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Treehouse owners file new case in federal court

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The treehouse in Holmes Beach stands tall in an Australian pine tree March 28 on the beachfront at Angelinos Sea Lodge, 103 29th St. The owners took their quest to keep the treehouse to federal court in Tampa at the end of March. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen opened a new front for the treehouse in federal court.

The Holmes Beach couple filed a six-count federal lawsuit, naming the city of Holmes Beach, mayors, commissioners, building and code enforcement officials and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as well as DEP officials.

It is the second complaint filed in March by Tran and Hazen in the U.S. Middle District of Florida.

A prior complaint was superseded by the new, amended complaint served at city hall March 27. DEP officials are in the process of being served, Tran said March 29.

The six counts allege civil and constitutional violations under federal laws — Title 42, Section 1983, civil rights; Title 42, Sections 1985-1986, neglect and failure to prevent abuse; Fifth and 14th amendments, due process and equal protection; the First Amendment; the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the suit, Tran and Hazen request a review by three federal district judges and an unspecified amount of money damages.

The lawsuit also states the couple sued to enjoin the city’s enforcement action “to destroy their treehouse” and seek damages for the city’s action “in violation of civil and inalienable rights.”

An anonymous complaint brought the treehouse to the city’s attention in 2011. The DEP also was alerted to the treehouse, which apparently violated the state’s setback from the mean-high waterline.

The new federal lawsuit is 96 pages.

The allegations include:

  • “With smiles, the city watched the plaintiffs build the look-alike Robinson Crusoe treehouse until one day, a caller complained” about the treehouse built without a permit.
  • The building officials ordered the treehouse torn down, “circulated false facts” about the treehouse, “leading haters” to scream at the plaintiffs: “Burn the treehouse, move it back to the Mekong Delta, get off the island, pack your wife and send her back to Vietnam.”

Asked about the allegations March 29, Tran said she had no further comment.

Tran acknowledged filing an amended complaint March 25 with the same underlying facts as the prior suit but with different causes of action.

The amended complaint came in response to a March 5 order from 12th Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen, which ruled the owners’ last petition for injunctive relief deficient in several respects, including a failure to allege a factual basis that imminent harm would befall the treehouse if he didn’t grant the owners’ petition.

In amending the state complaint, Tran and Hazen refashioned their claim, calling it an action for negligence and petition for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief in addition to a violation-of-rights case.

The next hearing in the Tran-Hazen constitutional case in state court is set for 9 a.m. April 29 in the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave., W., Bradenton.

Also, in a Manatee County courtroom, the city’s 2018 enforcement case is set for May 9 and June 3 hearings.

The federal proceedings will be conducted in the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave., Tampa.

Through Feb. 28, the city paid $156,403.92 in treehouse legal costs, according to city treasurer Lori Hill.

Jim Dye, a partner with city attorney Patricia Petruff in the law firm Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, has handled the treehouse cases for the city since 2013. He said March 29 he’s gone through the latest pleadings and labeled them “highly imaginative.”

About the possibility of settling the cases, Dye said: “I like to say: Never say never,” but because the treehouse dispute is a regulatory issue — the fact the structure lies within a city setback — the attorney said he was doubtful a settlement could occur.

Also, because the federal suit alleges damages, Dye expects the city’s Florida League of Cities’ insurance arm to assign attorneys to the case. He said his firm will continue to handle the state cases.


Treehouse background

Tran and Hazen have lost a string of cases since 2013 to keep the structure — built without state and city permits — after the city code enforcement boards, and, subsequently, a magistrate ordered the treehouse be removed and set daily fines.

Currently, the city is seeking in state court to enforce the 2016 magistrate’s order requiring the treehouse removal and a $50 per day fine, which has accumulated to more than $67,000.

After trying to negotiate an after-the-fact permit with the DEP and inquiries about applying for a permit with the city, the owners were turned away as the city stood firm against the setback issue for the treehouse.

And the court cases began.

In 2013, Tran and Hazen appealed the city code board’s decision to the 12th Circuit Court — saying they were lulled into not getting permits by building officials and commissioners, but the rules changed under newly hired city officials. Tran and Hazen were unable to satisfy the city’s request for a permit.

Also in state court, the couple petitioned for a ballot question — to let the voters decide if the treehouse should be grandfathered, only to be told a state law precluded a development initiative by petition, despite the steps stated in the city charter. That case was brought for a review before the U.S. Supreme Court — but the review was denied.

Three other cases — the city’s code enforcement claim, the couple’s pro se attempt to stop the code case and Tran and Hazen’s constitutional argument against the setback regulation — are still pending in state court.

Island mayors downshift paid beach parking

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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.”

Rash of identity, credit thefts spur 
HBPD investigation, arrest

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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.

Bradenton Beach offers Sunshine suit settlement

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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.

Home rule top legislative priority in Holmes Beach — on AMI

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In the Senate chambers Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore, left, Vanessa Baugh, Betsy Benac, Misty Servia and Steve Jonsson look on Feb. 20, as Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, shares his view from the podium in the Senate chambers in Tallahassee. Islander Courtesy Photo

Holmes Beach is no stranger to the struggle to protect home rule.

Starting last year with the 2018 legislative session, the city employed lobbyist Cari Roth to oppose legislation that would weaken local regulatory power.

For the 2019 session, which will begin March 5, Holmes Beach renewed a $50,000 annual contract with Roth.

Roth will continue to fight for home rule, monitoring Senate Bill 824, legislation sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, to give oversight of vacation rentals to the state and limit local government regulations.

The bill, filed Feb. 7, was referred as of Feb. 20 to innovation, industry and technology; community affairs; and appropriations subcommittees.

“If this were to pass, it would basically destroy every ordinance that we have” regarding vacation rentals, Commissioner Rick Hurst said at the Feb. 12 city meeting.

He then asked, “Am I reading this correctly?”

Mayor Judy Titsworth said, “No limits of occupancy, no limits of length-of-stay, it would pretty much get rid of our vacation rental program. So we are going to take the same approach we’ve done in the past. We’re going to reach out and come up with a sample letter of issues we object to and why.”

City attorney Patricia Petruff suggested commissioners disseminate information about the bill and others that could affect vacation rental regulations to their constituents.

Additionally, Petruff said Roth asked commissioners to submit notes to her regarding SB 824 and other bills of concern and she would “argue on our behalf the way we want her to argue or to present.”

Hurst asked Petruff if Roth knew any odds of SB 824 passing and Petruff responded, “Right now there is a lot of what I’d call jockeying going on. Yes, we’ve seen some of this language before, and so you don’t know what type of horse-trading might be going on.”

SB 824 is similar to SB 1400, filed by state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to regulate vacation rentals in 2018, and SB 188, filed by Steube in 2017. Neither of Steube’s bills passed.

Petruff said SB 824 is extreme in its attempt to remove home rule in the face of private property rights.

“I just think that bill probably goes way too far,” she said. “I’d like to think that it wouldn’t have a chance of passing, but I’ve learned never to predict the outcome of votes” in session, the city attorney said.

County gives update on fall beach renourishment for AMI

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Beach erosion exposes a buried rope fence that was installed to protect a dune area at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Beach renourishment projects for Anna Maria Island are on the fall calendar.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, updated county commissioners Feb. 12 on beach renourishment plans, including the area from 79th Street in Holmes Beach south to Longboat Pass.

The first project is a minor repair to Coquina Beach, using sand dredged from Longboat Pass to replenish the beach in Bradenton Beach.

The second project, beginning in November with completion by July 2020, will cover the beachfront from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.

The section of work is known as the central beach project and is authorized to receive federal funding. At a total cost of $16 million, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay 54 percent. The state and county will split the remainder.

The third project will begin at Fifth Street South and end at Longboat Pass, at a total cost of $4 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will shoulder 75 percent of the cost, with the state and county sharing the remainder.

For the third project, Hunsicker plans to coordinate with the contractor hired for the central beach project by the Army Corps of Engineers to avoid additional mobilization costs.

At a total cost of around $20 million, the projects would replace more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand lost to erosion. Dredging from an offshore sandbar of beach-quality sand will be carried in pipes to the beach.

Engineer Thomas Pierro, a consultant for the county and director of Boca Raton-based Coastal Planning and Engineering, explained to commissioners how sand erosion on the island occurs.

Pierro said the beaches at the northwestern end of the island are maintained by a 20-25 year cycle, where eroding beach sand drifts to Passage Key to the north before making its way back to the island.

Sand also drifts from the middle of the island to its northern and southern ends, sometimes at the same time, according to Pierro.

The north-south migration maintains the northwestern end of the island but, at the southern end, Coquina Beach sand moves into Longboat Pass. All the while, the beaches in the middle of the island suffer from the movement and storms accelerate the erosion.

Pierro said the best solution is to replace sand in renourishment projects consisting of two sections: a design beach, which serves as protection for upper beach and dunes against storm erosion, and advanced renourishment, which serves as a buffer for the design beach.

He added that the county’s intention is to maintain the protective buffer both sections provide the upper beach and the infrastructure beyond in perpetuity.

County Commissioner Stephen R. Jonnson expressed pessimism about the success of renourishment projects.

“Not to be Mr. Doom and Gloom, but we know that this is all never going to work in the long run,” Jonnson said. “With the sea rise coming on, global warming, storms getting worse and worse. … In the long run, I don’t think you can fight with Mother Nature and win more often than not.”

Hunsicker said renourishment would help beaches resist up to 4 feet of sea level rise, but wouldn’t serve as a permanent solution.

Jonnson said he spoke with several constituents who asked him why the county spends money on renourishment, to which he would reply that much of the cost is shouldered by the federal government and state.

County Commissioner Betsy Benac added that county funds for renourishment come from the tourist development tax — a 5 percent tax on the revenue from rentals of six months or less.

She added with humor that she is happy to oversee the beaches.

“As your at-large county commissioner that doesn’t live on the island, I will tell you, I take my responsibility to evaluate the beaches very seriously,” Benac said, with a chuckle. “Even working hard on weekends, holidays, Friday nights, you can find me there, evaluating the conditions of our beautiful beaches.”

BB pier blues: Parts missing, floating dock stalled — again

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Trouble in paradise? The Historic Bridge Street Pier sees delays, as the floating dock installation goes off track again, and clams for the living shoreline project won’t be ready until after winter. Islander File Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Bradenton Beach experienced another hiccup in the procurement of its floating dock.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale told Community Redevelopment Agency members Feb. 6 that Technomarine had yet to deliver the floats for the dock to Hecker Construction in Gibsonton.

The city in April 2017 contracted with Technomarine to build and install a floating dock at the Historic Bridge Street Pier and then in December 2018, after many delays, reached a settlement with the company for the delivery of the dock components, including the floats and anchor pilings.

The manufactured dock was shipped to Hecker from Spain by Technomarine and, after Technomarine communications failed, Hecker was tapped by the city for the installation.

Now Technomarine is in breach of the settlement agreement, having failed to deliver the floats by the agreed Jan. 20 deadline.

So CRA members voted 6-0 to approve a motion authorizing city attorney Ricinda Perry to obtain three quotes from other contractors for floats by the next CRA meeting.

“I’m just getting sick and tired of every single time it’s like, this deadline’s been missed and this deadline’s been missed,” said City Commissioner Jake Spooner, a CRA member. “When do we draw the line and say ‘enough,’ and ‘let’s just get this done ourselves?’”

While the city seeks quotes for the floats, Speciale reviewed the situation with Technomarine.

“The last thing we heard — and I know we’ve heard this before — was that the floats are being made right now,” Speciale said. “Everything is at Hecker right now except for the floats.”

Speciale said Technomarine chief officer Erik Sanderson did not return phone calls about the floats.

Perry later contacted Technomarine representative Julianne Frank, who said the floats had yet to be ordered.

Following the conversation with Frank, Sanderson contacted the float manufacturer and completed the order, according to Speciale, the lead on the project for the city.

Frank delivered drawings and specifications for the floats to the city.

Speciale said it would be another week or two before delivery of the floats to Hecker’s yard in Gibsonton, where they would be installed.

“It’s very easy for us to say we are going to pay for it, obviously, but we are in a position where not only are we going to get the docks, we’re going to end up getting this project done for less than we initially said it was going to be,” Speciale said.

The settlement between the city and Technomarine holds the company responsible for paying for and providing the dock and purchasing floats from other contractors would be an additional cost for the city.

Speciale expressed his frustration with another delay in the project.

“I’ve got one more year, and I can retire,” Speciale said. “I’d like to be able to get this dock done so just in the last part of my career I can finally be the police chief again. This is exhausting.”

Meanwhile, the city continues to pursue permitting for the dock installation at the pier.

Speciale is working with city building official Steve Gilbert and Hecker project manager Eric Shaffer on acquiring geographical information regarding anchor pilings needed for installation and permitting from the building department.

The police chief could not provide an estimate for when the permitting process would wrap up, nor a date for installation, which he said might take two-three weeks to complete.

The next CRA meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 6, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.


CRA seeks new member

John Horne, Anna Maria Oyster Bar owner and a member of the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency since November 2016, declined reappointment to the agency board in 2018.

The CRA now is seeking a candidate for a four-year appointment to the board. The five members of the city commission serve on the agency board, as well as Ed Chiles, owner of the Beach House Restaurant. Chiles was appointed to a four-year term, while Horne was serving a two-year term.

Applicants must reside or operate a business in the CRA district, which is bounded by Cortez Road, Sarasota Bay, Fifth Street South and the Gulf of Mexico.

Applications are available at city hall.

Legendary performer dazzles, makes new ‘friends

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Audience members applaud Jan. 31 for singer-songwriter Janis Ian, following her performance of her song, “At Seventeen,” for which she received the 1976 Grammy award for best female pop vocal performance. Ian lectured and performed several songs as part of the Friends of the Island Library 2019 Lecture and Travel Series. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Singer-songwriter Janis Ian holds a note Jan. 31 during her lecture and performance at the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, as part of the 2019 Friends of the Library Lecture Series.
Janis Ian autographs a record album cover Jan. 31 for Benjamin Keevil of Bradenton, while Ian’s wife, Patricia Snyder, sells copies of Ian’s books at the reception following Ian’s performance at the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. “I think people can really relate to the themes in her music,” Keevil said of Ian.

Former AM commissioner aims criticism at city pier project

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A drone photo by Islander photographer Jack Elka shows a thriving Anna Maria City Pier in February 2015.
The Anna Maria City Pier — including two residential houses jutting from the north and south sides — circa 1915-25. Islander Photo: Courtesy the Manatee County Library Historical Collection.
An Islander file photo of the city pier in 2016.
A construction barge is positioned Jan. 26 in Tampa Bay to begin work on the new pier. Islander Photo: Robert Abrunzo

Not everyone is happy with the plans for the new Anna Maria City Pier.

The first pilings were to be driven by Jan. 28, according to Vice Mayor Brian Seymour, but former city commissioner and architect Gene Aubry believes there are issues with the pier as designed by the Sarasota-based Schimberg Group.

First, Aubry, who moved to Anna Maria in 1985, is concerned with the lack of railings on the pier walkway. He said railings are important safety measures and could double as a surface for cleaning fish.

“I think the railings are absolutely crucial,” Aubry said in an interview Jan. 25. “You’re 6 feet over the water without railings? I’m questioning the whole blasted thought process because if you’re not putting railings on it, that’s a very serious problem for the handicapped and for the public in general.”

Aubry pointed to the Rod & Reel Pier, 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, which has no railings but has benches on the walkway for comfort and also to block people from falling into the water.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing more benches,” Anna Maria Commissioner Dale Woodland said in an interview Jan. 25. “Simply because that’s a long walk out there, and we get older people and maybe they want to relax a little bit on their way out there.”

Woodland said the city could discuss adding railings or benches after building the pier.

“We don’t want to mess anything up,” Woodland said. “Look how long it has been already just to get it back to what it was. I’m sorry, but when you’re working with the government and you bring up any new point, that could set you back three months.”

Commissioner Amy Tripp said she wished Aubry’s input had been given during public meetings with the Schimberg Group, held for people to share opinions on the pier design.

“I went to all those meetings, and that was even before I became a commissioner, and I didn’t see him there and I didn’t hear those issues raised,” Tripp said in an interview Jan. 25. “So at this point I just feel like it seems like a really negative thing to say for no productive reason.”

Commission Chair Brian Seymour — vice mayor during Mayor Dan Murphy’s two-week vacation — said a member of the public raised concerns for railings at one of the meetings, but it was discussed and an overwhelming majority of the public feedback was against railings.

“We even had the engineering firm make sure the curbs that run along the sides were higher than originally proposed to help stop things such as a wheelchair from going off the sides of the pier,” Seymour said in an interview Jan. 25.

Tripp, who had visited the island since she was 19 years old before moving to Anna Maria, said she couldn’t recollect any issues when the pier had no railings.

“I don’t think it is really a problem,” she said. “And at this point, it’s a done deal. The design is finished and the money that we have … is already earmarked for how it is going to be used.”

Commissioner Carol Carter said it is the commission’s intention to build the pier as close as possible to the structure damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, but to use longer-lasting materials — such as concrete pilings instead of wood.

Aubry said he also doesn’t agree with using concrete instead of wood for the pilings. He said wood could be used for the pier like it was for the pier demolished in 2018.

“They’re hellbent on building a pier that lasts 100 years,” he said. “Why? I have no idea.”

Woodland — a self-titled traditionalist — agreed, saying, “Yeah, they have to be replaced once in a while. But is concrete better? I don’t know, I’m not an expert. But I supported the wooden pilings, and I lost that vote 4-1.”

Woodland said he spoke with three different marine construction businesses about wood pilings, all of which told him there wasn’t a big difference between wood and concrete because wood could be wrapped in vinyl to prevent damage from barnacles.

Tripp said the engineer on the project, Ayres Associates, maintained concrete was superior to wood.

“Back in the day when the pier was built, they didn’t have the option of using better materials,” Tripp said. “I know when I redid my house, I put new stuff in it because the old stuff wouldn’t serve me as well. So when you do something, I think it only stands to reason that you’re going to use the best materials on the market that are available.”

Commissioner Doug Copeland declined to comment on Aubry’s issues with the pier design.