Tag Archives: Feature

Island mayors downshift paid beach parking

thumb image
Beachgoers walk to the Manatee Public Beach as motorists arrive to seek parking March 14 near the county-operated beach at 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
Eden Hoffelmeyer, 2, of Sparta, Illinois, waits in her car seat while her parents unload beach gear at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. The Hoffelmeyer family was on holiday March 14 from Sparta, Illinois. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
Isaac Hoffelmeyer, 5, of Sparta Illinois, waits for his parents David and Christina to unpack the family van March 14 at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. The family, including Amelia, 7, and Eden, 2, was on a spring holiday. Another driver in a van from Ontario, loaded with people, is searching for parking.

Before they see the beach, many Manatee Public Beach visitors see brake lights and turn signals as they circle the parking lot seeking a parking space.

Might they also someday see parking meters at Manatee County beaches, as well as at boat ramps?

The concept of paid-beach parking resurfaced in late February during a preliminary budget discussion among county commissioners.

At the meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Stephen Jonsson, whose district includes west Manatee, Anna Maria Island and north Longboat Key, observed Pinellas County beaches have paid-parking and that user fees can help pay for amenities.

“I am just supporting research to determine what the feasibility may be and what consequences might also develop,” Jonsson said in a statement March 14 to The Islander.

Island mayors, assembled March 11 at Anna Maria City Hall for an Island Transportation Planning Organization meeting, said they have an idea the consequences would be negative.

The ITPO consists of the island mayors and generally assembles before a meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes an island mayor. The next MPO meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, March 25, at the Holiday Inn Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota.

At the ITPO meeting, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth expressed concern that the county commission may consider instituting paid parking at its beaches.

“I think that’s going to impact everybody,” said Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.

In Anna Maria, the county maintains Bayfront Park on the bayside, but the city owns the property.

In Holmes Beach, the county owns and maintains the Manatee Public Beach on the Gulf of Mexico and also operates the city-owned Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue.

In Bradenton Beach, the county owns and maintains the Cortez and Coquina beaches, as well as the Leffis Key preserve and boat ramps on the bayside of the park.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie observed, “One-third of our city is county property.”

“It would have a traumatic effect on our neighborhoods,” Chappie said of paid parking at the beaches. “I was surprised when they came up with it all of a sudden.”

Titsworth replied, “And they’re talking about the boat ramps, too.”

At the Kingfish ramp March 14, Johan Rodriguez of Palmetto was putting his boat into the water.

Asked whether he’d pay to park at the ramp, Rodriguez said, “Don’t we already pay for this with our taxes?”

At the Manatee Public Beach, Martha Wilcox, a seasonal resident from Vermont, said she wouldn’t balk at paying for parking, provided parking was made more abundant.

“I don’t want to be asked to pay $10 an hour after driving around 30 minutes looking for a parking space,” she said. “If you are going to sell parking, you better have it to sell.”

Eight out of 10 beachgoers polled by The Islander said they wouldn’t mind paying to park at the public beach if the fee were modest and space abundant.

And yet, said Donna Snyder, who was visiting the island from Kansas City, Missouri, “If we knew of free parking, we’d probably use it.”

Titsworth, at the ITPO meeting, surmised that charging for parking at Manatee Public Beach would push people to search for free parking in residential neighborhoods or encourage them to poach spaces at nearby businesses, specifically the Public Super Market on East Bay Drive.

Murphy said Anna Maria officials studied paid parking for the city and found “it doesn’t have any payback.”

Chappie said he would invite a county commissioner to attend the next Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting — possibly in April — to discuss the matter.

Jonsson, to The Islander, said the next step might be a work session.

“I have absolutely no idea what revenues could be generated,” he stated, but revenue generated could be used to maintain the beaches and also encourage other modes of transportation to and on the island.

Near the meeting’s conclusion, Murphy observed it was the last session of the ITPO in Anna Maria for four years. The chair will shift to Chappie, and the meetings will take place at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive, beginning at 2 p.m. Monday, May 6.


Parking consultant study suggests paid parking
For the ongoing Barrier Islands Traffic Study, a Tampa consulting firm evaluated parking on the islands in Manatee and Sarasota counties and offered a series of recommendations, including paid parking in key public areas.

The study by Walker Consultants, presented last April, listed eight general recommendations for the study area, including charging “a fee to park in the most convenient public parking locations” because “implementing a fee-to-park strategy will support a best-practice policy for managing demand by price. The goal would be to make at least 15 percent of the localized parking inventory available for use at all times by creating parking turnover and encouraging alternative transit and commuter options.”

Another recommendation was to use parking revenues to lease park-and-ride locations.

A third recommendation was to use parking revenues to support bonds to build structured public parking “convenient to public-use areas and commercial corridors.”

Specific to Anna Maria Island, the report recommended working with local churches to use parking lots, developing an electronic wayfinding system so motorists can find parking spaces, establishing park-and-ride locations on the mainland, and, in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, charging “a fee to park at designated public beach parking spaces.”

AM city pier pile-driving progresses, decking ‘on deck’

thumb image
Cheryl Southerly, visiting from Bradenton, looks out over the water March 16 where piles are being driven for the new Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Work installing walkway pilings for the new Anna Maria City Pier continues.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, at a city commission meeting March 14, said i+iconSOUTHEAST workers were driving 15 walkway pilings near the T-end the same day. The section is planned to serve as a landing area for small watercraft and is beefed up to include three pilings per row, while the remainder of the walkway will have two pilings per row.

Murphy said pile-driving for the boat landing would wrap up March 25, when Icon will start driving 126 walkway pilings near the shore side, moving east.

The 141 walkway pilings make up almost three quarters of the 201 pilings planned for the 776-foot pier, and should be driven and leveled by April 26, according to the mayor.

He said Icon would use a second barge to deliver pilings to the construction site to avoid interrupting work.

Next on deck, after the pile-driving, Icon will place the concrete deck on the T-end and install wood bents to support the walkway. Murphy said materials would again be brought by a barge to the site.

He said the city purchase of decking materials will save $30,000 in taxes that would have been charged if Icon made the purchase.

Murphy said he would have the purchase order for the ipe wood, as well as any potential change orders on the construction, ready for commission consideration by March 18.

City commissioners will vote during an emergency meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, March 21.

Also, Murphy said 20 small pilings that were added along the shore to hold fencing during the demolition of the pier, would be removed “some time in the future.”

The city’s contract with Icon requires the contractor to complete the walkway and T-end by Aug. 26 or pay a $975 penalty for every workday after the deadline.

Murphy also said he scheduled a meeting with pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder for April 10 to update him on the project.

The city has yet to discuss a request for proposals to construct the restaurant and bait shop at the T-end.

2018 red tide outbreak — not Mother Nature’s doing

thumb image
Linda Jones receives the Suncoast Waterkeeper Environmental Achievement Award March 3, recognizing decades of activism and opposition to phosphate mining and inappropriate development. Jones led the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club in opposition to Long Bar Pointe.
The blue line on the graph represents an average of 10 years of FWC data from years before Florida’s development boom, depicting red tide as it may have been historically, when the Conquistadors arrived and began keeping records. The red line represents more recent averages of FWC data. A line for 2010-19 would be off the graph. Islander Graphic: Larry Brand
A microscopic-size cell of Karenia brevis, the species responsible for red tide. Islander Courtesy Photo

By Andy Mele, Special to The Islander

As 150 guests at the Suncoast Waterkeeper Brunch for the Bay learned March 3, the red tide bloom in 2018 was not a natural occurrence.

The determining factor in today’s red tides, after all variables are accounted for, is human-induced nutrient pollution — primarily nitrates and phosphates. Nutrients are not merely a marginal contributor, as some institutions and elected officials would like us to believe.

True, Karenia brevis, the toxic alga that populates the lethal blooms we call red tide is a naturally occurring organism. It is found in waters around the globe.

And, yes, red tides have been documented since the arrival of Europeans to Florida’s shore. But there is a difference between the naturally occurring red tides and the rapidly growing red tides we have endured for decades.

About Karenia brevis
Karenia brevis is also known as red tide when its numbers become higher than 1,000 cells per liter. K.brevis emits brevetoxins that can become airborne in water spray and wind. At concentrations above 10,000 cells/liter, red tide can cause respiratory symptoms in humans. Above 50,000 cells per liter, fish mortality begins to occur. Above 1,000,000 cells/liter, discoloration of the water can be seen. Concentrations as high as 50,000,000 cells/liter were observed during the 2018 red tide event.

Larry Brand, Ph.D. and a research scientist at the University of Miami, was the featured speaker at Suncoast Waterkeeper’s annual brunch at the Bradenton Yacht Club in Palmetto.

Brand told his audience there is a fifteenfold increase in K. brevis concentrations that is contributing to today’s mega-blooms. After accounting for geological and geographical contributions to red tide, Brand said, “The only remaining variable that has increased enough to account for it is us.”

Brand explained some of the complexities of Florida’s red tide. Plants — and algae are plants — require 16 parts nitrogen to one part phosphorus. Where that 16N:1P ratio is found, there can be a natural red tide bloom.

The waters on the East Coast of Florida — where the St. Lucie Canal empties Lake Okeechobee discharges thick with toxic blue-green algae — are dominated by limestone deposits and are naturally rich in nitrogen. Hence, phosphorus is required to provide the optimum 16:1 nutrient that drives algal growth. No phosphorus, no algae. Phosphorus is relatively scarce on the East Coast.

On the southwest Gulf Coast, however, the opposite circumstances prevail. Because of massive natural phosphate formations underlying west-central Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, the coastal waters are rich in phosphorus from a variety of inputs, including phosphate mine drainage. Here, algae need nitrogen to stimulate growth. No nitrogen, no algae. It’s called “nitrogen-limited.”

However, when Lake Okeechobee’s nitrogen-rich blue-green algae enters the system from the Caloosahatchee River, the conditions for explosive growth are met.

Brand lists four principal sources of nitrogen: animal waste, crop fertilizer, stormwater runoff and illegal sewage discharges. All have increased exponentially since the 1950s along with Florida’s population and development, when the first sample run was conducted by FWC. In the 1950s, less than 10 percent of the Florida coastline was developed, while the remainder was woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. Today, more than 90 percent is developed and we’re flushing pollutants into the bays and Gulf.

Agricultural sources — animal waste and fertilizer — are the major causes of intense algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee. They are transported down the Kissimmee River, and pumped north from sugar cane fields south of the lake. The other two sources — stormwater and sewage — supply a steady diet of nutrients for red tide as it expands up and down the Gulf Coast.

Aside from people with respiratory symptoms who may suffer chronic asthma or COPD, the effects of K. brevis are immediately noticeable, leading people to leave the area, although no long-term or acute effects are known. The only known human fatalities associated with red tide have been from shellfish poisoning. Shellfish filter water through their gills to extract food and oxygen and, as K. brevis cells accumulate in shellfish, they can be fatal if eaten.

Blue-green algae, on the other hand, which is consumed by fish and shellfish, are suspected of having long-term impacts, specifically ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, without short-term impacts to warn of exposure. The correlations between algae and disease are still being studied, but an environmental toxin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine or BMAA, is found in both victims of the diseases and the blue-green algae.

BMAA appears to provide a causative link.

And BMAA has been documented in almost all shrimp and species of fish from the areas of the red tide bloom.

As a general caution, Brand suggested not consuming any seafood from areas impacted by red tide for several months after the event has subsided.

Data sets for 1954-63 are regarded as baseline “naturally-occurring” red tide, approximately what Hernando de Soto or Ponce de Leon might have seen in the 1500s — neither a threat to tourism nor an apocalyptic killer of fish and marine mammals.

But today’s conditions are both, according to Brand, and it’s worsening.

The ozonators, bubblers and clay sprinklers being touted by Mote Marine Laboratory and some elected officials as fixes are unproven, wildly expensive and cannot be scaled up to levels needed to treat the coastline. Brand says they appear to be strategies for developing revenue from wealthy canal homeowners, and cannot be taken seriously as solutions to red tide.

He said it, and Suncoast Waterkeeper has been saying it since last summer: the only practical, meaningful and affordable solution is to stop the nutrient pollution at its source. And its true source is not at a dairy farm or a sugar cane field. It is in Tallahassee.

Here’s the Waterkeeper solution to red tide.

Florida urgently needs:
• Numeric, enforceable water quality standards and the FDEP staff and budget to enforce them.
• Common-sense limits on development.
• No more phosphate mining.
• Elected officials who understand that as the water goes, so goes Florida.
• A comprehensive water and aquifer management program, including conservation measures, pricing and limits.

Brand and Suncoast Waterkeeper maintain that without action and change, there is little chance for improvement and there’s a strong prospect the state’s water crisis will worsen.

Andy Mele, of Suncoast Waterkeeper, is an advocate for a better environment and responsible development in Manatee County. He is former executive director of a major Hudson River environmental group that was instrumental in forcing General Electric to remove 300,000 pounds of toxic PCBs from the river. He authored “Polluting for Pleasure,” the book that rendered two-stroke outboard motors all but extinct, keeping millions of gallons of oil and gasoline from U.S. waterways every year. He can be reached at andymele@mac.com.

First phase of Pine Avenue improvements previewed

thumb image
Anna Maria commissioners heard results of a Pine Avenue vehicle traffic and pedestrian safety study from public works manager Dean Jones, during a March 14 meeting. Jones completed is research on the 200 and 300 blocks of Pine Avenue. Islander Courtesy Photo: CofAM

Pedestrian safety, traffic and parking are long-established problems for Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

Public works manager Dean Jones, who was tasked by the city commission to suggest improvements block-by-block, presented his findings for the 200 and 300 blocks to city commissioners March 14.

Jones said he spent a week studying the avenue in-person, noting where people crossed Pine, identifying hot spots for potential problems and spacing for more parking. He said he conferred with Mayor Dan Murphy about his suggestions and made some changes before his presentation.

Murphy prefaced Jones’ presentation by stating the improvements are not final solutions, but rather short-term ideas for Pine Avenue. He added that the city would use contingency funds for any fixes.

For the 200 block, Jones proposed adding a high-intensity crosswalk near the trolley stop west of the Donut Experiment at 210C Pine Ave., as well as at the crosswalk on Pine Avenue on the south side of the intersection with North Shore Drive.

Jones also proposed crosswalk markings across North Shore at the intersection.

Currently, there are crosswalks on the north and east sides of the intersection, but Jones said he witnessed people disregarding them to walk across the other sides of the street.

Also, he suggested converting a “no parking area” on the south side of Pine across from the Donut Experiment to a loading zone to be used for deliveries to nearby shops.

Commissioner Doug Copeland said the conversion was a good idea, but suggested loading zone hours so the area also could be used for public parking — probably three spaces.

Jones said he would measure the area and return to the commission with suggestions for parking that would not impede access at the nearby trolley stop.

For the 300 block, Jones proposed adding high-intensity crosswalks on the south and west sides of the intersection at Crescent Drive and Pine — which he called unsafe for pedestrians — as well as a double-line crosswalk on the south side of Pine.

Currently, a high-intensity crosswalk is on the north side of the intersection, with a double-line crosswalk on the east side.

He also proposed a double-line crosswalk across the north side of the T-intersection at Los Cedros Drive and Pine, where no crosswalk currently exists.

Copeland asked Manatee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Jones how he’d to encourage crosswalk use because he’s seen people cross Pine outside of crosswalks.

Jones said the city could launch a campaign encouraging crosswalk use or ticket offenders. Jaywalking in Anna Maria is a noncriminal infraction, punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed $500 as determined by a judge or special magistrate.

Seymour suggested a public-safety day, when deputies would be stationed along the avenue to encourage crosswalk use, as well as ticket jaywalkers.

Jones said the next step would be to establish the cost — estimated at $10,000 — and gain commission approval for the improvements. The city would next issue a request for proposals to contractors.

Jones said he would finalize his proposal for the two blocks by the next commission meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 28.

“At some point, something is going to happen, and we have to do something about it,” Jones said.

Rash of identity, credit thefts spur 
HBPD investigation, arrest

thumb image
Fran and Wayne Derr of Key Royale in Holmes Beach check their mail March 7. The Derrs were victims of identity thieves who attempted to obtain credit cards using their names. Islander Photo: Chris-Ann Silver Esformes
Samuel Casamayor Abreu, 27
Holmes Beach Police Detective Sgt. Brian Hall thumbs through police reports March 7 at the HBPD, 5801 Marina Drive.

In the digital age, personal information can be easy to access.

Samuel Casamayor Abreu, 27, of Hialeah — linked to multiple identity thefts that occurred since February in Holmes Beach — was arrested March 1 on four counts of credit card fraud and four counts of criminal use of identification.

A female suspect remains under investigation.

All but one of the thefts, in which credit cards were ordered under a victim’s name then retrieved by the perpetrator upon delivery, occurred in the Key Royale neighborhood, according to Holmes Beach Police Detective Sgt. Brian Hall.

“It’s crazy. I’ve never had a cluster of multiple victims in one location before,” Hall said. “So this is very unique.”

In some situations, the cards or related materials were mailed to the victims, prompting police inquiries. In other instances, a credit card was mailed to a different address and then used by the perpetrator to purchase thousands of dollars worth of items from Best Buy and other retail establishments in the state.

Hall was contacted March 1 by Best Buy representatives who said Abreu was identified in surveillance videos and currently was at a store at 4210 14th St. W., Bradenton.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detained the suspect and a woman, who were later interviewed by Hall.

Fran Derr of Dundee Lane on Key Royale said she and her husband, Wayne, received letters from two credit card companies thanking them for their applications.

She said her husband went online and requested a credit report, which revealed that someone had accessed their report, including personal information, four times.

As the welcome committee chairperson in the Key Royale community, Fran Derr said she speaks often with people in the neighborhood. Once word of the identity theft got out, more people approached her and said their information also was compromised.

“It makes you feel very vulnerable,” Derr said.

She said the Key Royale homeowner’s association director sent email to members warning them of the thefts and more people came forward to file reports.

Hall said March 7 that it appears the perpetrator was tracking FedEx deliveries for the fraudulent credit cards and stealing the packages.

He recommended people send mail with personal information directly from a post office since it appears thieves are stealing mail from residential mailboxes to obtain data and open lines of credit.

Hall also said fraudulent charges should be reported to credit card companies as soon as possible.

Additionally, if a line of credit is compromised, most credit companies will offer a year of free credit monitoring.

Hall said people can contact three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experion and TransUnion — to lock accounts so lines of credit require strict verification.
“I believe the guy I arrested and the female with him are going to be responsible for all the cases,” Hall said March 7. “But we’re still investigating further.”

“Now that we’ve made an arrest, we believe there will be additional victims, and we would like them to immediately reach out to the police department so we can do follow-up,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said March 8. “The sooner we can get the info, the sooner we can get with the businesses involved to see videos of who was utilizing the fraudulent cards, and come out with a good conclusion for our victims and the city.”

Abreu was released March 2 after posting $40,000 bail. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and was appointed a public defender.

Judge rules for city in treehouse owners’ case

thumb image
The treehouse in January. Islander File Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Judge Charles Sniffen considers motions March 4 from Holmes Beach in a case brought by owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen to halt the city from tearing down the beachfront treehouse they built in 2011. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, left, treehouse owners, and Jim Dye, attorney for the city of Holmes Beach, prepare to face off March 4 in a Manatee County courtroom.

It’s another victory for the city.

The city of Holmes Beach took home a win the week of March 4 as a judge dismissed the owners’ petition to halt the destruction of their treehouse.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen ruled the owners’ petition was deficient a day after the parties faced off in his Manatee County courtroom.

The judge granted the city’s dismissal motion, reasoning the temporary injunction petition filed by treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen was “deficient in several critical respects.”

Sniffen cited the owners’ failure to allege a factual basis for their concern that imminent harm will befall the treehouse.

His order also states the owners failed to request permanent relief and, to the extent the petition seeks to stop fines, he ruled the owners failed to allege an adequate remedy.

Also, in his ruling, Sniffen allowed Tran and Hazen 20 days to amend their pleadings.

Tran, who represented herself and her husband, said March 8 she is considering filing an amendment to the pleading.

“Because it’s one way to keep the treehouse, I won’t rule it out, Tran said.

“I’m just learning,” she added, saying she believes she needs to allege a cause of action for permanent relief.

It was the first of two proceedings for attorney Jim Dye of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, representing Holmes Beach.

A separate March 5 proceeding brought new hearing dates.

Tran argued against Dye’s conclusion the owners’ petition was “rogue,” but Dye said such an injunction must be based on an underlying dispute presented as a separate cause of action.

Dye said Tran should be making her arguments in other ongoing court cases.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, like the city, is a defendant in the injunction case.

Kirk White, a DEP attorney, appeared telephonically but did not add to the argument. However, White filed a motion to dismiss similar to the city’s motion.

On March 5, a day after the arguments before Sniffen, David Levin of Icard Merrill of Sarasota took the lead for the owners before Judge Edward Nicholas in two pending treehouse cases — the 2013 owners’ constitutional case and the 2018 city code enforcement case.

Levin and Dye agreed to schedule hearings at 9 a.m. April 29 on the 2013 case; a 3:30 p.m. May 9 hearing to judicially notice prior rulings into the 2018 case and a hearing on the merits of enforcement case at 9:30 a.m. June 3.


In the courts
Dye contends many of the owners’ arguments in the pending cases are no longer valid, having previously been ruled upon in favor of the city.

Pending still are a city action filed in February 2018 to enforce a magistrate’s decision with $50 daily fines, accumulated to $70,000, and the Tran-Hazen 2013 argument that the city’s 50-foot setback is unconstitutional.

The city’s overarching disagreement is that the treehouse was built in violation of the city building code and inside the beachfront setback — a major reason to decline an after-the-fact permit.

The owners have maintained that state law, which allows a more flexible setback, overrides local law.


In the beginning
An anonymous tip in 2011 about the two-story structure in a beachfront pine tree led the city to report the structure to the DEP and later bring the case to its code enforcement board and special magistrate.

Tran and Hazen built the structure with solar power behind their residence at 103 29th St., where they operate Angelinos Sea Lodge, a four-unit short-term rental.

The treehouse is on the beachfront, where the owners put a bollard-and-rope barrier.

In 2012, the owners sought an after-the-fact permit for the treehouse construction from the DEP, but the city refused to sign off on a letter of no objection and the state agency denied the permit in January 2014.

In 2013, the owners challenged the initial code board decision, which was upheld in September 2014 in a 28-page opinion by 12th Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan.

Other litigation included the owners’ bid by petitioning voters to put the fate of the treehouse on a citywide ballot.

After losing that case in circuit court, the owners appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which declined a review.

Numerous other appeals have resulted in courts siding with the city.

The litigants recently reflected on the long-standing dispute.

“That tree has gotten 8 feet taller since the cases started,” Dye said as he walked out of the courthouse after a March 4 hearing.

The next day owner Lynn Tran agreed with Dye’s assessment, saying the two-story treehouse — built with additional bored pilings — lends structural support to the tree.

Spring break brings biz to AMI

thumb image
People spend time with friends, relax and dine with the Gulf of Mexico over their shoulder in June 2018 at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. An all-time high of 126.1 million people visited Florida in 2018. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi

The digital sign near the Kingfish Boat Ramp on Manatee Avenue west of the Anna Maria Island Bridge flashes an alert: “No fires, dogs, camping or alcohol allowed on beach.”

It’s time for spring break, and people arriving to the island are ready to celebrate with a few days of fun in the sun.

“We’re just giving people a bit of education as they enter,” Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told The Islander March 5. “It’s the same rules we always have.”

“And,” he added. “pack your patience and leave early.”

Officials at Tampa International Airport announced March 4 they expect 3.6 million passengers to arrive at the airport in the next six weeks.

Spring break is typically the six-week period spanning March and the first two weeks of April, when some colleges and K-12 schools are on spring vacation. Some schools break later in April, depending on Easter’s date. Officials expect the 2019 spring break to be the largest ever in the Tampa Bay area, according to a news release from TIA.

Accommodations on the island are filling up, according to rental agencies polled by The Islander.

“Our 250 vacation rental properties are 99 percent full for March and about 75 percent full for April,” Joe Varner of Anna Maria Vacations told The Islander March 6.

“Love spring breakers!” he said. “And, summer is filling up very nicely, too.”

Varner was scrambling to finish renovations at the former Blue Water Beach Club, 6306 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, now the Anna Maria Beach Resort.

Barbara Baker, general manager of Anna Maria Island Resorts — Tortuga, Tropic Isle, Seaside and Tradewinds resorts — said starting the week of March 11, the properties are “pretty much booked completely” through the end of March.

“We are looking good,” she said, adding that some scattered dates are available in the first two weeks of April.

In Anna Maria, Suzette Buchan said her Rod and Reel Motel is 98 percent booked for March and 77 percent booked the first weeks of April.

In 2018, 93.2 percent of lodging rooms on Anna Maria Island were booked in March, with an average room rate of $242.40 per night.

People calling or stopping by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce in Holmes Beach have not only been inquiring about island activities. Sometimes they are searching for immediate lodging.

Such was the case March 6, when a couple arriving in the area stopped for help.

“They were looking for a two-week stay on the island. No reservations. They were on vacation, heard about Anna Maria, drove down and decided they wanted to stay,” chamber president Terri Kinder told The Islander.

Kinder found them a room. A chamber business member had called earlier in the day with a cancellation alert, and Kinder sent the couple over.

“We got them set up for two weeks,” Kinder said. “From all we are seeing, it’s going to be a great spring season here.”

Kinder said the majority of inquiries to the chamber have come from couples, followed by families.

Full lodgings benefit many businesses
Vacation rental companies aren’t the businesses that profit from the spring break influx. Island eateries and bars fill up, live music venues are hot stops for breakers and paddleboards, kayaks and other “island” rental items are popular commodities.

While some restaurants maintain the status quo, others feature drink and food specials to draw spring breakers.

Shawn Culhane, manager of the Ugly Grouper, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, said the restaurant is serving breakfast and morning beverage specials. The outdoor eatery also will feature live music during lunch and early afternoons and at dinner.

Tanner Enoch and crew at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Public Beach are no strangers to high volume.

“It’s what we live for,” he told The Islander.

Enoch said business ticked up in March and he is seeing more families on vacation than college students on spring break.

“We increase our staff and our orders,” he said. “We love it.”

Anyone out and about on Anna Maria Island will probably notice an uptick in cyclists and golf carts, along with scooters and Segways. Some visitors try their hand at kayaking and paddleboarding. All these items are for rent from local businesses.

Kelly Crawford teaches kindergarten at Anna Maria Elementary, and her husband, Shawn, owns Florida Sportfishing Outfitters. While Crawford is looking forward to her own spring break from teaching, she admits she won’t see much of her husband during her time off.

“He is booked every day that week,” Crawford told The Islander. “But this is a wonderful thing, considering what the red tide did to the charter captain businesses in the fall and winter. I’ll just hang out.”

Just how many of the 3.6 million passengers traveling into TIA between now and mid-April will make their way to Anna Maria Island?

Time will tell, but islanders are ready and waiting for them.

Record numbers soak up Florida sunshine
Yes, lots of people are here.

Not just on Anna Maria Island, but all over Florida.

A record number of out-of-state visitors — 126.1 million — traveled to Florida in 2018, according to statistics from Visit Florida, the tourism marketing corporation for the state.

For the eighth consecutive year, visitation set a record.

Visitors had an economic impact in Manatee County of $973,798,000.

Domestic visits numbered 111.8 million in the state. Overseas travelers made 10.8 million visits and 3.5 million Canadians came south.

Visit Florida estimates 30.3 million visitors traveled to the state in the fourth quarter of 2018, an increase of 4.6 percent over the same period in 2017.

The highest percentage of domestic visitors came from Georgia, with 9.6 percent; followed by New York, 8.5 percent. Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania rounded out the top five states providing the most visitors.

The most popular activities for domestic visitors were the beach and waterfront activities, visiting friends and relatives and culinary experiences.

Overseas travelers to Florida, on the other hand, cited shopping as the top draw.

Second batch of clams seeded

thumb image
A second batch of clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency line the dock at the South Coquina Boat Ramp March 9 ready to be loaded onto a boat for seeding in Sarasota Bay near the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Purchased for for $36,000, the 200,000 clams, which each filter several gallons of water a day, are the first phase in the CRA’s plans for a living shoreline, complete with oysters and reef balls. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
State Rep. William Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, left, and Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Ralph Cole get ready to participate March 9 in seeding the second batch of clams in the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Rusty Chinnis from Sarasota Bay Watch and his crew, along with participants state Rep. William Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, and Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ralph Cole, right, drop clams into the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier March 9.
William Robinson Jr. drops clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach CRA into the water near the Historic Bridge Street Pier March 9. Each of the clams will filter gallons of water a day.

A second batch of clams purchased by the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency line the dock at the South Coquina Boat Ramp March 9 ready to be loaded onto a boat for seeding in Sarasota Bay near the Historic Bridge Street Pier. Purchased for for $36,000, the 200,000 clams, which each filter several gallons of water a day, are the first phase in the CRA’s plans for a living shoreline, complete with oysters and reef balls. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice

Holmes Beach golf cart limits confuse, anger drivers

thumb image
Eric Irons, manager at AMI Beach Fun Rentals at the Anna Maria Island Centre shopping plaza in Holmes Beach, poses March 8 with two low-speed vehicles available for rent at his shop. Both are street legal — allowed on all island roads. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

People have strong feelings about golf carts in Holmes Beach.

However, what they consider a golf cart may be a street-legal low-speed vehicle.

It seems “golf cart” has become a generic term for the fun, small, electric-powered vehicles that formerly found use only at the golf course.

Holmes Beach commissioners voted Feb. 26 to approve on first reading an amended ordinance requiring seat belts and age-appropriate child restraint devices — such as car seats — for golf carts.

Also, golf carts are prohibited on roads with a speed limit higher than 25 mph, including East Bay, Gulf, Marina and Palm drives and Manatee Avenue.

The speed limit requirement remains the same as the current ordinance, but the new wording in the proposed ordinance removes specific streets by name.

Currently, golf carts — as defined by the state and not to be confused with LSVs — are restricted by state law from roads with speed limits of 35 mph or higher.

LSVs can operate on any city road on Anna Maria Island. They require a title, registration, insurance and are equipped by the manufacturer with seat belts.

Both golf carts and LSVs must be operated by a licensed driver.

“Nothing has changed for LSVs,” Police Chief Bill Tokajer said March 7. “LSVs are street-legal golf carts. And that includes all the rentals and most of what you see now on the road.”

Residents and visitors have responded to the city commission’s decision with comments on social media both for and against an updated ordinance, with some people threatening to halt vacations on the island or sell their property and move if the ordinance passes.

Other people posted comments on The Islander website and social media that golf carts loaded with kids on the main road are a safety concern.

Eric Irons, a manager at AMI Beach Fun Rentals, said he tries to inform customers that what people rent at his shop and call a golf cart is an LSV, and is fully compliant with state and local laws.

“I let them know that all our golf carts are street legal,” Irons said. “They all have license plates, they’re registered and have seat belts, mirrors and headlights.”

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she was driving behind a golf cart when the driver took a turn too fast and a child tumbled out. The incident contributed to her concerns about golf carts and public safety.

“He wasn’t hurt badly, but it is still scary and could’ve been worse,” Soustek said. “That is why we want safety measures for golf carts.”

Holmes Beach is the only city on the island that allows golf carts its roads.

The final hearing for the ordinance and vote will be held at the city commission meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Bradenton Beach offers Sunshine suit settlement

thumb image
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, left, Commissioners Marilyn Maro and Ralph Cole, city attorney Ricinda Perry and Commissioner Jake Spooner meet Feb. 28 to discuss settling a lawsuit. Commissioner Randy White attended by phone. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Mediation resulted in an impasse.

Still, Bradenton Beach extended a settlement offer.

At a Feb. 28 special meeting, city attorney Ricinda Perry informed the Bradenton Beach commission that the Feb. 25 mediation for a lawsuit, initiated by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former board members, resulted in a stalemate.

However, she said the city has indicated it would settle the lawsuit, which deals with alleged Government-in-the-Sunshine Law violations, if the six defendants each paid fines of $500 and collectively admitted guilt.

Perry said that “on a number of occasions” at commission meetings, the mayor and commissioners indicated they would prefer to settle but, until now, no offer was made to defendants Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Rose and Bill Vincent.

According to Metz, none of the defendants were notified of the special meeting and, therefore, none of them attended.

As of Feb. 28, the suit had cost the city $168,294 and, according to Perry, the cost likely will increase to $250,000, not including appeals, if the case goes to trial.

Perry said some records requested by the defendants were allegedly destroyed or not provided, which could result in additional counts against the defendants, further escalating the cost for the suit.

The attorney presented a one-sheet summary of the lawsuit to the mayor and commissioners and reminded them “this was a case of sue or be sued.”

She said when the suit began in August 2017, the city had been warned that if it did not join Clarke’s suit against the board members, it could also be sued for violating the Sunshine Law.

“Let’s come together, set our differences aside, and if you are willing to acknowledge that you have made the mistakes, pay a $500 fine to the city and you can truly all walk away,” Perry rhetorically said to the defendants. “We will walk away.”

“We’ve been very consistent throughout this whole thing,” Mayor John Chappie said. “I’m in total agreement we need to move forward. Let’s stop this madness.”
Commissioner Marilyn Maro agreed.

“I think the taxpayers would like to see this happen,” she said.

The mayor and commissioners unanimously approved a motion to offer the defendants the agreed settlement terms.

Additionally, Commissioner Jake Spooner motioned for Perry to draft the settlement document and provide it to the defendants and their counsel, as well as disseminate the offer to the public “so the community can see the commission is making an effort to resolve the cost in an efficient manner,” which also passed with a unanimous vote.

As of March 1, the defendants had not said whether they would accept the offer.