Tag Archives: 09-30-2020

Anna Maria inks pier lease, GSM group to open in November

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The building at the T-end of the new Anna Maria City Pier sits empty Sept. 24. The city contracted GSM Partners LLC, a trio of Anna Maria businesses, for a grill and bait shop in a portion of the leasable space, to be operational by Nov. 8. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Let the celebration begin: The lease is signed.

Anna Maria commissioners unanimously voted Sept. 24 to approve a lease with a trio of Pine Avenue business owners for a grill and bait shop on the T-end of the new city pier.

The group, doing business as GSM Partners LLC, comprises former Commissioner Brian Seymour, owner of the Pine Avenue General Store; Victor Mattay, owner of Dips Ice Cream; and Nicholas Graham of Pine Avenue Bait and Tackle; all in the Historic Green Village on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

“I think it’s a good partnership,” Mayor Dan Murphy said Sept. 24. “And I think it is a very fair and equitable contract.”

City commissioners Sept. 4 voted to select the group’s bid, and negotiations between Murphy and Seymour began.

The city accepted GSM’s rent proposal of $6,000 per month for the first year, with a 2.5% increase each following year.

GSM Partners agreed to the city’s proposed 5-year lease with a 5-year option.

According to the contract, the rent includes $500 for cold storage in the primary building on the south side of the T-end.

After several failed lease attempts, the city is still deciding how the primary space will be used.

The contract states the city will provide pier maintenance, for which GSM Partners will pay 10% of cost, to be revisited each year. The tenant also is responsible for 20% of the cost of utilities.

The request for proposals stipulated the city would provide drywall, flooring, a 4-foot hood, grease trap, fire suppression, electrical and plumbing rough-in.

The tenant is responsible for fixtures, equipment, painting and finish work, as well as design and construction of the food service areas with 45 days to complete the build-out and open for business.

That puts completion at Nov. 8.

If the tenant completes the build-out in less than 45 days, rent payment for the month might be waived.

Seymour, who attended the meeting on behalf of the partnership, said GSM Partners hired a planner, who has started work on the design.

“We’re trying to move the process forward to get to permitting as soon as possible,” Seymour said.

Murphy said Sept. 24 that Seymour agreed to manage the build-out — including the city’s share of construction, previously estimated at about $41,350. The mayor said Seymour would provide estimates for each portion of the project, to be approved by the commission.

“I think by having Mr. Seymour in charge of organizing and spearheading that, it will really make things go a lot quicker,” Murphy said.

Seymour added that he determined the grease trap, estimated as a $25,000 expense for the city, would not be required.

A motion for the mayor to sign the contract with GSM passed unanimously.

“We look forward to not just these next 10 years, but potentially, hopefully, more in the future,” Seymour said. “And maybe looking into the primary space as well.”


Pier grill, bait shop plans

People are anticipating the grill and bait shop at the new Anna Maria City Pier.

GSM Partners will open in early November. Hours of operation will be 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily — and the pier will open the same.

The menu includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and “sweet treats.”

The list of bait and tackle is extensive, with seasonal and frozen bait and a live bait well.

In the meantime, the pier remains open for visitors and fishing 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

— ChrisAnn Allen

Former AME principal arrested in prostitution sting

By Amy V.T. Moriarty

Islander Reporter

A former principal at Anna Maria Elementary was arrested in Hillsborough County in September.

Thomas Levengood, 68, was arrested for entering/remaining in place for prostitution, lewdness or assignation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, according to a Sept. 10 arrest record.

An attorney entered a not guilty plea Sept. 14 on Levengood’s behalf.

Natalia Verdina, public relations coordinator for HCSO, said Levengood was arrested at 3:05 p.m. at Sun City Park in Ruskin, where he allegedly approached an undercover detective and solicited sex.

Verdina said no money was exchanged between Levengood and the detective.

Levengood was released from jail after posting a $250 cash bond. He is scheduled to appear before 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge John Conrad for virtual arraignment proceedings Oct. 12, according to court records.

Grayson Kamm, chief communications director for the State’s Attorney’s Office in the 13th Judicial Circuit, said charges were filed in that office Sept. 25.

A Sept. 18 news release from HCSO identified Levengood as one of 11 men arrested by deputies in two Hillsborough County parks, as part of “Operation Park Cleanup.” All were similarly accused in the sting operation.

According to that news release, deputies focused their enforcement efforts on Sun City Heritage Park and Sydney Dover Conservation Park in Dover because both “are known to deputies as points where men meet for sex.”

Levengood was the principal at AME from February 2007 through June 2014. He was the principal at Bayshore Elementary from August 1994 through January 2007.

Levengood was unavailable for comment and his attorney, Brian Palacios, declined to discuss the case.

If convicted of the second-degree misdemeanor, Levengood could face up to 60 days in prison and/or a fine up to $500.

Stranded turtle in recovery

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A loggerhead, found stranded in Holmes Beach and named Violet by rescuers, undergoes rehabilitation at Mote Marine Laboratory. Islander Photo: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

Recovery is going well for a sea turtle found stranded off of Holmes Beach.

Representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contacted Mote Marine Laboratory Sept. 1 to rescue a loggerhead found bobbing in the water near 45th Street in Holmes Beach.

The female loggerhead, named Violet by Mote, was missing a front left flipper and suffered damage to its right front flipper.

Fishing gear was the likely cause of the missing flipper, according to Mote. Also, Violet’s right front flipper was X-rayed.

Mote reps drew blood, weighed the turtle, administered antibiotics and placed it in a pool.

Most recently, the turtle was on an iron supplement.

“She is doing very well,” Mote’s website stated Sept. 24.

Pending recovery, the turtle will be released to the Gulf of Mexico.

Check Violet’s progress at mote.org/hospital.

Governor launches phase 3, neuters mask mandates

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People dine outdoors Sept. 25 at the Ugly Grouper, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the same day the state was initiating phase 3, which lifts restaurant capacity restrictions and prohibits municipalities from fining people who refuse to comply with local mandates for masks. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Florida is open for business.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced during a Sept. 25 news conference at a St. Petersburg hotel that he issued an executive order moving the state into phase 3 — the final step in the state’s pandemic reopening plan.

The move was effective immediately, lifting the 50% indoor seating capacity established during phase 1 and allowing bars and restaurants to open at full capacity unless otherwise limited by local governments.

However, the order prevents municipalities from limiting restaurants to less than 50% indoor seating capacity.

Furthermore, the executive order suspended the “collection of fines and penalties associated with COVID-19,” effectively knocking out the enforcement teeth of coronavirus-related municipal and county regulations by prohibiting fines for violations.

The order also includes a “right-to-work” provision that states “No COVID-19 emergency ordinance may prevent an individual from working or from operating a business.”

DeSantis also eliminated all state restrictions established in phases 1 and 2 that weren’t modified in phase 3, including social distancing requirements for public spaces.

The decision to enter phase 3 came during a period of relative success for the state, which has struggled to contain the virus’ spread.

The daily number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state has hovered around 3,000 since late August after a daily peak at 15,300 on July 12.

On April 1, the day the state registered 1,032 newly confirmed cases, DeSantis issued a 30-day safer-at-home order and restricted nonessential activities.

On Sept. 25, as the state entered phase 3, 2,847 people tested positive and the death toll passed 14,000.


Reactions to phase 3

DeSantis’ announcement Sept. 25 received mixed responses.

John Horne, owner of four Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants, told The Islander Sept. 25 that he was excited for the opportunity to fully reopen, but would slowly transition to that point.

“I don’t see us opening any more than 60% of our indoor seating capacity over the first week or two,” Horne said. “Then we’ll figure out where to go on a week-by-week basis.”

Horne said his restaurants would maintain many safety measures from phases 1 and 2, including sanitizing menus and table settings after each use and encouraging outdoor seating.

He said that while face masks are no longer required within his businesses, staff will continue to wear face coverings and encourage customers to do so.

“We’re not going to make a lot of big changes,” Horne said. “We want our guests to still feel comfortable and confident that they are coming into a healthy, safe environment.”

Overall, Horne was supportive of entering phase 3.

“I think it’s absolutely the right time to move into phase 3,” Horne said. “I think it’s time to put the decision in everyone’s hands instead of just the government’s. …It’s time to let people get their businesses back in order.”

Sean Murphy, who owns two restaurants and a cocktail bar in Holmes Beach, criticized DeSantis for neutering the mask mandate for Holmes Beach and removing social distancing requirements while increasing indoor restaurant capacity.

“DeSantis is an idiot,” Murphy wrote in a Sept. 26 email to The Islander. “We will ignore the seating statements made by the bonehead in the governor’s office.”

Murphy has limited his businesses to carryout service at one location — Eat Here restaurant — since April to limit the virus’ spread. He announced plans Sept. 25 to reopen in October.

The Doctor’s Office, 5312 Holmes Blvd., Holmes Beach, will reopen first with reservations starting at 5 p.m. Oct. 8. The bar will begin taking reservations at noon Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Murphy announced the Beach Bistro, 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, will reopen for reservations with limited beachfront and indoor seating Oct. 22 with a new HVAC system to sanitize the flagship restaurant’s air using ultraviolet light.

Both businesses will operate 5-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays until November, when he plans to resume seven-day-a-week service.

Murphy said that in addition to maintaining a lower capacity and socially distanced seating, employees and customers must wear face masks inside.

“Masks are an essential baseline,” Murphy said. “To not wear masks in public, around other people, is reckless and a danger to everyone.”

The state rules allow a business to refuse service to people who fail to comply with its face mask policy.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said Sept. 25 that she isn’t concerned with restaurants reopening to full seating capacity but voiced concern with the suspension of fines for coronavirus-related municipal regulations.

“My biggest fear is this is going to make people stop shopping. The mask mandates and social distancing requirements allowed people to feel safe enough to go back out shopping,” Titsworth said, adding that she feels people are trying to help the economy. “I’m concerned it could hurt it.”

Titsworth credited local mask mandates and social distancing requirements for improvements in containing the coronavirus.

She said the state should allow local governments to continue enforcing municipal mandates instead of encouraging noncompliance.

“We’re still so far away from a vaccine. Why are we letting up now?” Titsworth said. “We finally got our numbers to turn, and now I’m afraid we might go backward.”

HB conducts legal business in the ‘shade’

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The Holmes Beach mayor and commissioners meet Sept. 24 via Zoom to strategize on 12 lawsuits with attorneys Patricia Petruff, Jay Daigneault, Randy Mora and Erica Augello. Islander Screenshot

There is a lot to be said in the shade.

The Holmes Beach mayor and commissioners met Sept. 24 in a three-hour shade meeting to discuss strategies for 12 lawsuits.

The cases mostly were filed against the city alleging violations of the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, which allows demands for compensation due to government regulations that diminish the value of private property.

Property owners allege their rights were violated when the city limited occupancy in vacation rentals.

The meeting was held on Zoom, with both a public and private meeting.

A shade meeting allows a government body to privately meet with council to discuss litigation strategy, settlement negotiations and expenditures.

The meeting is publicly noticed and opened and closed, then reopened in private with motions made during the closed session.

Both portions of the Sept. 24 meeting were transcribed by a court reporter and will be available to the public after the cases close.

City attorneys Patricia Petruff of Dye Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt and St. Paul of Bradenton, and Jay Daigneault, Randy Mora and Erica Augello of Trask Daigneault of Clearwater provided council. Trask Daigneault is contracted by the city’s insuror.

The meeting concluded with the only motion — to adjourn the meeting.

Cases considered included:

  • 210 North Harbor LLC v. city;
  • 212 North Harbor Drive LLC v. city;
  • 302 55th St. LLC v. city;
  • 307 66th St. LLC v. city;
  • 5501 Holmes Blvd. LLC v. city;
  • 56th Street Cottages LLC, 303 56th St. v. city;
  • AMI Breeze LLC, 209 54th St., v. city, summary judgment and fee appeals;
  • Gulf Front Paradise LLC, 102 77th St. v. city;
  • Mojito Splash LLC, 304 65th St. v. city, summary judgment appeal;
  • Kaleta, 204 72nd St. v. city, two cases;
  • City v. Bali Hai JV LLC, 6900 Gulf Drive.

HB puts hold on adopt-a-reef, research committee suggested

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David Wolff Jr., son of the founder of Ocean Habitats Inc. of Micanopy, installs a mini reef March 4 under a dock in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy the Center of Anna Maria Island

Holmes Beach wants to do its part to ensure the local waters are clean and productive.

Eran Wasserman, the city’s development services director, presented during a teleconferenced meeting Sept. 22 information to the mayor and commissioners that suggested further research must be done before the city implements an adopt-a-reef program.

Wasserman also suggested the city form a volunteer committee on water quality.

In August, commissioners approved a project in partnership with the Center of Anna Maria Island to encourage people to purchase small, artificial reef systems created by Ocean Habitats of Micanopy for installation under docks in Holmes Beach.

Each reef forms an ecosystem that supports hundreds of fish, crabs and shrimp and filters about 30,000 gallons of water per day once fully developed, according to the Ocean Habitats website.

The rectangular reefs are about 2-by-3-feet, can be installed underneath a dock and the materials will last about 500 years in saltwater.

Wasserman said Sept. 22 that the city must consider:

  • What could happen if the reefs break free;
  • How the reefs would interact in the ecosystem;
  • The measurable effects of the reefs on the water;
  • Permitting and regulation through state and local agencies.

He said he was waiting on permitting answers from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Wasserman suggested forming an ad hoc water quality committee to look at ways in which Holmes Beach could help clean the waterways, including seeding the bay and canals with clams and oysters and resolving issues with fertilizer runoff.

The mayor and commissioners reached a consensus that the reef project would be on hold until the DEP provides permitting information and a volunteer committee on water quality is formed to meet with Wasserman and work on the matter.

The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, conducted via Zoom. Instructions to join the meeting will be provided on the city’s website at holmesbeachfl.org.

Pandemic concerns clear AMI’s community calendar

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An audience attends a past Symphony on the Sand at Coquina Beach. The annual November event was canceled for 2020. Islander File Photo.

Many islanders who “streamed” and “Zoomed” through spring and summer may continue home-based, remote-centric entertainment through the fall.

October traditionally brings the launch of a fall-winter calendar crowded with club meetings, art shows and entertainment offerings. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the island’s datebook Sept. 25 looked different from years past, with penciled-in Zoom meetings, canceled gatherings and postponed events.

And it was unclear that day how the governor’s decision moving the state into phase 3 of reopening would impact the event schedule.

One of the island’s largest annual events, the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Bayfest, a street festival with live music and vendors, will not occur Oct. 19-20. Anna Maria commissioners revoked an event permit, leading the chamber to postpone — indefinitely — the party on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

The Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra announced earlier this year that it would not hold the Symphony on the Sand concert in early November.

AMICCO, in an August news release, stated the “intention is to continue with future performances of Symphony on the Sand in 2021.”

AMICCO also is looking ahead to 2021 for any concerts.

“At this date, we are waiting to see how all things COVID-related develop for the winter season before we announce any decisions for 2021,” Linda Burke, AMICCO’s executive director, said Sept. 22.

In September and October, arts organizations traditionally announce plans for fall-winter art walks and gallery receptions.

While galleries, including Island Gallery West and the Artists’ Guild Gallery in Holmes Beach, remain open with limited hours and exhibits, there were no announced art walks as of Sept. 25.

In any other fall, the Island Players would have staged one play and rehearsals would be ongoing for another, but Sept. 25 the community theater’s website lacked even a schedule for 2020-21.

“We are planning to begin our season in March but do not have details confirmed yet as to dates and plays,” Diane Phinney of the players said Sept. 23.

Meanwhile, the Offstage Ladies Auxiliary of the Island Players, a theater support group, had canceled the remainder of its 2020 meetings.

“We have toyed with the idea of possibly December but really cannot make that determination until early November,” said Ellen Devine. “Hoping to be back on schedule for 2021.”

In the spring, other community and social groups shifted to teleconference meetings using platforms such as Zoom.

Such meetings likely will continue through the fall for some, including the Anna Maria Island Garden Club.

“Sadly, there will be no in-person garden club meetings at Roser this year,” said Claudia Carlson, club president. “We expect to communicate with members through monthly webinars but at present those are not available to the general public.”

After the phase 3 announcement, Carlson confirmed the canceled meetings, stating that “the board and myself firmly believe in science.”

The Anna Maria Island Kiwanis Club, which was gathering Saturday mornings at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe in Holmes Beach, has not met for months and, as of Sept. 25, had no plans to meet.

“Due to the age of most of our members and that we still have several who are still up north, we’ve not started back with our meetings,” said Kiwanis representative Sandy Haas-Martens.

She said club president John Chappie, mayor of Bradenton Beach, may reevaluate in October.

Meanwhile, some island churches continued to hold worship services, Bible studies and other activities but none had announced general public events, including pancake breakfasts and rummage sales.

As of Sept. 25, St. Bernard Catholic Church awaited guidance from its diocese on holding breakfasts and sales and Roser Memorial Community Church’s leadership had not decided if it would fire up the griddle for Saturday breakfasts.

So, what’s on the community calendar?

The city of Anna Maria filled Tuesdays on the calendar beginning Oct. 13 and continuing into 2021 with a series of farmer markets at City Pier Park.

And the chamber scheduled its business awards in November.

“Tentative” marked dates for some other signature fall-winter events, including the chamber’s Trail of Treats at Halloween and the Christmas celebrations.

Clerks in each of the cities keep some of the best event calendars on the island because they handle applications and mark approval of event permits.

In Anna Maria, the only event on the city calendar was the city-sponsored market on Tuesdays.

In Holmes Beach, no large events were permitted as of Sept. 25 and one planned since last October — the National Night Out set for Oct. 3 — was canceled.

In Bradenton Beach, clerk Terri Sanclemente said the city had not considered permit requests for major events in the fall and winter, including the Anna Maria Island Privateers Christmas Parade held each December.

Still, community leaders seemed hopeful that 2020 would not be the year without a Santa Claus.