounded.

The department received eight citizen commendations in April.

To help improve the ongoing rental noise complaints, Tokajer has provided the city’s rental agents with a good neighbor policy outlining the agents’ responsibilities.

Chair Jean Peelen asked Tokajer what the policies and procedures were in addressing noise complaints.

Tokajer said his officers have decibel meters and he has begun a new policy in separating noise complaints that are legitimate and those that are not to give the city a better idea as to the actual problem.

“We’ve broken them down into two categories,” said Tokajer. “If it is a city violation, it’s reported as a violation. If no noise is heard when the officer arrives, it’s listed as an information report. We also are working up a policy of enforcement.”

Tokajer said the policy would include fining violators, but also fining rental agents if they are not adopting the good neighbor policy of informing renters of the noise ordinance.

Tokajer said it can be difficult to track the problem with new renters revolving in and out of the city, but if the same problem persist in the same rental units, then it may be a rental agent is not doing his or her job.

“We’ve sent a flier to every rental agent outlining the good neighbor policy,” he said.

The flier explains the noise ordinance and that a first offense carries a $500 penalty. Each subsequent fine is $1,000.

The flier also explains beach policies: no pets, no glass and no open fires.

Vehicle burglaries are a problem on the island, especially during tourist season, so Tokajer outlined vehicle safety tips for agents to pass on to renters.

Tips include locking vehicles, keeping valuables in the vehicle trunk and hiding garage door openers to prevent thieves a means to access homes.

Other safety tips include a reminder to never leave a pet locked in an unattended vehicle and to ensure drivers check for “no parking” signs when parking in the city.

Everyone is asked to report suspicious vehicles and/or persons within the city by calling 941-708-5807 or 911 in the event of an emergency.