Bradenton Beach gave a greenlight to the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge to operate food trucks from its parking lot.
But the city also said patrons would need a Moose membership card to make purchases.
And that meant fewer customers and less income for the food truck and Moose coffers.
So the Moose emailed members Aug. 30 and said the lodge would stop hosting food trucks “due to the permits required by the local authorities.”
The lodge, 110 Gulf Drive S., started renovating its kitchen in May, after the first shutdown for COVID-19, but work was delayed when it was learned the Moose needed additional city permits.
“We’re going through the permit process and it’s quite extensive,” bar administrator Byron Dalton said. “We hoped to be finished by now, but it’s in the hands of our wonderful city.”
To meet the demand for food, the Moose set up a tent and a grill in its parking lot to operate a small kitchen.
Then, Dalton said, the Moose invited food trucks to the lodge in mid-August to “spice things up.”
“Our members kind of get tired of burgers and hot dogs and stuff like that,” he said. “We figured we’d do something different with the food truck.”
The Moose hosted The Maine Line lobster truck from Sarasota and The Spot taco truck from Bradenton, as well as the Sausage Express from Venice.
Dalton said the Moose received a percentage of the sales but did not disclose the amount.
Building official Steve Gilbert said city code permitted the food trucks if they sold only to Moose members. Otherwise, the lodge must acquire a temporary-use permit to host a mobile business that sells to the public.
“As of now, it appears that the lodge is offering an expanded menu to ‘members only,’” Gilbert had written to the newspaper prior to the lodge’s suspension of the trucks. “Until advised otherwise, as the building official, the Moose Lodge’s extended menu offerings through ‘food trucks’ appear to be within the intent of the city commission’s intent to offer some relief to businesses as regards to the COVID-19 situation, as well as the lodge’s pending permits to renovate its existing kitchen facilities.”
But the Moose’s message to members cited the loss of revenue as a reason to stop hosting food trucks.
“The costs to the Moose Lodge are not economically beneficial to the order and may impact some of the charitable donations we provide to the local community,” the email read.
“We will continue to use our grill each day to provide you with food at the lodge as we have in the past,” the email continued. “Again, we are sorry that we have to terminate the food truck operations.”
The coronavirus has claimed another annual Anna Maria Island celebration.
Anna Maria commissioners voted 5-0 Aug. 27 to retract approval of a special event permit for the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce to host its 20th annual Bayfest celebration on Pine Avenue in October.
Commissioners in June approved the permit to hold the event Oct. 16-17, hoping the pandemic would resolve by mid-fall. However, commissioners aren’t comfortable permitting the event in the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the end, the health and safety of all is of the utmost importance to us, so we definitely support the decision of the Anna Maria City Commission 100%,” chamber vice president Cathy Pizzo told The Islander.
The commission decision makes Bayfest another in a long list of island celebrations canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. Most of the traditional highlights in the spring and summer calendar were victims, including the Anna Maria farmer’s market, the St. Patrick’s Day and July 4 parades, Independence Day fireworks, a school gala and the annual tour of homes.
Pizzo and board chair Bev Kilpatrick attended the commission meeting hoping to retain the event.
Kilpatrick presented chamber plans intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus at Bayfest, including taking volunteers’ temperatures, sanitizing port-a-potties, placing hand-sanitizer stations along Pine Avenue and requiring face masks for everyone at the event, including vendors.
She said event coordinators and volunteers would enforce the face mask rule.
Also, the chamber planned to mark Pine Avenue with tape and post signs to promote social distancing and other safe practices.
“We’re taking every precaution,” Kilpatrick said.
Pizzo said vendors — about 40 already showed interest in participating — would be responsible for maintaining social distance between customers and limiting the number of people in their space.
The chamber estimated 4,000 people attended its single-day of Bayfest in 2018, but 2019 saw a reduced number due to inclement weather.
At the commission meeting, Pizzo said about 1,500 people were on Pine Avenue in 2019.
No state order exists that would prohibit Bayfest in October. The state initially limited the number of people allowed to congregate but only “encourages” people to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people, according to a person at the Florida Department of Health who declined to be identified.
However, a DOH public health advisory issued July 20 and in effect as of Aug. 27 advises people to “refrain from gatherings of more than 10 people.”
At the city meeting, Commissioner Jonathan Crane said he’s uncomfortable bringing crowds to Anna Maria during a pandemic.
The coronavirus is spread mainly person-to-person, through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and the CDC says the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,
“I’m worried signs and blue tape won’t stop someone from breathing down the back of my neck,” Crane said.
Commissioner Joe Muscatello said canceling the event likely wouldn’t result in any hardship for the chamber. He said the commission canceled the city’s annual Memorial Day Parade in May due to concerns about crowds.
“We’ve been conservative about this situation so far, and I think we should continue to be,” Muscatello said.
Commission Chair Carol Carter said she also is concerned about bringing crowds to a city so heavily populated with older people.
Muscatello moved to retract approval of the permit and Crane seconded the motion.
There was no public comment.
Pizzo told The Islander that Bayfest generates about 30% of the chamber’s event revenue.
She said the chamber does not have an alternative plan.
“We haven’t really sat down and talked about moving forward yet,” Pizzo said. “We’d definitely like to have it when it’s possible, but there’s still a lot of unknowns.”
It’s peak season for scampering sea turtle hatchlings on Anna Maria Island.
And a previous lighting problem, disorienting hatchlings away from the Gulf of Mexico, was fixed.
As of Aug. 28, 249 nests had hatched in a “nursery” area on the beach near White Avenue and Peppertree Lane, near the Anna Maria/Holmes Beach boundary.
The spot was chosen based on the depth of the beach and fewer lighting concerns, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox.
Artificial light visible from the water’s edge can draw sea turtles away from the Gulf of Mexico, increasing the chances of death by predation, dehydration or exhaustion before reaching the water.
All nests in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach laid since season started at the end of April have been relocated to the nursery due to the intrusion to the sea turtle habitat from the $17 million beach renourishment project, which commenced near 77th Street in Holmes Beach July 8 and will continue south to Longboat Pass through the end of October.
Sea turtle season runs May-October, with some green sea turtles — less common than loggerheads on the island — nesting later in season.
In August, Fox was concerned a light at the top of a privately owned pole in Holmes Beach, caused up to 6,000 hatchlings to disorient.
The property owner was not local and the city had to make contact before action could be taken.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said Aug. 26 Florida Power and Light turned off the light, with permission from the city and the owner.
Tokajer said several other potentially problematic lights for sea turtles also were addressed.
“Some of those lights were not even in our city, but we still addressed it with FPL,” Tokajer said.
Fox said there are about 100 nests left to hatch in the nursery.
“We don’t foresee any more problems in the hatchery area now that one light has been turned off,” she said. “Hats off to Holmes Beach for getting it taken care of.”
An architect of the beach renourishment project is looking for public feedback.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, is considering minor design enhancements to increase resiliency for it’s beach renourishment project, which began in July at 76th Street in Holmes Beach and will run through October and end at Longboat Pass.
A “supplemental environmental assessment” will consider public comment on a variety of design modifications, including dune construction, vegetation, sand fencing and pedestrian and vehicle access, adding to the renourishment project, according to an Aug. 24 release from the Corps.
Public comment is sought either by email at SAJ-Dune-Comments@usace.army.mil or by traditional mail to: Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, Attn: Ms. Angie Dunn, 701 San Marco Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32207.
People can visit www.saj.usace.army.mil/ManateeShoreProtection to review the SEA. Comments must be received by Sept. 23.
For more information about Corps projects, visit www.saj.usace.army.mil.
— ChrisAnn Allen
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists are asking the public to report horseshoe crab sightings on Florida beaches using the FWC Reporter application, a smartphone app available from digital shops.
The most common time to see horseshoe crabs along the shore is in March and April, which is peak mating season.
However, sightings occur year-round, as does mating.
Reporting horseshoe crab sightings provides FWC marine biologists important information about habitat use, population distribution and environmental conditions for spawning.
Although horseshoe crabs have existed for more than 450 million years, scientists are still learning about Florida populations.
So public sighting information helps researchers target spawning beaches for the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Program, an initiative to collect scientifically accurate data throughout the state.
Horseshoe crabs are most active during the first few days of a new or full moon. The remainder of the 2020 calendar shows full moons this week, Sept. 2, and Oct. 1, Oct. 31, Nov. 30 and Dec. 29.
— Lisa Neff
Most who knew him say he was an angel.
Angel Cruz, 42, of Bradenton, owned Cruz Landscape. He was hospitalized Aug. 8 and died Aug. 23 from complications associated with COVID-19.
He is one of 254 people in Manatee County to die from COVID-19 as of Aug. 28.
“Angel Cruz was one of the finest men I’ve known,” Ann Grit, Holmes Beach resident and Cruz client, told The Islander Aug. 27.
“He was honest, hard-working, dependable, humble and kind, and I will miss him dearly. My heart goes out to his family and anyone else who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Jim Eatrides of Sarasota knew Cruz when Eatrides lived on Longboat Key and Cruz worked for another company. Eatrides encouraged Cruz to start his own business nearly 15 years ago.
“He was one of the most diligent, honest and thoughtful people I have ever met,” Eatrides said Aug. 27. “The more I saw him and got to know him, the more I saw that potential. He was the American Dream.”
Cynthia Lacy, a Holmes Beach resident and Cruz client, shared a post to social media when she learned the landscaper died. The response was overwhelming — more than 600 people liked the post and many shared comments on how Cruz affected their lives.
“He was able to do anything we needed, and did it with a smile on his face,” Lacy said. “He was just a wonderful person, loaded with integrity. And so strong and healthy, which is part of the shock.”
According to Cruz’s wife Maria, he had no known health issues prior to contracting the virus, but heart problems arose with the virus and claimed his life.
She said her husband’s employees were tested and none were positive, but he returned home from work one day and complained of a headache and fever.
She told him to rest and, when his symptoms worsened, encouraged him to get tested for the virus.
Angel Cruz tested positive at the state-run testing site at University Town Center in Sarasota.
He isolated, seeking to prevent the spread of the virus to his wife and their children, Angel Jr., 17, and Diana, 12. But eventually Maria and Angel Jr. contracted the virus.
During his illness, Angel Cruz reached a point where it was difficult to breathe, so his wife called 911 and he was taken to the hospital.
She said her husband could barely stand.
“I feel like he didn’t want me to worry, he didn’t want me to be scared,” Maria said. “I thought he would go to the hospital, they would give him oxygen and we would pick him up in the morning.”
Maria said her final communication from her husband was a text that he was about to be placed in a medically induced coma.
She was hospitalized shortly thereafter, as was their son, Angel Jr.
When it appeared Angel Cruz was getting worse and he was not baptized, his family requested the rite. Maria was admitted to his room, in full personal protective equipment and the ceremony was conducted over the phone with a priest.
“They said I could be in the room with him, since he was dying and I was positive,” she said. “They made me wear gloves, but I took them off, so I could feel him one last time.”
He died within hours of the baptism and Maria was released from the hospital several days later.
On Aug. 27, she was isolating and had not seen her daughter — who remained negative for the virus.
Maria said the encouragement and support from friends, family and customers has been overwhelming.
“I cannot say how much I appreciate peoples’ kind words,” she said. “I wish I could tell everyone ‘thank you, he loved you all so much.’”
Eatrides said he is in shock over the loss of his friend.
“He was a very healthy, active man,” Eatrides said. “What’s difficult about this disease is it hits people in different ways. It is indiscriminate.”
In the midst of multiple pending court filings in the fight to save their beachfront treehouse, Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen notched a victory.
In one of three cases in state court, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas denied Aug. 12 the city’s motion to dismiss the couple’s third amended complaint.
“We can only hope that after years of getting punched down at each step in the legal process, that there is still hope for our treehouse at the end of this dark tunnel,” Tran told The Islander Aug. 28.
She added of the years’ long legal dispute over the treehouse: “When times get tough, I watch this clip from Abbott & Costello ‘Who’s on First?’ A funny joke to keep me going.”
At issue is a two-story nonpermitted beachfront treehouse in an Australian pine tree at 103 29th St., Holmes Beach, where Tran and Hazen reside and operate a vacation rental business.
The dispute dates to 2011, when Tran said the couple obtained verbal permission to build the treehouse from a Holmes Beach building official.
“At the end of 2011, due to an anonymous phone call, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection came out and cited us for building without an FDEP permit. FDEP ordered removal, relocation of the treehouse,” Tran said.
She said they were not made aware of the building permit requirement and, in 2013, building official Tom O’Brien issued a notice of violation and ordered the treehouse removed because it encroached on the public beach and violated setback rules.
“In June 2013, our attorney filed for declaratory judgment in (the 12th Judicial District) seeking to declare that the prohibition provision, if not the entire land development code, unconstitutional,” Tran said.
“In June 2013, our attorney filed for declaratory judgment seeking the prohibition provision, if not the entire land development code, is unconstitutional,” Tran said.
In that 2013 filing, the couple claimed the structure was exempt from the city’s setback requirement — a statutory erosion control line, 50 feet from the water — as the treehouse, which the couple referred to as an “elevated cabana,” did not “cause a measurable interference with a functioning of the coastal system.”
The 2013 case lay dormant and, according to court records, “after years of inactivity, in February 2018, the court issued a motion of dismissal for failure to prosecute the matter.”
The case was reopened in May 2018 when the couple asked the court to declare in a motion for summary judgment the city ordinances null and void. The city sought to dismiss this case and that motion was denied April 2019.
The city asked for clarification of the couple’s complaint and a second and then a third amended complaint were filed.
“I’m not a lawyer,” Tran said. “What they wanted was this to be written in a way a lawyer could.”
In his Aug. 12 order denying the city’s dismissal motion, Nicholas found in favor of another request, granting Holmes Beach’s motion to dismiss Tran and Hazen’s request for monetary damages.
“The city has been trying to dismiss everything we filed,” Tran said. “We’re looking at the land development code to see if it’s valid. If it’s not valid, the treehouse doesn’t have to go.”
Currently, before the circuit court is the city’s February 2018 petition for enforcement of a 2013 code enforcement order.
The court agreed to allow the declaratory case to be decided first, Tran said.
“We also filed a pro se case in (the 12th Judicial District) seeking an injunction to keep our treehouse,” Tran said. That case is pending.
Island cities will hold hearings in September to set budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Anna Maria hearings will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10,m and 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24, prior to the regular city commission meetings.
Adoption of a final budget would be Sept. 24.
In Bradenton Beach hearings on the city budget will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, prior to the regular city commission meeting, and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10.
Also, the Bradenton Beach CRA will hold a final hearing and adopt a budget at 5:05 p.m. Sept. 10. The first hearing will be at 5:05 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3.
And Holmes Beach hearings will be precede city commission meetings at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, and 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22.
Island officials have been developing spending plans and charting revenues the past two months to develop fiscal 2020-21 budgets.