Tag Archives: News

Holmes Beach man held on DUI charges

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Ross Atkins, 55

Ross Atkins, 55, of Holmes Beach, was charged with DUI Sept. 8, after a traffic stop in the 5000 block of Gulf Drive.

Holmes Beach Police Officer Alan Hurt observed Atkins drive into the Manatee Public Beach parking lot at 4000 Gulf Drive and continue north through a southbound entrance, disregarding the do-not-enter signs.

Atkins was unable to produce a driver’s license and Hurt reported that he smelled the odor of alcohol on Atkins.

Atkins agreed to field sobriety tests, which were not satisfactory.

He was placed under arrest and transported to the Holmes Beach police department, where he refused to provide a breath sample.

He was then transported to Manatee County Jail.

Atkins was released Sept. 8 on $1,500 bail.

Anna Maria mayor dogs pier lease agreement

Negotiations on a new lease for the Anna Maria City Pier restaurant and bait shop are slowly moving forward.

Mayor Dan Murphy updated city commissioners Sept. 12 on his progress for a new pier lease with the current tenant, Mario Schoenfelder. He said they agreed upon the commission’s previously designated premises and maintenance responsibilities, and would now begin to discuss payments, the length of the lease, parking and insurance.

Schoenfelder, who splits his time between Holmes Beach and Germany, began leasing the pier in August 2000. He signed on for 10 years with two five-year options and a $5,000 monthly lease payment subject to periodic increases of $500.

The current lease covers the pier structure, parking area, restaurant and bait shop with payments of $11,900 per month. The tenant is responsible for paying property tax, utilities, maintenance and liability insurance, and the city is responsible for fire, casualty, wind and flood insurance.

Murphy said he planned to email Schoenfelder Sept. 13 on the terms for parking. He said the lease could include parking spaces, which he estimated at no more than 40, in order for the restaurant to comply with the code for restaurant parking.

Murphy recommended 24 parking spaces in the lot on the north side of the pier, where i+icon is stationed for the duration of the pier construction.

Another 12 parking spaces could be included near City Pier Park, at 101 North Bay Blvd., according to Murphy, along with the first four spaces on the south side of the pier, including two handicap parking spaces.

The parking spaces designated for restaurant parking would be marked with appropriate signage, as it was before Hurricane Irma damaged the pier in September 2017.

As for insurance, Murphy said Schoenfelder should cover the restaurant and bait shop, while the city should insure the pier.

Murphy proposed using the current lease term — 10 years with two five-year options — and added that commissioners will need to discuss a formula for rent at a future meeting.

Holmes Beach-Bert Harris lawsuits in limbo

Another decision is left to another day.

Judge Edward Nicholas postponed ruling Sept. 9 on pretrial motions in Bert Harris cases against the city of Holmes Beach — as did another 12th circuit judge in July.

In court Sept. 9, three property owners were up on motions, asking the city be held liable for their losses due to 2015-16 ordinances that limit short-term rental occupancy to a maximum of two persons per bedroom.

The owners, properties and their claims are:
• Coral Escape of Holmes Beach, 132 50th St., $240,000.
• Robert and Michelle Carl, 4805 Second Ave., $275,000.
• Mojito Splash, 304 65th St., $275,000.

For the owners, attorney Aaron Thomas, of the Najmy Thompson Bradenton law firm, argued July 30 and Sept. 9 the city should be liable as of May 1, 2016 for the occupancy and regulatory ordinances that established enforcement for the new laws.

Attorney Jay Daigneault, of the Trask, Daigneault, lawfirm in Clearwater, assigned to represent the city by its insurer, challenged the owners’ right to bring the cases without first being denied a variance, relying on a 2018 decision by Judge Lon Arend in the Holmes Beach-Bob and Ellen McCaffrey case.

Thomas argued that it was futile for his clients to challenge the occupancy restrictions and that the McCaffreys — who sought permission to expand their home beyond newly established regulations — were not in the same situation as his clients, who were unrestricted as to the number of occupants before the city’s occupancy regulation went into effect.

Although the judge postponed his ruling, Thomas said Nicholas’ statements in court Sept. 9 were favorable to his arguments.

Nicholas followed the lead of Judge Charles Sniffin, who, at a July 30 hearing on three similar cases, deferred his decision for 90 days, asking attorneys for both sides to exchange information, documents and inspections.

Thomas also said Nicholas told the attorneys Sept. 9 he was considering mediation for the parties.

WMFR approves assessments, $9.6 million spending plan

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Battalion Chief Ben Rigney. Islander Photo: Courtesy WMFR

West Manatee Fire Rescue district commissioners voted unanimously and with little fanfare to approve its annual tax assessments and a $9.6 million budget at their final public hearing Sept. 9.

“We deliberated enough,” said Commissioner Larry Jennis after the first hearing to certify the tax rolls for the Manatee County Property Appraiser.

Commission Chair David Bishop said, “I would agree.”

Property tax notices will be mailed to owners Nov. 1.

At the second public hearing the same day, commissioners approved the district’s 2019-20 budget of $9,646,234. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Battalion Chief Ben Rigney — soon to be chief — said there had been no changes since the budget presentation in August.

In an Aug. 20 budget report, Rigney said the district continues to experience “slow growth in regard to residential development” and projected a less than 1 percent increase in revenue.

No public comment was made at either hearing.

The 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Randy Cooper absent, finalized the district’s 2019-20 assessment hike, approved in May for parcels in the district — 1.65% for residential and 5% for commercial properties.

The assessments will be spread among 18,027 residential and 581 commercial parcels, including homes and businesses on Anna Maria Island and in unincorporated west Manatee County, including Cortez. Unusable vacant tracts, churches, parsonages, recreational areas, public institutions, military installations, railroads, rivers, lakes, submerged lands and certain properties for people with special needs are exempt from WMFR assessments.

The 2019-20 budget shows $7.32 million in revenue from assessments, $9,500 from grants, $65,000 from interest and $223,067 from reimbursements.

In comparison, the current budget includes $7.12 million from tax assessments, $10,500 from grants and inspection fees, $110,000 in interest and $2.1 million in reimbursements, including the $1.6 million sale of the former administration building.

New in the district’s 2019-20 spending plans include the $650,000 purchase of an engine to replace a 15-year-old truck, $1.1 million to build a new administration building and a $200,000 remodel of the 862-square-foot bunk room at Station 3, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

A new line item was established to fund cancer coverage mandated by the state in light of the occupational hazard tied to firefighting.

At a Sept. 9 workshop, the commissioners spoke to Tampa attorney Laura Donaldson of Manson Bolves Donaldson Varn about a draft policy for the mandated cancer coverage.

A state law effective July 1 requires fire districts to provide firefighters the option of a $25,000 lump sum payout in lieu of workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with one of 21 types of cancer. The law mandates the coverage for 10 years after retirement or termination, in addition to reimbursements for medical expenses.

With the exception of Commissioner George Harris, the commissioners in attendance said they’d prefer to purchase insurance to cover cancer claims at about $3,000 a year, rather than self-insuring the risk. Harris said he was “an advocate of self-insurance.”

“In my 43 years, I know of three I think would qualify,” Chief Tom Sousa told the board.

The commissioners discussed expanding the coverage to four retired firefighters currently on the district insurance plan and all WMFR employees. Donaldson said the district could chose a broader policy than required by state law.

Rigney said he would provide Donaldson a new draft of the district policy on cancer coverage.

The district employs about 35 full-time firefighters, three inspectors, six paramedics and four administrative personnel, including Rigney, who will replace the retiring Sousa in October. About 20 volunteer firefighters serve in the district reserves.

Election 2019: Voter registration deadline Oct. 7

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 5 election is Oct. 7.

There are no races for elected office in Anna Maria or Bradenton Beach. However, there are proposed charter amendments on the ballot in Anna Maria.

In Holmes Beach, there are four candidates for three city commission seats — incumbents Jim Kihm, Carol Soustek and Rick Hurst are running, as is Terry Schaefer.

Holmes Beach voters also will see proposed charter amendments on their ballots.

The first balloting in 2020 will be the presidential preference primary March 17.

For more information about becoming a candidate or registering to vote, go online to votemanatee.com.

Island transportation board opposes megabridge for Cortez

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County Commissioner Carol Whitmore asks two of the three Anna Maria Island mayors at a meeting of the Island Transportation Planning Organization to oppose DOT plans to build a megabridge linking Cortez and Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie and Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth vote to support efforts to have the DOT recommend against a megabridge to replace the Cortez Bridge. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

The Island Transportation Planning Organization has made it clear it does not want a megabridge built between Cortez and Bradenton Beach.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore appeared before the ITPO at its meeting Monday, Aug. 16, to ask for support in blocking plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to build a 65-foot-clearance fixed span to replace the Cortez Bridge.

“This is our last chance, truthfully, in my lifetime and your lifetime that we can protect the village of Cortez,” she said.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie voted in favor of a motion to support a 45-foot-clearance drawbridge as a compromise to the megabridge.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, the third voting member of the ITPO, did not attend the meeting.

Chappie, who wrote a letter to the DOT in May 2018 outlining his opposition to the 65-foot-clearance bridge, saying it would damage the character of Bradenton Beach and Cortez, again spoke against the span at the meeting.

“The high bridge is just going to destroy the ambiance of our two communities,” Chappie said.

Titsworth said the DOT has been determined in its efforts for the big bridge.

“They had their minds made up from the beginning,” she said.

But Whitmore said there is still time to change the DOT’s plan.

“I have nothing against the DOT,” she said. “But I know you can still change it.”

Whitmore is the only commissioner on the seven-member county board opposed to the big bridge, and she told the ITPO she was at the meeting representing only herself.

The DOT announced its plans last year for the bridge replacement. The agency says it expects to release a project development and environment study within the next few months.

A $6.4 million contract for design has been awarded, but design work cannot start until the PD&E is released.
The DOT is further along in its plans for replacing the Anna Maria Island Bridge with a similar 65-foot-clearance fixed span.

A PD&E study for replacement of that bridge received final approval in 2016 and work has begun on a $6.2 million design plan for the 65-foot-clearance fixed-span. That design work is not expected to be finished until fiscal 2022-23, DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick told The Islander last month.

The DOT included plans to replace the Longboat Pass Bridge this month, but a PD&E study is not expected to start for a few months and the agency has not decided what type of bridge will be built.

All three Anna Bridge Island bridges were built in the mid-1950s and have undergone considerable repair work through the years. The DOT considers them functionally sound but structurally obsolete.

Believe it or not, DOT is embarking on Longboat Pass Bridge replacement

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Looking north from Longboat Key to Bradenton Beach, the Longboat Pass Bridge spans the waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Intracoastal Waterway. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The Florida Department of Transportation will begin a $2.126 million study in the next few months to determine what type of bridge will replace the Longboat Pass Bridge.

This would be the third of the three Anna Maria Island bridges ortiginally built in the 1950s that the DOT plans to replace. The state transportation agency wants to replace the Cortez and the Anna Maria Island drawbridges with 65-foot-clearance fixed spans, a move that has drawn opposition.

No decision has been made on what type of bridge will be built over Longboat Pass, pending completion of the study, DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick said in a Sept. 13 email to The Islander.

“The Longboat Pass Bridge PD&E study is scheduled to begin this fiscal year and will evaluate both fixed and movable bridge alternatives,” Rick said.

The DOT’s fiscal year 2019-20 started July 1.

A DOT Work Program Report states that a total of $2.126 million from two accounts has been allocated for FY2019-20 for the Project Development and Environmental Study.

Funding for design, right-of-way acquisition and construction has not been allocated, indicating any construction would be at least 10 to 15 years away. PD&E studies generally require several years to complete and must be approved by other agencies before the DOT can move to the next phase.

A $5.2 million repair to the Longboat Pass Bridge started June 10. Officials say the repairs could add 10-15 years to the life of the aging structure, which links Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key on State Road 789.

All three Anna Bridge Island bridges opened in 1957 and are now obsolete, the DOT says.

A PD&E study for replacement of the Anna Maria Island Bridge was completed in 2010 and approved by the Federal Highway Administration in 2016.

A $6.2 million design plan for the replacement bridge, a 65-foot-clearance fixed-span, will not be completed until fiscal year 2022-23, Rick said last month.

Funding for right-of-way acquisition and construction has not been allocated, he said.

The PD&E study for replacement of the Cortez Bridge is expected within the next few months, Rick said in August.

About $6.4 million for design of the new bridge linking Cortez and Bradenton Beach has been allocated and an engineering firm has been chosen, but that work has not started because the PD&E study has yet to be made public.

That study, which began in 2013, will provide analysis of the environmental, economic, social, cultural and physical effects of the new bridge.

The 65-foot-clearance fixed span the DOT said it will build has drawn criticism from Cortez residents who say the bridge would destroy the character of the historic fishing village.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie also opposes the megabridge, as does County Commissioner Carol Whitmore.

Whitmore said she recognizes that the Cortez Bridge must be replaced, but she favors a 45-foot-clearance drawbridge.

SOE rejects Bradenton Beach ballot initiatives

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Blalock Walters attorney Chuck Johnson, attending the Sept. 4 Bradenton Beach city commission meeting, will represent the city at a Sept. 20 hearing regarding four charter ballot initiatives. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Take one step forward, two steps back.

You’re in Bradenton Beach.

Four proposed charter amendments petitioned by the Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods political action committee failed to make the Nov. 5 Bradenton Beach ballot under a decision by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.

City commissioners learned of the decision Sept. 5,  the day after they approved a resolution for the vote.

“The ballot language does not comply with Florida Statutes, specifically 101.161,” Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett wrote in a Sept. 5 letter to Bradenton Beach city clerk Terri Sanclemente. “I do not believe it is in my authority to change or create any ballot wording, so I will be unable to place these questions on any ballot.”

“I had previously indicated Sept. 5, 2019, as the deadline to get any amendments on the ballot,” Bennett continued. He offered to extend the deadline to Sept. 9, but no later.

The charter amendment subjects for the ballot include:

  • Prohibit construction of a multilevel parking garage in the city;
  • Require city commission vacancies be filled by election;
  • Prevent construction within setbacks;
  • Establish a full-time city manager.

The state law Bennett referred to requires a ballot title of up to 15 words, as well as a ballot summary not to exceed 75 words, including amendments to a city charter, which acts as a municipal constitution.

The ballot language, which Bradenton Beach commissioners adopted Sept. 4 in a resolution to the SOE, exceed the word limit, according to Bennett.

Blame for the city’s failure to put the questions on this year’s ballot is up in the air.

Judge Lon Arend of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court made it the city’s responsibility to determine the ballot language to conform with state law in his final judgment, but city attorney Ricinda Perry refused to change the language, saying KORN attorney Robert Hendrickson advised against changing any wording.

Perry said Hendrickson threatened to file for sanctions against her and the city if she altered the wording of the questions. She said she sought changes to the wording from KORN co-founders John Metz and Reed Mapes on multiple occasions, to no avail.

She added, in the commission meetings held to discuss the ballot questions in the six months since Arend ruled that they must be submitted to the SOE for the ballot, KORN representatives made no objections and offered no changes to the wording.

Perry said that, after hearing about the SOE’s rejection of the ballot wording, Hendrickson is proposing new language to conform with state law.

But, Perry said she is unwilling to alter the wording because that would change what the voters read when they signed the petitions.

The petition forms contained KORN’s proposed ballot language.

“We’re saying, ‘This is how you shopped it, it’s not fair to pull a bait-and-switch,’” Perry said.

Additionally, Perry said she didn’t understand some of the initiatives, and Metz and Mapes haven’t provided clarification.

On Aug. 27, prior to the SOE decision, Hendrickson filed a second motion to enforce Arend’s final judgment, claiming the ballot language doesn’t meet the criteria of the state law because the city added a summary to the original text that exceeds the word limit and includes the ballot title as the ballot question.

“For some reason there are some added words that might make the SOE not accept them,” Metz said in an interview with The Islander Sept. 5. “I don’t know what that’s about, but it would be a travesty.”

“We’ve got a lot of personalities here that don’t want to give up their power,” he continued.

The next day, Perry told The Islander that she doesn’t understand why Hendrickson would say the city added the ballot summaries. She said KORN provided the summaries to voters on the petitions.


Court hearing

Despite Bennett’s short extension of the deadline for the ballot questions from Sept. 5 to Sept. 9, Perry said she won’t propose changes until a court hearing is held to determine a course of action.

Perry said a three-hour hearing with Judge Edward Nicholas of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20, but she can’t attend. She suggested retaining Blalock Walters attorney Chuck Johnson to represent the city.

Commissioner Jake Spooner, at the Sept. 4 meeting, moved to retain Johnson for the hearing, and Commissioner Ralph Cole seconded the motion.

The motion passed 4-0.

Commissioner Randy White was absent with excuse.

Perry said that, if the hearing results in the city having to redraft the language of the initiatives to meet SOE requirements, the city could schedule a special election for the amendments or await the November 2020 general election.

HB, owners await ruling on 6 Bert Harris property cases

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Judge Charles Sniffin listens Sept. 4 in his Manatee County courtroom to a pretrial motion from the city of Holmes Beach in six cases filed under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Protection Act. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Same fact pattern. Same legal issues. Two results.

The city of Holmes Beach hoped to bring an end to 11 cases of property owners suing under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights at Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 hearings — but so far, that’s not happening.

With motions for judgments on the pleadings, the city claimed the owners’ lawsuits were improper and based on untimely filings.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin postponed ruling Sept. 4 on six cases, saying he would take the matter “under advisement” before issuing a written order.

A week earlier, in another Manatee County courtroom, Judge Edward Nicholas ruled from the bench accepting the owners’ argument they were proper and timely and allowed five other cases to proceed.

The 11 lawsuits involve property owners who, before the city’s 2015-16 short-term rental ordinances limited occupancy to two-persons per bedroom, were not restricted as to the number of occupants.

Clearwater attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask, Daigneault, assigned by the city’s insurer, Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, argued the vacation rental owners’ failed to file their claim within one year of the adoption of the 2015 occupancy ordinance and to request a variance from the occupancy law.

Attorney Aaron Thomas, of the Najmy Thompson Bradenton law firm, representing the property owners in the 11 lawsuits, argued the clock started ticking in 2016 after an ordinance set in motion the enforcement of the occupancy rule and that requesting a variance would have been futile.

The city commission enacted the ordinances in response to a public call to address issues stemming from a proliferation of large rental houses.

Mayor Judy Titsworth watched the proceedings Sept. 4, and after the hearing said, “Whichever way it goes, it’s part of the procedure.”

Thomas defended against the city motion alongside five Najmy attorneys.

More than 80 property owners invoked the Bert Harris law by filing claims in Holmes Beach in 2017, claiming an inordinate burden caused by the occupancy ordinance that resulted in a loss of market value.

Fifteen of these claims were upped to lawsuits.

Two were voluntarily dismissed by the owners and in one case, the owners lost at trial.

The owners’ claims heard by Sniffin Sept. 4, the corresponding rental properties and alleged losses based on appraisals are:

  • Shawn Kaleta, 204 72nd St., $400,000.
  • Brian Wien, 111 81st St., $220,000.
  • Robert and Michelle Carl, 118th 50th St., $400,000.
  • 307 66th LLC, 307 66th St., Unit B, $295,000.
  • 302 55th LLC, 302 55th St., $655,000.
  • R. Carlile Roberts, 6422 Gulf Drive, Unit 5, $380,000

Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes has a claim for 211 54th St. pending before Sniffin for $395,000, but was not heard with the others.

In the 11 lawsuits, alleged damages total $4.895 million — all claimed due to market value losses stemming from the city’s 2015 occupancy ordinance and a 2016 ordinance setting the May date for its enforcement.

According to city officials, the Bert Harris claims have been submitted to FMIT under the city’s insurance policies.

The next hearing for pending cases was 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 9, after press time for The Islander.