Vol. 17 No. 19 - February 22, 2017
Fishing festival celebrates 35
cindy lane | SUN
Far left The aroma of shrimp with red peppers and
onions wafted over the food court, luring people from the
art and fishing exhibits.
CORTEZ – At the edge of the main parking lot at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival is a fringe of green, the edge of the 95-acre FISH Preserve, made possible by the modest admission price paid by thousands of festival fans over the past 35 years.
The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) purchased the last, long-coveted privately owned parcel last summer from Iris LeMasters, of Grand Rapids, Mich., who had offered it at $1.2 million 12 years ago, inviting buyers to "Build your Florida dream home on this one-of-a-kind half-acre bayfront lot completely surrounded by preserve."
FISH paid $185,000 for the land, making the preserve 95 contiguous acres of uplands and wetlands bordered by Cortez Road to the north and mangrove-fringed Sarasota Bay to the south, serving as a buffer between the historic fishing village of Cortez and development to the east.
The preserve and the 35th anniversary of the festival were only two of the things FISH celebrated this year.
Festival volunteers Peg Miller, Sam Valeris and the Cortez Park crew were honored with awards, along with Capt. Soupy Davis, 90, for his contributions to the fishing industry and his fiddle playing at the Florida Maritime Museum's monthly Music on the Porch jam sessions.
The pioneer award was presented to the unofficial matriarch of Cortez, Mary Francis Fulford Green, 92.
The granddaughter of Cortez pioneer Capt. Billy Fulford, she graduated from Bradenton High School in 1942 as valedictorian. She attended the Florida State College for Women (later Florida State University) in Tallahassee, earning a doctorate in education.
A great-grandmother, founder of Hope Family Services and longtime community activist, "She has done everything in her power as a mother would to protect what she sees as her special child – this village," FISH board member Jane von Hahmann said in presenting the award.
Commissioners turn back time on speed limit changes
Kristin Swain | Sun
A bicyclist shares the road Feb. 15 with motorists
entering Holmes Beach via Manatee Avenue.
HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners may not be able to undo the speed limit changes of the past 18 months, but they're giving it their best shot.
After hearing from 17 Island residents and business owners during public comment, Holmes Beach commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 14 to request the Florida Department of Transportation return the speed limit on a stretch of Manatee Avenue to 35 miles per hour.
The speed limit on the span of state road from the west end of the Anna Maria Island Bridge to Gulf Drive was reduced to 25 mph at the end of January, angering local motorists.
The change came after conversations between Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, Mayor Bob Johnson and FDOT representatives regarding potentially lowering the speed limit to alleviate shared road safety concerns.
Both Tokajer and Johnson said they had expected FDOT to conduct and submit a traffic study for discussion and input by the city before any action was taken. Neither knew the change was taking place until the new speed limit signs were in place.
The speed limit crossing the bridge also was lowered from 45 mph to 35 mph, which commissioners did not contest.
"It's a very easy fix," Chair Judy Titsworth said.
A special meeting was called Feb. 16 to formally approve the resolution before it was sent to FDOT. Commissioners again voted unanimously in favor of the measure.
"I don't know if 35, 25 or 15 is a good speed limit for the Island," Commissioner Jean Peelen said. "My issue is with the process. There is no substantive support for a speed limit change."
"I think the absolutely correct thing to do is go back to where we were before we woke up and there were signs in the ground," Commissioner Marvin Grossman said.
Peelen also motioned for commissioners to revert the speed limit along Gulf Drive near Anna Maria Elementary School to 35 mph from 25 mph. The speed limit was reduced in May 2016 by Tokajer, as the city's traffic engineer, without commission input.
Peelen's motion was approved unanimously by commissioners during the Feb. 14 meeting, but received a 4 to 1 vote with Commissioner Pat Morton dissenting during the Feb. 16 special meeting.
During the special meeting, City Attorney Patricia Petruff presented commissioners with a section of Florida state statute setting the maximum speed at 30 mph.
"I understand how this occurred, but I don't think the proper investigation to raise the speed limit from 25 to 35 was done," she said. "I don't want to compound the issue by ignoring the language in a Florida state statute."
The statute requires a free-flow traffic study be done prior to raising the speed limit in a municipality over 30 miles per hour.
Peelen suggested adding two clauses to the resolution addressing the statute and stating the commission's intent to revisit the issue after a traffic study is done.
New speed limit signs are expected to be in place no later than Feb. 24.
Both areas will undergo an independent traffic study and the speed limits will be reassessed by commissioners at a later date.
Water taxi vendor seeks support from island cities
Kristin Swain | Sun
Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat
Tours in Bradenton Beach, shows island elected
officials a sample boat route map Feb. 15,
including a proposed water taxi route from
Sarasota to the Historic Bridge Street Pier in
ANNA MARIA — The Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Official is willing to support island water taxis, but not individual vendors.
Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, appeared before BIEO members Feb. 15 during a meeting at Anna Maria City Hall to request a letter of support for his proposed water taxi and ferry services from Sarasota to Bradenton Beach.
Baldwin said he would be pleading his case Feb. 21 before Sarasota County commissioners with the hope of receiving a permit to dock and allow customers to park at one of three proposed downtown Sarasota locations. If he receives the permit, Baldwin said ferry service could begin in early March to Bradenton Beach.
"We look forward to being able to bring people to the Island without their cars," he said.
His plan is to provide year-round ferry service targeting locals, commuters and day trippers. "Tourists will be the icing on the cake," he said.
Daily trips will begin at 8 a.m. in Sarasota and continue every 75 minutes until a final ferry departs Anna Maria Island at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are expected to cost $12.50 roundtrip.
Baldwin also hopes to use a smaller boat to taxi passengers from the Historic Bridge Street Pier to Keyes Marina in Holmes Beach, if an agreement can be reached with the city regarding parking and permitting.
Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon was in favor of the BIEO providing a letter of support for Baldwin.
Longboat Key Vice Mayor Phill Younger said he wouldn't be in favor of the organization supporting a specific vendor with more than one working to obtain permission to begin providing water taxi and ferry services to both barrier islands.
Dr. Bob Myers, of Tampa Bay Ferry, also spoke to the BIEO, citing similar parking concerns regarding the ferry service he would like to establish from Fort DeSoto to Anna Maria Island.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson suggested members sign a letter of support for a water taxi and ferry service without naming a specific vendor, something the other BIEO members readily agreed to.
The issue also was brought before Holmes Beach commissioners during their Feb. 14 meeting.
In addition to a presentation from Baldwin, Brian Riley told commissioners he would like to pursue a water taxi service in the city, but also is facing problems with receiving permission from the city.
"We're trying to bring business to Holmes Beach, not take it away," he said.
Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek spoke in favor of adding an Island water taxi service as an alternative transportation method. However, she said before vendors could be allowed to begin business within the city, commissioners would have to address what the permitting process would be.
"We have nothing on the books addressing water taxis," she said. "It's vital we start looking at alternate ways to move people around the Island."
Chair Judy Titsworth agreed to put the matter on an upcoming meeting agenda for discussion.
Citizens' efforts assist with arrest
Submitted | Laurie Higgins
Surveillance video helped identify the owner of this white
Ford pickup truck that was later determined to be owned
by a young man arrested on charges of petty theft.
ANNA MARIA – The computer skills of an Island teen and information circulated by some Island moms contributed to the arrest of 20-year-old Richard Parker on charges of petty theft.
Parker was arrested twice last week. The first arrest occurred mid-week due to his suspected involvement in the theft and sale of fishing equipment stolen from a Longboat Key condominium complex in November, which was then sold under false pretenses to a pawn shop in Manatee County. Parker's court records list the Longboat Key charge for dealing stolen property as a second degree felony.
While in custody on the Longboat Key charges, Parker was arrested a second time for his suspected involvement in a petty theft that occurred in Anna Maria in January.
On Jan. 30, Jennifer Kaleta reported that a Star Shower laser projector had been stolen from her back yard. Surveillance video showed the projector was actually removed on Jan. 28, and it indicated the presence of a white 2003 Ford pickup that was later determined to be Parker's.
That same night, Anna Maria resident Laurie Higgins had her cell phone, her purse and a backpack containing her son Bryce's text books stolen from her car while it was parked in the driveway of her family's home.
Both crimes were reported to Sgt. Russell Schnering and the Anna Maria division of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, and Kaleta's surveillance video was provided to assist with the investigative efforts.
Using a computer program, Bryce Higgins, 14, converted the surveillance video into black and white still photographs that he was able to digitally enhance in terms clarity. The photos were then circulated throughout the community, posted on Facebook, displayed at the Anna Maria Island General Store and distributed to law enforcement agencies in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach as well. The photos eventually made their way to Det. Sgt. Roger Bourque at the Longboat Key Police Department.
On Friday, Schnering explained how Parker was arrested in connection with the crime that occurred at the Kaleta residence.
"Longboat Key had charges for dealing in stolen property. Sgt. Bourque called me and said I have a picture of your truck up there and I know whose it is; and that's how we ran with it," Schnering said.
"When he became a suspect in one of our petty thefts up on the north end, we went ahead and arrested him on Longboat Key's warrant. We interviewed him and he confessed to the theft he did in Anna Maria at the Kaleta residence, stealing the outside projector, which is petty theft," Schnering said of Parker's arrest.
"We did question this young man about the car burglaries that happened at the Higgins' house, and we didn't get anything out of him, so we didn't get him on those charges. We did pull some fingerprints from the car burglary, and we're waiting for those to come back," Schnering said.
Parker lives in Bradenton. Prior to his recent arrests, he worked on the Island as a pool technician for a local company.
"That's why we acted on this so quickly. We don't want him out there running around, having access to people's houses when they are not home," Schnering said.
Parker did not service the Kaleta and Higgins homes, and Schnering was not aware of any other suspicious activity reported in connection with Parker's employment as a pool technician.
"Due to our liability in the community, I had to let him go. He's no longer employed here," his employer said on Friday, expressing hope that the young man can get his life turned around.
Ugly Grouper expansion approved
KRISTIN SWAIN | SUN
The Ugly Grouper is undergoing minor renovations to
allow the restaurant at 5704 Marina Drive to increase seating and
reduce sound pollution for neighbors.
HOLMES BEACH — It's official, The Ugly Grouper is expanding.
Project manager Bob Dwyer received good news from city commissioners Feb. 14. After months of negotiations, the restaurant, located across the street from city hall, is being allowed to expand its seating, increasing from 96 to 173 during the day and 239 seats after 5 p.m. The amount of allowed seats approved was slightly less than the 281 nighttime seats restaurant owners were hoping for, but made for an acceptable compromise based on the restaurant's available parking.
Despite previously agreeing to count golf cart parking spaces as available spaces, commissioners decided to not include the spaces in the final count, citing a need to hold every business in the city to the same standard of one space for every three seats.
City Planner Bill Brisson suggested commissioners approve the amount of seats allowable by the restaurant's onsite, off-site and shared parking, while also giving Dwyer the option of having an independent contractor conduct a parking study for the property to support a future request for additional seating.
Part of the agreement between Dwyer and the city is the restaurant's control of its outdoor amplified music.
Commissioner Pat Morton cited a concern for neighboring residences, saying he's been able to hear music from the restaurant four blocks away.
Chair Judy Titsworth said she feels residents are being "bullied into changing," with some having potentially purchased their homes under the assumption that amplified music was not allowed in the city.
Dwyer said the amplified music would end nightly at 8 p.m. and the restaurant's stage would be professionally reconfigured to reduce the amount of sound audible to neighboring properties. He also agreed to place a mechanism on the restaurant's sound equipment that shuts the system down immediately if sound increases over a set decibel level.
"If I can walk out the door and hear the music, it's too loud," Petruff said.
"We have always been under the impression we would have to be compliant with any future or current noise ordinance," Dwyer said. "We don't want to be treated any different than anyone else out there."
Commissioners approved the special exception for amplified music with the stipulation the allowance can be revisited if violation of the city's noise ordinance becomes an issue. Petruff also added a stipulation for the commission to revisit the site plan if restaurant parking becomes an issue.
The amended agreement received a unanimous vote of approval from commissioners.
Holmes Beach residents protest boat canopy installation
Kristin Swain | Sun
The tops of two boat canopies at the public boat ramp on
Marina Way are clearly visible over the tops of cut mangroves
Feb. 15 from the neighboring Westbay Point & Moorings
Condominiums. The canopies cover two boat lifts used
by the Holmes Beach Police Department and West Manatee Fire Rescue.
HOLMES BEACH — Boat canopies have gone up over two private boat lifts at the public boat ramp on Marina Way and neighboring residents are not happy.
City commissioners approved the installation of two boat canopies over the boat lifts installed at the ramp for use by West Manatee Fire Rescue and the city's police department back in the fall of 2016. At the time, city attorney Patricia Petruff determined the canopies would not detract from the view of neighboring properties, particularly the residences at Westbay Point & Moorings condominiums located immediately to the north of the boat ramp.
While residents were assured at the time of installation their views wouldn't be affected, now that the mangroves shielding the boat lifts and canopies from the property have been trimmed, the structures are causing a problem.
More than half a dozen neighboring residents attended the Feb. 14 city commission meeting to express their displeasure at having their water views of Watson's Bayou disrupted.
Robert McGlynn, president of the West Bay Point & Moorings Condominium Association, cited several issues to commissioners, including loss of property value and rental income, ruined views and lack of communication from the city.
"We have a right to an unobstructed view," McGlynn said. "The view from two buildings is obstructed."
He asked commissioners to reconsider and remove the canopies.
Condominium resident Robyn Kinkopf also stepped forward during public comment to address the issue.
"I do believe you made a mistake," she said.
"I do think it has a direct effect on your views," Chair Judy Titsworth agreed.
The discussion was moved to the March 2 work session agenda.
Coast Guard seeks input on bridge openings
Traffic is backed up on the Cortez Bridge waiting for boats to pass
through the open span.
Elected officials who have been talking about improving traffic flow got good news recently when the U.S. Coast Guard agreed to consider changing the times the drawbridges open to let boats pass from three to two times per hour.
The notice was published in the Federal Register, and if enough people ask for the change, they will stand a good chance of getting their way.
Drawbridges have been a bane to motorists, especially when the open for boats during rush hour. It backs up traffic from the Cortez Bridge south toward Longboat Key.
The proposed changes would apply to the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the Cortez Bridge, Stickney Point Bridge and the Siesta Drive Bridge.
The request for change came through the Manatee/Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Agency and local mayors of cities on the barrier islands.
Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon warned members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting that those wanting the change should make themselves heard.
"Boaters have a strong presence in Florida, and they are likely to be against any rule that makes them wait for a raised drawbridge more," he said, "so you'd better make yourself heard."
Those wanting to make comments on the changes have until April 24 to respond. To comment, use the docket number; USCG-2016-0330 and the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. Look for the Public Participation and Request for Comments section of the Supplementary Information section.
If you have questions about the proposed rule change, call or e-mail Lt. Ashley Holm in St. Petersburg at 813-228-2191, ext. 8105, or Ashley.E.Holm@uscg.mil.
Holmes Beach begins
HOLMES BEACH — City commissioners are ready to join those in Anna Maria by sending a legislative lobbyist to Tallahassee to represent the city's interests.
Commissioners agreed during a Feb. 16 special meeting to instruct Mayor Bob Johnson to begin the process of selecting a candidate from a list of recommended lobbyists provided by city attorney Patricia Petruff. The commission set an initial not to exceed amount of $25,000 for the remaining duration of the Florida state legislative session.
Johnson agreed to begin the vetting process and bring a recommendation back to commissioners at an upcoming meeting.
Once engaged, the lobbyist will be expected to oppose two proposed bills on the city's behalf. One is Senate Bill 188 which would prevent local governments from imposing regulations on vacation rentals. The bill was filed by Sen. Gregg Steube.
"If that bill passes, we might as well all go home," Commissioner Jean Peelen said. "The city as a city will be pretty much done. For me, it's desperate times need desperate measures."
Petruff said, if the bill is passed, it will revoke the city's newly enacted vacation rental certificate program. The VRC requires all short term rentals to be registered with the city and inspected by code enforcement.
"If it happens, I don't think it will be the death of us," Chair Judy Titsworth said. "I don't think I'll have to move to Utah, but it will impact our vacation rental certificate."
The other is House Bill 425, championed by Rep. Mike La Rosa, which, similar to SB 188, would prevent local governments from adopting laws, ordinances and regulations of vacation rentals, leaving their oversight to the state government.
During the Feb. 15 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said a report from his city's lobbyist counted 10 lobbyists working in favor of the two bills and two working against them.
Peelen said she'd like to send a lobbyist on behalf of the city to help level the playing field.
"Other cities may be coming in too," Commissioner Carol Soustek said. "We may end up with a small army up there."
Johnson encouraged commissioners, residents and visitors to explore the information available on the Anna Maria city website, www.cityofannamaria.com, where information on the two bills along with contact information for state representatives and senators is available. Murphy said he would make sure the site was updated regularly as reports come in from the state capitol.
"I encourage everyone to go the site and tell your friends to go to that site," he said.