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Holmes Beach continues trudge down treehouse path

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Treehouse owner Lynn Tran pleads her case Jan. 7 before 12th Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
A treehouse, built in 2011 in an Australian pine tree by the residents of the beachfront home, still stands on the beach at 103 29th St., Holmes Beach. Islander File Photo

One treehouse built in Holmes Beach in 2011 without a permit has led to four pending lawsuits spanning seven years.

At a hearing Jan. 7 on a lawsuit filed in December 2018, 12th Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen heard the city of Holmes Beach’s motion to dismiss a second amended 11-count complaint by the plaintiffs, treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen.

At the beginning of the proceedings, Sniffen granted the city’s motion for judicial notice to include evidence already proven in cases pertaining to the structure.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, also a defendant in the case, filed a motion similar to the city’s, asking for a more defined complaint and motion to dismiss.

An order posted to the Manatee County public records website stated the court took the motion to dismiss under advisement and continued a Jan. 7 motion to impose sanctions.

At the hearing, attorney Randy Mora of Trask Daigneault, the Clearwater law firm assigned to the case by the city’s insurer, said Holmes Beach moved to dismiss the case on several bases, including “res judicata,” meaning a competent court already made a final decision in the matter.

“This is all about fairness. The plaintiffs don’t agree with what the law says,” Mora said. “And until this court tells them they can’t proceed any further, they will keep trying to get the answer they want.”

The city repeatedly has prevailed over appeals, including in a November 2019 hearing on a case that started in 2013. At that hearing, 12th Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas refuted the plaintiffs’ claim that a city ordinance, including a 50-foot setback from the state’s erosion control line on the beach, amounted to property taking without compensation.

Tran and Hazen built the two-story, uninhabitable structure in 2011 attached to an Australian pine tree on the beach fronting their home and four rental units they operate at 103 29th St., leading to litigation between the city, the DEP and the owners.

The city has argued that the treehouse was built in violation of the city building code and inside the beachfront setback.

The setback rule prohibits structures within 50 feet of the ECL, which separates the public area of the beach from private ownership. The 1992 island beach renourishment project permanently established the ECL.

The owners claim that state law, which allows a more flexible setback, supersedes local law and that then-city inspector Bob Shaffer said no permit was required.

According to the plaintiffs’ amended complaint, Shaffer said, “Just build it safe.”

At the Jan. 7 hearing, Tran said she and Hazen were given approval by the building official, but then were met with resistance from the city and DEP.

“No one told us what to do, so here we go,” she said, in reference to her and Hazen’s first declaratory judgment complaint.

Since 2013, three of four lawsuits are pending in circuit court, while the Jan. 7 case is in state court.

Circuit courts have general trial jurisdiction over matters not assigned by statute to the county courts and also hear appeals from county court cases, while state courts have broad jurisdiction.

Sarasota attorney David Levin is the plaintiffs’ attorney for the circuit court cases.

The plaintiffs are representing themselves in the state case.

A federal suit, added by the treehouse owners, was thrown out in August 2019.

As of press time for The Islander, a date was not set for the continued hearing.

What treehouse? Where?

Some might wonder what people are referring to when “the treehouse” turns up in conversations.

Located in Holmes Beach at 103 29th St. on the beachfront at a residence that includes four short-term rental units, is an elevated two-story, 400-square-foot open-air structure with solar power that was built around a large pine tree.

The owners have been in litigation with the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since 2013 regarding the treehouse, which the city and state claim was built too close to a renourished beach — within the setback for the state’s erosion control line, and without permits.

Hundreds take 2020 Gulf plunge

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People — some in costume — rush Jan. 1, New Year’s Day, into the Gulf of Mexico for Clancy’s 12th annual fundraising event, the Shamrock Shiver New Year’s Day Charity Plunge at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. More, page 2. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
Bradenton residents Paul Halvorsen, left, and Bill Capobianco are outfitted Jan. 1 as Pacific Islanders for the Shamrock Shiver best costume contest. The pair finished as runners up to the “Pac Man family.”
Bradenton resident Dana Rothgery, right, organizes her family, costumed in a Pac Man-theme, for the Shamrock Shiver best costume contest held Jan. 1. The “Pac Man family” won the award for best costumes, having earned the loudest and most applause. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
Bradenton resident Paul Devine, costumed as a sea turtle, dangles a smaller sea turtle from a string in his hand Jan. 1, during the Shamrock Shiver best costume contest in Bradenton Beach.
Sarasota resident Mike Gustow is dressed as a fisherman with a mermaid, wife Bonnie, as his catch at the Shamrock Shiver costume contest, Jan. 1 in Bradenton Beach.

What better way to start 2020 than to plunge into the Gulf of Mexico?

The air was a crisp 64 degrees when hundreds of people rushed Jan. 1 into the Gulf of Mexico for Clancy’s 12th annual Shamrock Shiver New Year’s Day Charity Plunge at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach.

About 500 people attended the event, according to Clancy’s Irish Sports Pub employee Daniel Cassidy. Nearly half of the attendees took the plunge.

Before the run to the Gulf, the crowd judged a costume contest.

Participants included Paul Devine, who dressed as a sea turtle. Bill Capobianco and Paul Halvorsen were costumed as Pacific Islanders. Steve Theroux was dressed as Spock from “Star Trek.” And a group arrived costumed in a Pac Man-theme.

The “Pac Man family,” led by Bradenton resident Dana Rothgery, won the top prize.

At the parking lot, volunteers collected donations and sold event T-shirts.

After the plunge at noon, people went to Clancy’s, 6218 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, for an after-party with raffles, live music, food, beverages and awards.

Proceeds benefit Caring for Children Charities, the fundraising arm of the Sarasota-based nonprofit organization, Florida Winefest and Auction.

Clancy’s has helped raised $246,876 since beginning its annual plunge in 2009.

The 2019 plunge raised about $27,000.

The 2020 plunge raised $25,537 as of Jan. 5, according to Rayma Stowe of Clancy’s.

To pledge or donate to the campaign, contact Jan Crudele of Florida Winefest at 941-952-1109.

For more information, call Stowe at 941-720-4072.

Privateers AMI parade rolls end-to-end, bypassing storm warnings

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The Anna Maria Island Privateers throw candy and beads to paradegoers Dec. 14 from their ship, the Skullywag, during their annual Christmas parade. The parade — all vehicles, no marching — rolled up Gulf Drive from Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach to the City Pier Park in Anna Maria. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
Santa Claus, right, and Jennifer “Mermaid” Price from the Anna Maria Island Privateers wave to paradegoers Dec. 14, delighting kids and adults as the caboose of the Privateer Christmas Parade. The pair later visited City Pier Park in Anna Maria for photos with children and to hear their Christmas wishes.
Santa Claus waves to attendees of the Christmas parade Dec. 14 from a float made of a giant hammerhead shark that resides year-round at a Cortez restaurant.
City officials from Holmes Beach, including Mayor Judy Titsworth, Commissioners Kim Rash and Pat Morton, wave and throw beads to paradegoers Dec. 14 from the Holmes Beach Police Department’s boat — as it rolls through the Privateer Christmas Parade.
People along the roadside during the Privateer Christmas Parade Dec. 14 watch horses and riders from the Real BeachHorses tour business of Bradenton march up Marina Drive.
The CrossPointe Fellowship band plays Dec. 14 from the church float in the Privateer Christmas Parade.
Passengers toss candy and beads to paradegoers Dec. 14.
People attending the Dec. 14 party following the Anna Maria Island Privateers’ Christmas Parade gather under the sail shades to eat lunch and visit with Santa Claus.
Anna Maria Island Privateers member Roger “Hoodat the Magnificent” Murphree hands out giftbags to kids attending the post-parade party Dec. 14 at Anna Maria City Pier Park after the Christmas parade.
Visiting from Toronto, Canada, Lindsay Amson, left, sits together with husband Matthew Blanche, and their children, Kieran, 4, and Liam, 1, under the sail shades of City Pier Park in Anna Maria Dec. 14 for the party following the Privateer Christmas Parade.
Members of the Anna Maria Island Privateers serve hot dogs and beverages, and talk over the day’s events Dec. 14 with a deputy from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria substation.

Giving Tree grows at AMI cafe

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Jackie Estes and her granddaughter, Jazzy Sparks, 8, are celebrating an island tradition with their “giving” Christmas tree. Islander Photo: Mike Dunn

Every holiday tradition has a story.

Just stop into Jackie Estes’ cozy cafe in Holmes Beach, help yourself to coffee and pull up a chair. Estes will tell you about an island tradition that started 24 years ago.

It’s the tale of a Christmas tree. But, this is no ordinary tree.

Estes calls it a Giving Tree.

It shines with the usual constellation of Yuletide accouterments: lights, ribbons, baubles. But this tree has something more — tags that call out for gifts for underprivileged children in the community.

Estes encourages her customers at Paradise Cafe, Bagels and Catering to pull a tag from the tree. Each tag references a child age 12 or younger and clothing size. The children’s names are withheld.

Customers then purchase clothing and toys to help make that child’s Christmas morning a little brighter. Estes then makes sure every child gets their gifts.

It’s a tradition that has been growing since Estes started it nearly a quarter-century ago. And, like many traditions, it started by accident.

Estes said her grandson mentioned one day that there was a girl at Anna Maria Elementary School who wore the same dress every day.

“Her shoes were taped,” Estes recalled.

Estes, who was a school volunteer, worked with the guidance counselor to solicit donations and provide new clothes and shoes, plus some needed household items for the child and her family.

As she learned of other kids and families with similar circumstances, Estes hit upon the idea of a Giving Tree.

“Each year, it has gotten more and more involved,” she said. “Our peak year, we probably had 75 kids. It’s just snowballed each year.”

As the island’s residential base has shifted over the years to rentals and a more well-to-do demographic, Estes said, there are fewer island kids. So the program has been extended to include youngsters from the mainland.

Estes won’t accept cash donations, but she gets assistance from friends, customers and others who provide contacts and help distribute gifts.

“Everyone’s been so good,” Estes said.

“Please come and get a tag,” she added. “We’ll make sure (your gift) goes where it needs to go.”

For more about the Giving Tree, call Estes at 941-779-1212 or visit the cafe at 3220 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach.

Bradenton man charged with attempted murder

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David Nichols, 56, of Bradenton

One local man was fighting for his life and another was charged with attempted murder following a verbal altercation that turned violent the night of Nov. 18.

David Nichols, 56, of Bradenton, was taken into custody shortly after police said he hit and dragged a 61-year-old man underneath his vehicle for nearly a block.

The injured man, Fred Gilliland, known in Cortez as “Fat Freddy,” told police he arrived around 8 p.m. at a friend’s residence in the 4500 block of 101st Street West near Cortez to pick up some furniture.

A verbal dispute ensued outside the residence between Gilliland and Nichols. As Gilliland left on foot, walking southbound on 101st Street West, police said Nichols struck him with his vehicle.

According to police, Nichols then drove westbound on 46th Avenue West, dragging Gilliland under his vehicle before fleeing the scene.

A nearby resident heard the man’s calls for help and called 911.

Police reported that Gilliland sustained severe life-threatening injuries, including several open fractures and significant head trauma. He was transported to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, where his condition remained critical as of Nov. 25.

Manatee County sheriff’s deputies located Nichols and his vehicle at a nearby mobile home park and he was taken into custody.

James “Wyre” Lee, owner of Cortez Bait and Seafood in Cortez, a 40-year friend and employer of Gilliland, described him as a “unique character” — a “well-known fixture” in the Cortez community — and a good employee.

“He’s a good guy, he would give you the shirt off his back if he had one,” Lee said. “A lot of people are going up to the hospital to see him, sometimes 20 people at a time.”

Lee speculated that the dispute may have involved a “woman and plenty of alcohol.”

He described the severity of Gilliland’s injuries as traumatic.

”He had road rash like you wouldn’t believe. He lost an arm and is about to go into surgery to try to save the other one,” Lee said Nov. 21. “Let’s just hope he lives.”

Gilliland remained in ICU at Blake Nov. 25.

Nichols was being held Nov. 25 at the Manatee County jail on $500,000 bond.

His arraignment is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

County trots out ban on horseback surfing

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A tour on horseback takes riders through the waters on the north side of the Palma Sola Causeway. Islander File Photo: Kathy Prucnell

“We don’t have a problem with regulation, but, of course, we don’t want the horses banned.”

Carmen Hanson, who owns Cponies, a horseback-riding business that operates tours in Palma Sola Bay on the north side of Manatee Avenue, said blaming the bay’s environmental problems on horses is misguided.

Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 7 to direct their attorney and staff to research and report about options to regulate horseback riding in sensitive waters.

In supporting the directive, commissioners pointed to seagrass loss and recent no-swim advisories in the bay.

In business for eight years, Hanson disputes that horses are responsible for the fecal matter in the water or that their presence leads to the advisories.

She said the horses aren’t treading on the seagrass beds, where it’s “soft and mucky.”

In addition, she and her 10 employees collect and remove any feces, place it in a muck bucket and dispose of it at their Myakka City farm.

Cponies offers horseback tours, allowing guests to ride on Gypsy horses in the water.

“I’ve done research for the past five years and every time there’s been a no-swim advisory, there’s been sewage-line breaks and spills from sewers,” Hanson said, adding she’s in the process of compiling the data and a graph for public review.

With regulation, Manatee County would follow Pinellas County, which, in October, approved a measure prohibiting horseback riding, walking and training in Tampa Bay, as well as seagrass damages in the county’s preserves.

“They can do it, why can’t we do it?” asked Commissioner Betsy Benac during the Nov. 7 meeting.

Benac suggested county staff reach out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh agreed: “I think it’s very important to do this because grasses are being trampled on.”

Seagrass helps with the health of the bay and water clarity and feeds the manatees, Baugh said.

Baugh blamed the horseback riding for the seagrass being “almost gone.”

The Florida Department of Health issued no-swim advisories for exceeding EPA guidelines for fecal matter in the bay in July, August and October. The advisories were lifted about a week after testing showed a return to safe swimming standards.

Baugh said, “It’s just a mess,” but acknowledged the DOH’s testing can’t tease out whether it’s due to human or animal waste.

Commissioner Priscilla Trace said there is no proof the problems are caused by the horses.

Fecal matter can spill into the bay through sewer-line breaks, leaching septic systems, lift station failures and stormwater runoff.

The most recent reported sewage spill at Palma Sola Bay was Aug. 19, when 180,000 gallons of treated wastewater spilled into a storm drain on 59th Street West that flows south to Palma Sola Bay, according to Manatee County Utilities spokeswoman Amy Pilson. An unknown portion of the spill eventually made its way to the bay.

Other reported spills occurred December 2017-February 2018, when contractors hit sewer lines and more than 6 million gallons of raw sewage spewed through the adjacent lands, some that emptied in the bay.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore agreed the health of Palma Sola Bay and the beach closings are problems, but noted that people historically have brought horses to recreate in the bay. People also are allowed to bring dogs to the causeway.

Whitmore brought the Palma Sola Bay health issue to the Manatee County Council of Governments in July, where Bradenton Councilman Gene Gallo said the city looked into the possible regulation of horses, but the Florida Department of Transportation nixed the idea with a 2012 letter stating horses are permissible in DOT rights of way as a mode of transportation.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, county attorney Mitchell Palmer dismissed the DOT’s opinion, saying, “There’s little doubt in my mind” the county can regulate for water quality.

Money rolls in to build concrete wave

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Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, second from left, and Police Chief Bill Tokajer, raise skateboards high in a cheer for reaching the skate bowl goal with code compliance supervisor JT Thomas and former Commissioner David Zaccagnino Nov. 8 at the site of the future skate park on city field, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

“Holmes Beach reached its goal to fund the bowl!” Mayor Judy Titsworth said Nov. 8, regarding a last-minute push for donors to build a skate bowl.

The skate bowl and a new skate park are in the works for the city field recreation area adjacent to city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

The commission approved the skate park in February, at a cost not to exceed $150,000 and with an option to include the skate bowl if $100,000 could be raised from grants or donations.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer and others with the city kicked off a fundraiser as the Nov. 8 deadline approached to raise $100,000 for the bowl.

With about 40 donations, ranging from cash to construction materials to giveaways for donors, the community met the goal to fund the bowl just in time.

“It was an amazing response from the community — as soon as we put it out there that we were looking for funds, people started calling and wanting to donate,” Tokajer said.

The city had been seeking funds for the bowl for about eight months, but the big push came the week of Nov. 4.

“It makes me happy that the community is coming together for such an instrumental park for the kids,” the chief said.

Former Commissioner David Zaccagnino — parent to potential young skaters — said Nov. 8 that the bowl is integral to the skate park.

“A good way to understand it is that it would be like having a playground without a slide,” he said. “You need to have that bowl component.”

The Y-shaped skate bowl — called a concrete wave in the surfing culture — will resemble a custom-built swimming pool, about 4 feet deep, but, at 800 square feet, bigger than the average family pool.

Tokajer said people have remarked that they miss the skate park since it closed to make way for park construction in 2017, but the new park will exceed the amenities of the old one.

The old skate park, named for the late Holmes Beach Police Officer Pete Lannon, was built in 2003.

“We get people all the time that say they brought their kids here on vacation because they heard about the skate park and miss the old one,” the chief said. “Our old skate park was nothing compared with this new, state-of-the-art park.”

Titsworth said she was “stoked” to see the enthusiasm of the community to support the skate bowl.

“We all need to give ourselves a pat on the back,” she said, adding that she hasn’t seen the community so excited in a long time.

“Holmes Beach loves our kids.”

Funding and pledges for the skate bowl as of Nov. 8:
A&K Enterprises
Agnelli Pools and Construction
Anna Maria Island Vacation Association
AMI Locals/Bali Hai condominiums
AMI Vacation/Joe Varner
AMI Accommodations
Beach Bums
Blue Marlin restaurant
Bowes Imaging
Hayes Bystrom
Mary Catherine
Rick Cloutier
George DeSear
D.Coy Ducks Bar & Grill
Eat Here
FP Growth Partners
Dan Hardy
HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer
Holmes-Holiday Family
Rick Hurst
Island Animal Clinic
Island Beach Cafe
Island Real Estate
Jessie’s Island Store
Bonner Joy
Greg Kerchner
Lizzie Lu’s Island Retreat
Logan Bystrom Fishing
Mason Martin Homes
Mike Norman Realty
New Concepts Sleep
Jeff Podobnik
Ross Built Custom Homes
Kim Rash
John Rutherford
Sato Real Estate
Mary and Patrick Sheridan
Sherwin Williams
Shoreline Builders
Waste Pro
West Coast Surf Shop

Donations of materials and services were pledged by:
Eat Here
Freckled Fin Irish Pub
Tyler Lancaster
Tom Sanger/ Sanger Pools

Total cash pledges and donations: $104,052.90.
Total in-kind donations: $43,094.