Tag Archives: News

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.

Clearing the shore

thumb image
Chris Carr, Dee Recicar and Phyllis Digabriel clean up the beach near the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge, 110 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, during a countywide cleanup March 16. Additional cleanups took place at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, the Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach, areas near Anna Maria City Hall, the FISH Preserve in Cortez and on adopted highways and shorelines. The cleanup was in partnership with Keep Manatee Beautiful. For cleanup results and more photos, check The Islander’s March 27 issue. Islander Courtesy Photo

St Patricks Parade 2019

thumb image
Sean Murphy, Beach Bistro restaurant owner and parade organizer, surveys the lineup March 17 for the 20th annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
A green-haired leprechaun shares a gift with a wee girl March 20 during the 20th annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Members of the Rowlett Middle Academy marching band of Bradenton perform March 20 in the annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day parade in Holmes Beach.
Lion and Rampant Pipe and Drum of Sarasota brought members of all ages, including a wee small drummer, to perform in the March 20 Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day.
The Anna Maria Island Privateers scurry and throw beads to the crowd from the Skullywag boat/float as they pass along Marina Drive in Holmes Beach March 20 in the 20th annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Members of the Crewe of De Soto of Bradenton hand out beads and high-five attendees at the 20th annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day parade in Holmes Beach.
A pair of llamas — labeled baby camels for fun — are led March 20 along Marina Drive in Holmes Beach in the annual processional for St. Patrick’s Day.
Riders on the Anna Maria Island Privateers float, the Skullywag, soak up the shenanigans March 20 during the annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Bagpipers play and march in the annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love
Photographer, Karen-Riley Love

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.

Holmes Beach charter reviewers delve into residency, rights

Holmes Beach charter review commissioners are considering proposed ballot measures for charter changes.

The CRC voted 3-2 March 14 to place on the ballot a proposed extension of the length of residency to qualify to run for city office from two years to four years.

However, because the decision was not approved by a supermajority, which requires a 4-1 vote, the motion failed.

Charter Review Commission chair Edward Upshaw and members David Zaccagnino and Sean Murphy voted “yay,” while Claudia Carlson and Nancy Deal voted “nay.”

Murphy, an islander for 40 years, argued that people who have lived in Holmes Beach for more than four years have a better understanding of the city than those who recently moved to the city and “think they can save it.”

“Maybe we would get a more educated electorate and educated commission if we extend the residency requirement,” he said.

Deal disagreed with Murphy.

She said she knows old-timers who have no interest in island issues, while some seasonal or new residents become more active in the community.

Carlson said newcomers can provide fresh perspectives on longstanding issues, such as transportation.

Murphy also suggested that increasing the stipend for commissioners — currently $500 per month — might encourage more people to run.

He said many residents cannot afford to work 25-40 hours per week “for virtually nothing.”

“I doubt anyone is going to run for the money, but we might generate more candidates if they felt their expenses were going to be more realistically treated,” he said.

Zaccagnino noted payment to commissioners is not in the charter, and suggested the CRC recommend to the city commission that, if they raise the stipend they could increase the candidate pool.

Murphy motioned that the CRC create an addendum for the city commission, which would include the board’s remarks on topics outside of the charter recommendations, including increased compensation for the mayor and commissioners.

The motion passed 4-1, with Carlson voting “nay.”

Additionally, Murphy suggested including a “bill of rights” in the charter, which would state that residents have a “preeminent right to timely treatment of applications for permits and licenses. They also have a right to timely and direct access to their elected officials.”

He recommended that residents’ permit applications take priority over those of investors who do not live in the city.

Carlson said she understands Murphy’s point of view, but she suggested they check with the city attorney to determine if the charter is the appropriate place for such a document.

Upshaw suggested Murphy write up his proposal and file it with the city clerk.

The CRC comprises five people elected by citywide vote in 2018.

It has met weekly since Jan. 17 to review the charter for possible changes.

The committee has a May 8 deadline to present recommendations to the city commission.

Charter changes approved by a supermajority of the committee will be submitted to the city commission as an ordinance, and then to the Manatee County Supervision of Elections for a citywide vote on the November ballot.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said she would prepare and review the ordinance for the ballot.

The Holmes Beach CRC meets at 10 a.m. Thursdays through the end of April at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.


Commissioner offers feedback to charter reviewers
The Holmes Beach charter review commission solicited feedback from the city commission for its March 14 meeting.

Commissioner Kim Rash, who is serving his first term as an elected official, was the only commissioner to attend.

CRC chair Edward Upshaw said he might not have given other commissioners enough notice and he plans to extend an invitation to attend the March 21 review meeting.

Members of the CRC asked Rash about topics they are considering, including the form of government.

Charter review commissioner David Zaccagnino said Rash campaigned on the platform of changing the form of government from strong-mayor to city manager and asked why Rash, whose platform was “the voice of the people,” advocates the change.

Rash said he isn’t for or against a city manager, but previously stated it should be “up to the people to decide,” as a ballot measure.

“I could go either way on it, but I think the residents ought to be the ones to decide,” Rash said. “Something that important should not be decided by five people.”

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.

Bradenton Beach website still missing, officials ‘mum’

The city of Bradenton Beach has no website and no explanation.

City commissioners approved a license and service agreement for the design and hosting of a new website with CivicPlus — a website service provider in Manhattan, Kansas — in early December 2018.

While no time frame was given for the final website, the contract required CivicPlus to create a temporary site within two weeks of signing the agreement.

The temporary site was to contain contact information, office hours, alerts, news and a meeting calendar. However, as of March 7, access to www.cityofbradentonbeach.com opens a page with only a message: “Website coming soon!”

Mayor John Chappie declined to comment March 7.

The city’s website was taken offline in October 2018 because it did not comply with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. To comply, public web sites must limit visuals to those that do not cause seizures for viewers. Sites also must provide audio assistance for people with visual disabilities.

When the city learned a disclaimer would not insulate a lawsuit, the website was suspended.

The new website is to be ADA complaint and, under the agreement, CivicPlus must train city staff in how to keep update the site for compliance.