Tag Archives: News

Island businesses upbeat about 2020

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Diners wait for a table April 4 at the Ugly Grouper, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Island eateries report plans for new spaces, new equipment and menu changes for 2020. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi
Officials from Minto Communities and Margaritaville Holdings, along with local dignitaries, participate in a ceremonial ground-breaking in March 2019 for the Compass Hotel, 12324 Manatee Ave., Perico Island. The hotel, well under construction, will open in 2020. Islander File Photo: Sandy Ambrogi


As 2019 drew to close, Anna Maria Island business owners raised a glass to a new year and continued success.

Red tide stayed at bay through summer and fall and crowds spent holidays in 2019, spring break and summer vacations packing the beaches perusing island businesses.

“It’s been a blessed year,” Chet Zarzycki of Holy Cow Ice Cream, 3234 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, told The Islander.

“We just want to continue to make the families and people who come in happy and help them enjoy themselves while they are here,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Zarzycki said Dec.26 a new coffee machine was on order and when it arrived, iced coffees and lattes would be added to the offerings at Holy Cow.

“I think the coffee drinks will make a great addition to the shop,” he said.

At Small Town Creamery, 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, owner Lindy Gilbert also was thankful for another successful year.

She plans to expand non-dairy offerings in 2020, as well as add vegan options.

“It’s a newer trend we noticed. I call it treats for ‘special bellies,’ Gilbert said. “We are looking at accommodating everybody we can. We are looking at new candy and gift trends, too.”

Eateries and other interests

“I certainly can’t complain. I love what I do,” Chris Smargisso told The Islander Dec. 18.

Smargisso owns Beach Fun Rentals, 3228 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, and Slim’s Place, 9701 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, along with son PJ Smargisso.

“They are well-oiled machines,” he said of the two family businesses.

“At Slim’s, the locals keep us going all year round. We will add new items on the menu. We always change it up now and then,” Smargisso said.

He continued, “As for the rental business, I think the newer rental places like Robin Hood Rentals are taking a little away from the existing older ones and there’s internet sites now, too.”

“But we go on,” Smargisso said. “We will be status quo for the upcoming year with both businesses.

Mike Flynn of Bradenton purchased a rental business in November, buying Just 4 Fun Rentals, 5358 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

“We’ve set about adding equipment,” Flynn told The Islander. He also added a deck boat for rent to the hour or day.

In 2020, Vinny Esposito said he wants to make his Vinny’s Italian Kitchen, 5337 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, a destination.

“I am adding products that can’t be bought anywhere else in this area,” Esposito told The Islander Dec. 18.

“We are going to expand on what we have built here in Holmes Beach since the move from Pine Avenue and I just want to make my customers happy,” Esposito added.

He said he is looking to improve customer service and overall excellence.

Sean Murphy said he is excited about 2020 and his new event space next to the Doctor’s Office, 5312 Holmes Blvd., Holmes Beach.

Weddings, meetings and more are planned for the remodeled facility — or under the trees in the courtyard, where catering will be provided by the Beach Bistro, 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

Also, Murphy said his other Holmes Beach eatery, Eat Here, 5315 Gulf Drive, soon will offer a full bar in addition to wine and beer.

So, 2020 will bring a new year and new opportunities for island businesses.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Terri Kinder said she was looking forward to the new year, kicking off with the awarding of trolley grants at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, at Waterline Marina and Beach Resort, Holmes Beach, to nonprofits with island operations.

“We are excited for the upcoming year and looking forward to an outstanding 2020,” Kinder told The Islander.

Stay busy, islanders! And happy new year!

Remembering entertainer

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A concert Dec. 20 at Bunny & Pirates Bazaar in Cortez was held in remembrance of Kyle Shell, who died of heart failure Dec. 3 at his home in Bradenton Beach. The event was a fundraiser for Kayla Sage Shell, 17, daughter of the musician. The concert was hosted by singer June Eysel of the band Blues to Blackstreet. Another celebration of life for Shell to benefit his daughter's college fund was held Dec. 28 at the Drift In on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Mike Tokars

Eyes on the road 01-01-2020

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County posted the following for the week of Dec. 30:

  • Bay Drive South in Bradenton Beach: Manatee County’s AMI Pipeline Replacement project involves work on Bay Drive South continuing north to Bridge Street, shifting to Church Avenue and continuing on Church to Cortez Road.
  • Longboat Pass Bridge: Repairs to the Longboat Pass Bridge on Gulf Drive between Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key continue.

For the latest road watch information, go online to fl511.com and swflroads.com or dial 511.

To view traffic conditions, go online to smarttrafficinfo.org.

Flashback ’19: Year in review on AMI

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Work installing the first pilings for the new Anna Maria City Pier began in earnest Feb. 2 with pile driving. Contractor Icon will pound and jet 200 pilings by August 2019 before beginning on the decking. More, page 2. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

After the old, damaged city pier came down in 2018, much of the focus at Anna Maria City Hall in 2019 was on building a new pier to anchor the east end of Pine Avenue.

Also in the first half of the year — The Islander will review the second half in the Jan. 1 issue — businesspeople and beachgoers bade farewell to a bad bloom of red tide. Holmes Beach officials tussled with the owners of an unpermitted beachfront treehouse. Bradenton Beach officials went to court in a Sunshine suit against volunteer board members and Cortezians weathered the worst stone crab season in memory.

A look back at the first half of 2019:


Red tide exits area waters: The red tide bloom of 2018 had dissipated along the Southwest Florida coastline, just in time to ring in 2019. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission readings showed no presence of Karenia brevis, the algae known as red tide.

Manatee County, developers prevail: Twelfth Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. ruled against environmentalists, upholding the decision of the Manatee Board of County Commissioners to approve a general development plan and rezoning for a large-scale, mixed-use development on 529 acres southeast of Cortez and north of IMG Academy.

HBPD sergeant retires: Sgt. Vern McGowin — a two-time officer of the year and 21-year employee — retired from the Holmes Beach Police Department. The Islander named him the Islander of the Year for going above and beyond in his job.

Judge sets treehouse case for conference: “It goes on and on and on.” That was Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth’s reaction as she stepped out of a court hearing on the treehouse that ended with another court date set for later in the year.

Chiles named Anna Maria Citizen of the Year: Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy announced the citizen-of-the-year committee chose to honor restaurateur Ed Chiles. He was honored for his charitable contributions and community involvement.

Holmes Beach passes permit-to-permit remodel moratorium: A moratorium on permit-to-permit construction on some structures, with a three-year “cumulative substantial improvement period” for each building permit and one year for “substantial damage,” was unanimously approved by a vote of 4-0 of the Holmes Beach City Commission.

License-plate reader contracts approved: The city commission authorized Mayor Judy Titsworth to execute an agreement for license-plate reader equipment from contractor Vetted Security Solutions of St. Petersburg.

New owners start work on lots near FISH Preserve: Three lots adjacent to a preserve in Cortez were in new hands — with the addition of new fill to the property. The lots sold for $95,000.

Contractor moves into position to work on pier: Clearwater-based contractor i+iconSOUTHEAST began mobilizing for work with the installation of a construction trailer in a fenced-off area of the Anna Maria City Pier parking lot.

Don’t worry, be happy: The Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port area was named No. 4 overall on Southern Living magazine’s happiest and healthiest beach communities in the United States.

Manatee County extends funding for Cortez museum: A $180,000 county reimbursement program for the Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum was extended to the end of the year.

Raymond “Junior” Guthrie Jr. sits with Karen Bell of Cortez-based A.P. Bell Fish Co. Feb. 5 before a hearing in the Manatee County courthouse. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection brought the case against Guthrie for his failure to remove a house on stilts he built without permits in Sarasota Bay. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell


KORN prevails over Bradenton Beach: In a final order, Judge Lon Arend determined four initiatives proposed by a political action committee, Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods, must be submitted by the city of Bradenton Beach to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office for verification for a future ballot.

Bicyclist dies in hospital after fall: A Colorado man died after falling from his bicycle in Bradenton Beach. Carl Wetzig, a Colorado Springs ophthalmologist, was cycling when he fell face down on Gulf Drive North between the Longboat Pass Bridge and Manatee County Marine Rescue headquarters.

Judge rules for DEP, but Cortez fish camp gets stay: Raymond Guthrie Jr. didn’t need to dismantle and remove the stilt house he built in Sarasota Bay near the Cortez-based A.P. Bell Fish Co. or pay fines for ignoring a Florida Department of Environmental Protection order. While a judge entered summary judgment in favor of the DEP and against Guthrie, the judge also stayed the order’s execution.

Timeline pushed back for traffic study completion: The original timetable for completion of the Barrier Islands Traffic Study was 2018, but changes to phase 3 meant a public presentation on the multiyear study wouldn’t take place for another year.

Tourism impact nears $1 billion: Despite the fits and starts of tourism in 2018, Manatee County tallied up nearly $1 billion in economic impact from visitors, according to data released in February. “One billion. Yes, almost $1 billion in impact in 2018, despite all the issues of the year,” said Walter Klages of Research Data Services.

Email supports claim of city pressure on inspectors: An ousted Anna Maria code enforcement officer alleged that Bureau Veritas, a contracted inspection agency, was pressured into passing inspections without certification. A copy of a Feb. 23, 2018, email — obtained by The Islander through a public record request — between Bureau Veritas manager Matthew Rush and city clerk Leanne Addy lent credibility to the claim.

Skate park contract approved: The Holmes Beach City Commission approved an updated contract with American Ramp Co. to replace the skate park in the recreational complex at city field, adjacent to city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

T-end pilings set, walkway pile-driving to begin: Work driving T-end pilings for the Anna Maria City Pier finished Feb. 21, with work on walkway pilings soon to follow.

Bradenton Beach takes up ballot plans: In a unanimous vote, the Bradenton Beach mayor and commissioners chose not to appeal a judge’s ruling and instead hold a work meeting to determine the ballot language for four initiatives proposed by the political action committee Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods.

Anna Maria approves new vacation rental fees: City commissioners approved vacation rental fees for 2018-19, including charging registered vacation rentals $36.37 per occupant — a 76-cent decrease from the occupant fee charged in 2018. An inspection fee increased from $50 to $55.

WMFR, firefighters union agree to contract: The West Manatee Fire Rescue Commission and the Suncoast Professional Firefighters and Paramedics banged out a 2% increase in wages for the district’s 32 firefighters over the next three years.

Boat captain takes deal in shark-dragging case: A crime that sparked an outcry from animal rights activists ended with a whimper for one defendant, who took a plea deal in a bay-area courtroom. Michael Wenzel, 22, of Palmetto, pleaded guilty in Hillsborough County Circuit Court to a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty and using an illegal method to catch a shark.

The AMI String Band performs at Heritage Day, presented by the Anna Maria Island Historical Society March 2 in the AMIHS Historical Park, 402 Pine Ave., Anna Maria. The event featured music, food and beverages, games, crafts demonstrations and vendors selling wares.


Judge rules for city in treehouse owners’ case: The city of Holmes Beach took home a win as a judge dismissed the owners’ petition to halt the destruction of their treehouse. The judge also granted the city’s dismissal motion.

Sunshine suit defendants offer ‘compromise’: At a Bradenton Beach commission meeting, the mayor and commissioners unanimously voted to set a deadline for the defendants to respond to a settlement offer by the city in the lawsuit initiated by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former city board members.

BB pier’s floating dock comes together: Floats for Bradenton Beach’s floating dock — the last missing parts in the project— were delivered to a laydown yard in Gibsonton, where parts were being assembled before delivery to Bradenton Beach.

Community radio hopes to broadcast to Cortez: David Beaton, a manager with WBPV at 100.1 FM, asked the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board to provide space for the low-powered station to resume coverage to Cortez, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

Ousted code officer alleges toxic workplace in Anna Maria: An employee fired from the city of Anna Maria alleged she endured a toxic work environment.

Hometown hire — WMFR names next chief: WMFR commissioners voted 5-0 to appoint Ben Rigney as the next fire chief when Tom Sousa retired Oct. 17, pending contract negotiations by Commission Chair David Bishop.

Bradenton Beach commissioners divide voters into new wards: City commissioners voted 5-0 to reinstate four wards based on voter numbers and neighborhoods recommended and approved by the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office and revised by the commission.

Beachfront motel granted alcohol sales by Holmes Beach: Cedar Cove Resort, 2710 Gulf Drive, received approval from special magistrate Michael Connelly to sell alcoholic beverages at its snack bar. Connelly is an attorney appointed by the city to hear such matters.

Treehouse owners file new case in federal court: 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.

Anna Maria funds Pine Avenue pedestrian improvements: City commissioners voted 5-0 for a resolution to use $6,000 from the city’s contingency fund to pay for the first phase of short-term solutions for vehicular and pedestrian safety on Pine.

Concert producer Rich Engler introduces The Marshall Tucker Band at the center. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice


HB charter reviewers fail city manager vote: The Holmes Beach Charter Review Commission unanimously voted to approve the first proposed charter amendment for the November ballot. However, the members were split 3-2 on the topic of a city manager versus the current strong-mayor form of government.

City pier pile-driving continues: Construction of the new Anna Maria City Pier walkway and T-end was chugging away. Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said i+iconSOUTHEAST had driven 154 pilings — more than three-quarters of the 201 pilings planned for the 776-foot-long pier.

Bradenton Beach approves beacon for Gulf Drive-27th St. crosswalk: Bradenton Beach City Hall was packed with Sandpiper Resort residents and they applauded as city commissioners approved a contract with Bradenton-based MSB Services to install lighted signage at a crosswalk on Gulf Drive near 27th Street North and the Sandpiper mobile home community.

Center concerts generate $50K, costs unknown: Rock ’n’ roll took center stage. And the money rolled in. But the numbers for a series of concerts at the Center of Anna Maria Island lacked details.

Island officials strike paid parking at beaches, boat ramps: Beachgoers and boaters shouldn’t pay to park at Manatee County amenities was the consensus at a Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting.

Bradenton Beach approves $100K to finish floating dock: The Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency members voted 6-0 to approve Hecker Construction’s $105,754 proposal to complete the remaining work on the floating dock at the city pier, including the assembly of floats, delivery to the city and installation at the pier.

Atlantic storm forecast — slightly-below normal: An early forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season predicted 13 named storms and a “slightly-below normal” Atlantic hurricane season.

BB approves hardening for city buildings: With an offer of 75% of storm mitigation costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bradenton Beach commissioners voted 3-0 to move forward with preparing to wind- and floodproof city buildings.

License plate readers activated in Holmes Beach: Smile! You’re on candid camera. Camera equipment designed to photograph license plates on vehicles drive in Holmes Beach was up and running in time for spring break.

Jury convicts man for killing girlfriend’s toddler: A jury found David Vickers guilty of second-degree murder and child neglect in the August 2017 death of a Holmes Beach toddler. Luca Sholey was 17 months old Aug. 23, 2017, when he died from a lack of oxygen after suffering four broken ribs and other injuries.

I+iconSOUTHEAST was halfway done installing stringers — support boards laid the length of the walkway — and utility lines along the new Anna Maria City Pier walkway as of May 15, according to Mayor Dan Murphy. Islander Photo: Jack Elka


Anna Maria Historic Preservation Board meets: The Anna Maria Historic Preservation Board held its first meeting May 1, after city clerk Leanne Addy swore five people — Jack Brennan, Sissy Quinn, Pat Copeland, Gary McMullen and Thomas Wagner — onto the board.

Cheers, discontent accompany first loggerhead nest on AMI: Tracks on the beach May 1 pointed to a sea turtle nest. But the nest was found next to a hole in the sand measuring about 5 feet in diameter — large enough to possibly trap or deter a nesting female.

Center in black as fiscal year winds down: The Center of Anna Maria Island was close to finishing its fiscal year in the black. Without a development, sports or operations director, program, administration and fundraising expenses fell under budget.

Anna Maria City Pier construction on track: Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said i+iconSOUTHEAST was installing bolts on pilings, which would be topped with concrete caps. The caps would connect piles with wood bents, beams to support stringers and the ipe decking for the walkway.

Lift drops, injures two: The elevator dropped from the upper level at the Anna Maria Island Moose Lodge with two men inside. The men “were hospitalized and surgery was required” as a result of the elevator fall.

BBPD arrests Bradenton woman for coin, jewelry thefts: Ten counts of pawning rare coins and jewelry valued at more than $80,000 landed a woman in Manatee County jail.

Icon set to install T-end deck: The new Anna Maria City Pier was taking shape as i+iconSOUTHEAST finished installing pile bents and went to work installing stringers, vertically set support planks laid the length of the walkway, as well as utility lines for communication, water, gas and electricity between the planks.

Anna Maria issues RFP to close gap in multiuse path: Anna Maria city commissioners voted to authorize Mayor Dan Murphy and city staff to issue a request for proposals to add to the multiuse path stretching from Archer Way to the southern city limits. The extension would connect with Holmes Beach’s path when both are complete.

Cortez stone crab season — one of the worst: The 2018-19 stone crab season was one of the worst in Florida history and “a lot of it is due to the red tide.” That was Fish and Wildlife Research Institute researcher Ryan Gandy’s assessment.

BB steps in to halt pine tree removal at Coquina Beach: Bradenton Beach commissioners voted to write to Manatee County administrator Cheri Coryea protesting the county’s plan to remove Australian pine trees at Coquina Beach to make way for a drainage improvement project.

Anna Maria approves new restaurant-residence on Pine: The Anna Maria City Hall gallery was overflowing with people as city commissioners voted to approve a site-plan application with stipulations for a second-floor residence and 45-seat ground-level restaurant at 415 Pine Ave., where presently there is a two-story residence.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, left, shakes the hand of Frank Agnelli, of Mason Martin, after the commission voted June 6 to negotiate with the contractor to build the city pier restaurant and bait shop. Islander Photo: Cory Cole


Locals win bid to build AM pier restaurant, bait shop: A local builder hooked a big job. The contractor to build the amenities at the Anna Maria City Pier was decided — Mason Martin LLC, locally owned by Frank Agnelli and Jake Martin.

Repairs begin on bridge linking Bradenton Beach, LBK: A contractor with the Florida Department of Transportation began major repairs on the Longboat Pass Bridge linking Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key on State Road 789.

AMOB shuts down breakfast griddle: The Anna Maria Oyster Bar at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach went on break from breakfast. Owner John Horne stepped into the kitchen to cook during the restaurant’s final day of breakfast.

‘Bortie Too’ tagged, tracked in race for research: Bortie Too, a female loggerhead, was tagged and released as part of the 12th Annual Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles, a sea turtle marathon that officially started Aug. 1.

County votes to remove, replace 97 trees at Coquina: Manatee County commissioners authorized the removal of more than 10% of the 991 Australian pine trees at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach for the first phase of its parking lot drainage improvement project. The fate of another 13% or 129 of the Australian pine trees at Coquina remained undetermined.

TDC OKs more money for AM pier: Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy found a receptive audience for his video clip of construction progress on the new Anna Maria City Pier. He received a unanimous recommendation from the Manatee County Tourist Development Council for $435,000 more toward completion of the construction project.

WMFR green lights new fire chief: With a unanimous vote, West Manatee Fire Rescue commissioners approved a five-year contract for the incoming district fire chief — Ben Rigney.

Trolley ridership continues to climb: A Manatee County Area Transit report stated, “The AMI trolley is the most productive route in terms of total ridership operated by Manatee County government.” Ridership on the fare-free island trolley in 2018-19 continued to exceed ridership in 2017-18.

Pallets of fireworks found, removed at Cortez residence: More than 697 cases of improperly stored fireworks were discovered in a garage in Cortez by West Manatee Fire District and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Record number of visitors enjoy sunshine in Florida

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Record number of visitors enjoy sunshine in Florida

At the beginning of 2019, funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing machine, appeared in jeopardy.

House and Senate negotiators in the 2019 legislative cycle agreed to extend Visit Florida’s funding until June 30, 2020, pushing $50 million into the agency’s coffers.

So in a year-end wrap Dec. 23, Visit Florida president and chief executive officer Dana Young made clear the state funding that came through in 2019 was spent well.

The state welcomed the most visitors of “any six-month period in the state’s history, with 69.7 million people traveling to the state from January to June 2019,” the news release stated.

As state lawmakers prepare for an early session, they again are raising questions about funding for Visit Florida, a not-for-profit corporation created as a public/private partnership in 1996 to maximize the economic impact of tourism to Florida.

“We are committed to ensuring that Florida tourism remains strong, so our industry continues to create jobs and raise critical tax revenue that pays for things that are important to Floridians, like transportation, environmental protection and education,” Young stated in the news release

Dog park nears completion at Holmes Beach’s city field

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Grass is growing and a shaded seating area is ready Dec. 20 for dog watchers at the large dog park at city field in Holmes Beach. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen

Canines and their humans soon will have a new hangout in Holmes Beach.

The former ballpark is now a dog park.

The grass is growing, waterline trenches have been excavated and seating is constructed for the expanded dog park at city field, the recreational complex adjacent to city hall in the 5800 block of Marina Drive.

Throughout the process that started in 2018, Eran Wasserman, Holmes Beach director of development services, and city engineer Lynn Burnett met with dog park users to hear suggestions on amenities for the park.

“We did a mix of sand and grass to meet the requests of people who use the park,” Wasserman said.

The city also installed seating in the former dugouts at Birdie Tebbetts Field, which was removed to make room for the park, including two styles of seating — some benches facing outward and others facing each other — per requests of park users.

Rye and Bermuda grass, which will take several weeks to establish, will be watered on a tight schedule in January to ensure proper growth, according to Wasserman.

He said the city reused fencing when possible and, the fencing contractor, Gulf Coast Fence, provided gates at no additional charge.

Wasserman also said he received requests from people who use the small dog park, adjacent to the large dog park, for renovations, and those plans will be considered in 2020.

“We really hope everyone is satisfied with the changes,” he said. “This has really been a lot of work and we are proud of the results thus far.”

Carol Hatz, Holmes Beach parks and beautification member and dog park user, said Dec. 26 she looks forward to the new park.

“We are so lucky to have something like this in our community,” she said. “I know the city did a lot of research to put this together and I’m excited to experience the new park.”

A ribbon-cutting opening for the dog park is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25.

New to the krewe

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The Anna Maria Island Privateers make a presentation Dec. 28 at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, Holmes Beach, honoring concession owner Mark Enoch and son Tanner, who manages the day-to-day operations at the cafe. Privateers president Kim “Syren” Boyd announced the naming of the Enochs as honorary members of the Privateers, saying, “Tanner and Mark have been very supportive of our club and we need to honor them and pay tribute to that.” Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

DOT says analysis unwarranted for hotel traffic on Perico Island

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The 123-room Compass hotel, right, at the entrance to the One Particular Harbor and Harbour Isles communities on Perico Island, is scheduled to open in spring 2020. Will it add to traffic woes on Manatee Avenue West/State Road 64? Islander Photo: Jack Elka
Looking from the marina, an artist’s drawing depicts the Compass hotel, pool and a portion of Floridays restaurant, right. Manatee Avenue is in the background Islander Photo: Courtesy Compass
When the Anna Maria Island Bridge is raised, traffic on Manatee Avenue can back up to the mainland. Islander Photo: Sarah Brice

All the parties involved say ask the Florida Department of Transportation.

The DOT says the issue has been studied and everything is OK.

The issue: Will completion of the Compass hotel and Floridays restaurant in the Harbour Isle development on Perico Island in a few months add significantly to the often-choked traffic on Manatee Avenue?

And another question: Is the DOT investigating?

The DOT answer: “Based upon the information contained in the previously approved access permit for this development, which took into account both the development and future build-out traffic, the department does not believe additional analysis is warranted at this time.”

The study, however, was performed in 2011 and the scope and size of the development has grown significantly in eight years.

Taking shape on Perico

The hotel and restaurant are being built on the northern bayfront on Perico Island about a half-mile east of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

The area is already home to Harbour Isle on Anna Maria Sound, and its three residential developments:
• Mangrove Walk, 132 coach homes.
• Edgewater Walk, 147 coach homes.
• One Particular Harbour, 132 condos.

That brings the total to 411 residences. The development has been approved for 686.

The six-story Compass hotel will have 113 guest rooms and 10 two-room suites, said Angus Rogers, president and CEO of Floridays Development Co.

The hotel will have a resort-sized pool situated between the hotel and the restaurant, all wrapping around the bayfront docks.

The restaurant is slated for 250-275 seats, depending on the arrangement, Rogers told The Islander earlier this month. Both are scheduled to open in the spring, he said.

The area where the hotel and restaurant are being built is zoned commercial and was originally planned to be a strip shopping center.

Minto Communities, under its Latitude Margaritaville Division, is developing the residential segments of Harbour Isle.

Floridays Development Company is heading up the Compass by Margaritaville Hotels & Resorts and the restaurant in partnership with Margaritaville Holdings.

Margaritaville Holdings sold the marina — now Safe Harbor Pier 77 — with 55 wet slips and 128 indoor racks earlier this year to Safe Harbor Marinas, the world’s largest owner and operator of marinas.

Traffic analysis dates to 2011

None of the development entities publicly addressed traffic issues, said William Bullock, president of Minto’s Latitude Margaritaville Division.

“We have no comment on traffic planning as that is a local government and FDOT issue,” Bullock wrote in a Dec. 9 email to The Islander. “Harbour Isle has complied with all traffic requirements to date.”

Mike Belmont, president of Minto Communities, downplayed any traffic concerns in an interview with a Bradenton newspaper in March.

“I don’t think it will be a noticeable thing,” Belmont was quoted as saying in the Bradenton Herald. “We already have about 300 residents who have been living here, and I don’t think it’s made a difference.”

The DOT says traffic on Manatee Avenue, part of State Road 64, has been addressed.

“This development was reviewed and permitted by the department in 2011,” DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick said in a November email to The Islander. “The submittal included a traffic study analyzing project traffic and access to SR 64.”

But aspects of the development have grown since the December 2011 transportation analysis by Tampa-based Lincks & Associates.

For example, the Lincks study noted that the “exact uses within the commercial portion are unknown at this point,” so analysts projected 16,000 square feet for restaurant space and 14,000 square feet for retail.

Meanwhile, Minto obtained an amendment from the city of Bradenton in 2018 that allowed a larger commercial footprint.

Subsequently, the development was approved for two hotel buildings with 70,000 square feet of space and a 4,500-square-foot ground-level restaurant.

Thus, the commercial aspect grew from a projected 30,000 square feet to 74,500 square feet.

More growth could occur in the future.

“There will be a second, significantly smaller building sometime in the future,” Rogers said.

He said there are “no plans at this time” for the second hotel building or how many rooms it will have.

The marina also grew in size and scope.

The 2011 study envisioned a 114-slip marina.

Today, the marina has space for 183 vessels at wet slips and in dry storage. A previous owner obtained permission to expand the wet slips in Anna Maria Sound, but there are no plans from the developer for expansion of the marina.

But larger structures mean more people and, of course, more traffic.

Estimating traffic

The DOT calculated that average annual daily traffic on Manatee Avenue between Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach and Flamingo Drive on Flamingo Cay was 16,500 vehicles in 2018, the last year for which figures are available.

The average annual daily traffic was 16,700 in 2017 and 14,500 in 2014.

For the stretch of Manatee Avenue from Flamingo Drive to 75th Street West on the mainland, the average annual daily traffic was 18,500 in 2018 and 19,700 in 2017. The figure was 17,300 in 2014, the DOT said.

The 2011 traffic study estimated there would be 1,889 daily trip ends to Harbour Isle. That translates to 689,485 trip ends — trips culminating at Harbour Isle — each year.

There is a west-bound right turn lane from Manatee Avenue into the development’s main driveway, Martinique Drive, so traffic should not be impeded by west-bound motorists turning into Harbour Isle.

Eastbound traffic turning left into the development has use of a two-way center-of-the-road turn lane.

But east-bound vehicles leaving the development must merge with traffic in a 45-mph speed zone.

And when the Anna Maria Island drawbridge is raised, westbound traffic to Anna Maria Island on Manatee Avenue can back up to the mainland and eastbound traffic often experiences gridlock in Holmes Beach.

The DOT says it has no intentions of upgrading the Compass-Harbour Isle intersection.

“There are no plans for a roundabout at this intersection,” Rick told The Islander. “Based upon a traffic study performed in 2011, a signal was not warranted.”

Bradenton annexed the portion of Perico Island in the early 2000s that became the Minto Communities development.

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said traffic issues there are outside his purview.

“I understood from the beginning any traffic-light decision is an FDOT decision,” Poston told The Islander in late November. “It’s a state road, so we have no jurisdiction at all.”

And, Poston said, he has not talked with anyone from Harbour Isle about traffic.

Residents wait and see

Catherine Hartley, Bradenton’s community development director, says she understands the limitations.

“A roundabout would make so much sense, but it takes so much right of way,” she said in a November phone interview. “A roundabout is a good option, but an expensive one.”

But just because Manatee Avenue is a state road, that doesn’t mean local officials can’t get involved, said Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

“The city has every right to impose safety requirements,” Benac said in a November interview. “We frequently work with the state to make sure safety requirements are met.

“We hope they’re working together.”

Part of that difficulty is that governmental oversight has diminished in recent years, said David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The Legislature has eliminated some reviews of major projects that were previously required,” he said in a Nov. 18 interview. “Growth management, as it was known, is pretty much gone today.”

Some Harbour Isle residents are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“As it stands today, there’s easy access to get in and out,” said Debbie Wilcox, a resident for the past five years. “It’s not dangerous to turn left.

“But if you fast forward a few years, a lot of the people here are wondering what is going to happen with the traffic situation.”

Poston wonders what will happen after the DOT finishes the megabridge the agency plans to construct within a decade to replace the drawbridge.

“Where is it going to come down?” he asked about the bridge ramp on Perico Island.

Traffic is part of the local equation, the mayor said.

“We have a difficult time getting people on the island and off the island during season anyway,” he said. “It’s part of what happens when we live here.”

That’s not to say that officials should not plan as best they can.

For Wilcox, it winds down to whether the DOT should be relying on an 8-year-old study.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “But I am disappointed.”

DOT rejects Cortez Bridge hearing

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The Cortez Bridge opens to boaters 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 15- and 45-minute intervals after the hour and on signal between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. The DOT wants to replace the drawbridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed span. Islander Photo: Arthur Brice

Scoring update: Florida Department of Transportation 2, Joe McClash 0.

For the second time since mid-November, the DOT has rejected a legal challenge from McClash to the agency’s plan to replace the Cortez Bridge with a 65-foot-clearance fixed span.

“Not the Christmas present we were wishing to receive,” McClash said in a Dec. 18 email blast.

“This is a disappointing decision, but not unexpected,” he wrote. “FDOT wants to dictate without a legal review of its action as a state agency.”

At issue is whether the DOT has jurisdiction over the items listed in the hearing request. The DOT maintains it does not, saying it is taking action on behalf of the federal government and not as a state agency.

“This ruling defies logic and, most of all, allows a state agency to dictate to our community the type of megabridge or other road projects without recourse provided by our state’s rules,” McClash wrote in his email.

The DOT contends the matter must be settled in federal court.

“Pursuant to federal law, the department assumed Federal Highway Administration’s responsibilities on the Cortez Bridge,” DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick wrote in a Dec. 19 email to The Islander.

“In short,” he said, “where FHWA was previously identified as the lead federal agency, this function is now served by the department. Since the complaint is regarding federal law, a federal judge needs to hear the complaint, not a state permit administrative hearing officer.”

The DOT announced Oct. 10 it had approved a 6-year project development and environment study and was going ahead with design work for the megabridge to replace the 62-year-old Cortez drawbridge.

McClash filed a petition Oct. 29 for a formal administrative hearing, citing 25 instances in which he says the DOT acted wrongly.

The DOT rejected McClash’s initial petition Nov. 13. He filed the appeal Nov. 22.

McClash said he is unlikely to make a final decision on what steps to take next until Jan. 10.

But he told The Islander in a Dec. 19 phone interview he is “definitely leaning toward an appeal.”

The legal action, which he said he would take to the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal, would challenge the DOT’s rejection of an administrative hearing.

“It would have nothing to do with the merits of the case,” he said.

McClash said he is also considering a challenge in federal court.

The bridge, located on Cortez Road, spans the Intracoastal Waterway and links the mainland to Anna Maria Island.

The drawbridge, with a clearance height of about 17 feet, had major repairs done in 1996, 2010 and 2015, and the DOT says it has outlived its lifespan.

Megabridge opponents say it would change the character of the fishing village of Cortez, designated a historic district in 1995. Many residents have been fighting the high bridge since the DOT revealed a plan for it in 1989.

McClash, a former Manatee County commissioner, filed the legal petitions on behalf of himself and several other Cortez residents and organizations.

Joe Kane, one of the petitioners, has lived in Cortez for more than two decades.

Linda Molto, another petitioner, has lived in Cortez 34 years.

Jane von Hahmann, a 43-year Cortez resident who served on the county commission 2001-08, also is a petitioner in the legal challenge.

Others are the environmental group ManaSota-88 and two other nonprofits, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Cortez Village Historical Society.

The Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue, which also connects the island to the mainland and built the same year as the Cortez Bridge, also is slated to be replaced by a 65-foot-clearance fixed span. Its design schedule is further along than the Cortez Bridge because the DOT approved it first.