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Vol. 14 No. 26 - April 23, 2014

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Parking, gondola plans take heat
Carol Whitmore

PROVIDED

An artist’s rendering of what a parking garage
might look like at the Manatee County Public Beach.

 

HOLMES BEACH – While speakers were divided on parking fees, they said they were not in favor of a parking garage or a gondola system at a public presentation by Mayor Carmel Monti last week.

“These are ideas,” Monti told the group. “I’m looking for public comment to address congestion, parking and revenue.”

He said the city has a congestion committee studying alternatives, has a city center project to make the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and has added crosswalk signs. He said a bike path committee is in the works.

He then presented slides of drawings depicting a three-story parking garage, an events pavilion and changing cabanas at the beach and a gondola to transport people between the beach and the mainland. He also presented drawings of bike racks depicting spirals with decorative fishes, a large fish and a whale.

Public comment

“My main concern is parking,” said one resident. “I feel there should be no free parking on the Island to generate revenue for infrastructure.”

Another agreed and said, “If they don’t want to pay, they’ll go somewhere else.”

A Key Royale resident said he has “trouble with the concept of devices that bring more people to the Island,” such as a gondola.

He suggested using amphibious vehicles, nicknamed ducks, that provide tours of cities by boat and by land and said, “We could use the Privateers to organize it and fill the people up with rum and take them to Longboat Key,” cracking up the audience.

Monti said there are on-going discussions regarding a ferry, and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Agency is looking at park and ride locations at the intersections of 75th Street and Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road.

One resident suggested having the trolleys pull over to load and unload so they wouldn’t back up traffic. Monti said there aren’t many places they can pull off, and they also have trouble getting back into traffic.

“I don’t understand why we want a multi-story parking garage at the beach,” another said. “We advertise old Florida. I don’t see that in those slides.

“I totally want the Island to be open. I don’t know why we have to go out of our way to provide parking. It will be filled if you build a six-story parking garage.”

“We all agree with you,” someone called from the audience, followed by applause.

“A gondola makes me think of Coney Island,” a resident said and several others agreed they do not like the concept.

One resident warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Don’t make the Island one more tourist trap. You’ll kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Monti said an alternative to the parking garage is paid parking and another alternative could be a “blend of some of the ideas. Together we can come up with solutions.”

Commissioner comments

Commissioner Pat Morton said he is not in favor of a parking garage or paid parking, but thanked the mayor for “thinking out of the box.”

“How many think we should spend more money for advertising?” Commissioner Marvin Grossman asked. “Half the problem would be solved if the county would give us more money. They’re using Anna Maria to draw tourists, and we’re being forced to bear the brunt.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said, “I have to think what paid parking would do” and gave an example of Tybee Island, Ga., that has a parking fee of $24 per day and a parking department that costs the city $600,000 per year.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she is not in favor of the gondola or parking garage and that if there’s paid parking, people will park in residential areas and business parking lots.

“This is old Florida,” Titsworth stressed. “That’s why we’re here. There’s too much advertising. We have to put and end to it. We’re selling our soul. We can’t handle any more.”

Monti said he plans to survey more residents and said, “We want to try and make the Island a better place to live.”

 

AMI visioning plan sought; tourism tops 2.8 million

Jean Peelen, a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) and a Holmes Beach commissioner, suggested Monday that the TDC consider funding a visioning plan for Anna Maria Island using resort tax funds.

A plan like the one recently conducted by Longboat Key could address overcrowding and traffic concerns about increasing tourism, she said, reminding commissioners that the Island does not receive a proportionate share of the resort tax funds it produces.

Recent efforts in the state Legislature to repeal a prohibition against municipal control of vacation rentals has so far been minimally successful, she said, with a compromise allowing only regulation of health and safety concerns, like requiring fire extinguishers in rentals.

Peelen received support from Commissioner Barbara Rodocker, a Bradenton Beach hotelier, who said that Manatee County should contribute to the effort. Commissioner Ed Chiles called it a “good idea,” and suggested involving the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. Commissioner Jack Rynerson said the MPO should be included to address traffic problems.

One of the biggest problems is overcrowding in “pseudo-hotels,” Commissioner David Teitelbaum said, referring to multiple bedroom rentals in residential areas.

The three Island cities must agree on a plan, said Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, an opinion echoed by Commissioner Wayne Poston, Bradenton’s mayor.

“I don’t think the future of the Island is just the problem of the three cities,” Peelen said, adding that she would like the idea to be included on a future TDC agenda.

Tourism on the rise

The TDC did not discuss the most recent report on Manatee County tourism, which was up 1.5 percent in 2013 over 2012, with 2.8 million visitors to Manatee County, according to Research Data Services, the county’s Tampa-based tourism consultant.

Countywide occupancy was 67.5 percent for 2013, up 2.9 percent from 2012. Room rates averaged $141 a night, up 3.7 percent from 2012.

Direct expenditures were up 7.6 percent in 2013 over 2012, totaling nearly $576 million.

Visitor demographics show the average length of stay was 7 days, with 52 percent of visitors being couples with an average age of 49 and a median annual income of $107,706. Half traveled by car and half by air.

Nearly 99 percent said they were satisfied with their trip, with 92 percent saying they plan to return.

Monthly resort tax revenues for the Island in February, the last month for which statistics are available, reached $1.2 million, up from $1.1 million last February, according to the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office. The three Island cities accounted for 43 percent of the total resort tax revenues in Manatee County in February.

Monthly resort tax revenues hit $1 million for the first time in March 2010. The record high is $1.5 million in March 2013.

Attorney clarifies tree house litigation

HOLMES BEACH – City Attorney Patricia Petruff issued a memo to Mayor Carmel Monti last week regarding the current status of litigation on the tree house.

Last year, the city’s building department ruled that the tree house at 103 29th Street was constructed without a permit and encroaches into the erosion control line. In July 2012, the code board found the owners in violation and ordered them to remove the violations or demolish the structure.

In September 2012, the code board imposed a fine of $100 per day for failure to come into compliance with city code. The owners’ attorney filed an appeal, and in March, they were granted a stay from the code enforcement board’s order.

Petruff said the tree house is the subject of five separate court actions – an appeal regarding the fine, as detailed above, and a second one on the code board’s decision that there was a violation. Petruff said if the pending appeal were decided in the city’s favor, the code board would have to hold the second hearing, in which the fine was imposed, again.

The next two actions arise out of an initiative petition filed by the property owners to put an ordinance on the ballot for voters to decide if the tree house is legal.

“The city has alleged that this election is invalid under state law,” Petruff said. “The property owners have filed a general answer denying the substantive portions of the complaint.”

She said the case is in hiatus until the court makes a decision on the validity of the election.

In the final case, the property owners “seek guidance from the court as to their property rights abutting the erosion control line. They have raised constitutional issues regarding the city’s code of ordinances,” Petruff wrote.

“The city has filed a motions to dismiss the complaint and also a motion for a more definite statement to clarify some of the statements which the city believes are vague and unclear.”

She said the motions are pending and may be resolved by the appeal of the code board action.

Café shuts its doors

tOM VAUGHT | SUN

The doors are shut and the windows covered with
newspaper at Relish Cafe on Pine Avenue.
Owner Lizzie Vann said they already are talking
with prospective tenants.

Relish Café, the eatery on Pine Avenue with the large outdoor dining area, has closed its doors.

Lizzie Vann and Mike Thrasher, owners of the Historic Green Village (HGV), announced the closure of the Relish Café.

“The café's time as part of the HGV has been really positive and many, many people have enjoyed its deck and food and Island ambiance, but as one door closes another opens, and we are excited that this provides an opportunity for a new business to come to our little village,” they said in a statement from England.

The café’s doors were locked and newspapers on the front door’s glass blocked the view inside. The café was a popular stop for the after theater crowd from the Island Players and the concert crowd from Roser Church.

Relish Café was scheduled to sponsor the Kentucky Derby Hat Contest on Saturday, May 3, but that sponsorship has been taken over by the Anna Maria Island Sun. Vann and Thrasher spoke about a documentary about Pine Avenue.

“With the PBS/WEDU documentary about the Village airing on Thursday, April 24, at 9 p.m. on Channel 3, we are pleased that both the history and the sustainability of this area are being recognized and look forward to welcoming people to the art gallery, bakery, jewelers and outfitters that will remain open,” they said.

Commission seeks marina parking plan

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners at a recent meeting asked why Mainsail has not submitted a parking plan for the marina.

On April 1, Chair Judy Titsworth asked for an update on the parking plan. Superintendent of Public Works Tom O’Brien responded in a memo that Mainsail submitted a parking plan in June 2013, but was advised that a site plan review and approval was required.

“For several months, no movement occurred due to the mediation process and staff waiting for direction pending the settlement,” O’Brien wrote in the memo.

He said in December, the commission directed staff to proceed with the parking site plan, and Plans Reviewer David Greene sent several pages of comments to Mainsail.

“To date, they have not responded to those comments with a formal site plan,” O’Brien said at the meeting. “I called Brian (Project Manager Brian Check) today with the understanding that he needs to get this moved forward.

“What if he doesn’t?” Titsworth asked.

O’Brien said the city could revoke Mainsail’s ability to rent boat slips, and City Attorney Patricia Petruff said they could send it to code enforcement.

Titsworth said people using the marina are parking in the lots of surrounding businesses.

“I’ll give them an ultimatum tomorrow and have them respond and move forward on it in five days,” O’Brien said. “Otherwise we’ll have code enforcement pursue it.”

Commissioner Jean Peelen said five days could be extreme, and she is fine with 10 days.

“There are timelines for code enforcement,” Human Resources Analyst Mary Buonagura pointed out. “Let the code enforcement officer use his discretion.”

However, at the work session two days later, O’Brien reported that Check was on vacation last week, and that he would be at a hurricane conference this week. He said they agreed to meet on April 23 for a staff review, and he expected to see a marina parking plan at that meeting.

Enjoy actors, art and music at Food and Wine on Pine

ANNA MARIA – Would you like to talk baseball with Warren Spahn or Fred Hutchison or let Will Bean and Charles Roser tell you about their dream of building the finest resort on the west coast of Florida?

Come to Food and Wine on Pine on Saturday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria, and you will meet these and other historical figures and characters from the Island’s past.

Thirty actors will stroll the street in costume and tell their stories. Most are from the past, but some are prominent citizens who are still living here such as Carolyne Norwood, Erin Kosfeld and Chris Torgeson.

“I give them scripts, which I wrote using information from Carolyne Norwood’s Island history books,” explained Diane Phinney, actor/street performer chair. “They can do more character research on their own if they want.

“They tell people who they are, why they are important to Island history and what life was like when they lived here.”

Phinney said some are actors from the Island Players, while others are just interested citizens, but no acting experience is required. She said she is still looking for people to play Snooks Adams and Ernie Cagnina, and has their scripts and a cigar for Cagnina ready.

Anyone is interested in portraying one of these or any other Island character can contact Phinney at 941-405-4759. She also is seeking parasols, suspenders and costumes for the actors.

“It’s one thing that’s so unique about this event,” Phinney said. “You involve the people in the history of the Island.”

Art for everyone

In addition, artists will line the street displaying their creations, with some offering demonstrations, art chair Joyce Karp said. More than 30 artists as well as 12 plein air painters are expected for this juried show, which includes works in clay, fiber, mixed media, jewelry, photography, metal, glass, acrylic, graphics and printmaking, oil and leather.

“The plein air painters will start Thursday, April 24, with a paint out on the street,” Karp said. “People can go to the Food and Wine on Pine website and find all the artists, examples of their work and where they will be located during the event.”

The Children’s Art Exhibit will be displayed in a large tent. Kids also are invited to participate in an art project by making a kite or a windsock. Manatee County art teachers will lead this project.

“I am so pleased with the quality of the art work,” Karp said. “This event has it’s own character and it’s own identity. That’s what makes it so special.”

Local artist Cheeta will bring a team of chalk artists featuring Kumpa Tawornprom, a Sarasota Chalk festival regular, and Matt McAllister, who had his debut at the recent Anna Maria Chalk Festival. They will combine their talents transforming 30 feet of pavement on Pine Avenue with colorful chalk, creating an artistic vision for all to enjoy.

Musicians also will be performing along the street. See schedule on Page 10.

The event

Food and Wine on Pine will feature fresh, local Florida foods provided by 25 restaurants, 30 different wines and a variety of beers and craft beers.

The entry fee is $2 with children under 12 admitted free. Tickets for food and beverages are $1 each. Wines by the 6-ounce glass and 12-ounce craft beers are available for five tickets each. IDs are required for alcohol purchase.

The Rotary Club of AMI and Bright House Networks will sponsor a Kentucky Derby tent, aka Pine Avenue Downs, at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Shore Drive. It will have big screen TVs showing a live simulcast of the events leading up to the race, chance betting and a bar with signature Derby drinks.

There will be a Derby Hat Contest sponsored by the Island Sun. To participate, come to the Derby Tent to register and have your picture taken between noon and 3 p.m. Pictures will be posted in the tent for judging by the crowd between 3 and 4:30 p.m.

Winners of the Best Hat will be announced at 5 p.m. First prize is a $150 gift card and second prize is a $75 gift card, both to The Waterfront restaurant.

Event parking at the Island Community Center and at CrossPointe Fellowship is free with free trolley rides to Pine Avenue.

For information on the event and sponsorship opportunities, contact Caryn Hodge at 941-778-8705 or chodge@chilesgroup.com.

Noise ordinance clarified

BRADENTON BEACH – Last week’s commission work session resulted in no proposed changes to the new noise ordinance, but provided much needed clarification on how it will be enforced.

The one surprise was the determination that outdoor and open-air venues cannot play their jukeboxes after 10 o’ clock because the ordinance states that only fully enclosed indoor venues can provide entertainment between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Location, location

City Planner Alan Garrett restated his opinion that a noise complaint does not have to be filed from the complainant’s home or business.

“I can stand in front of the establishment. I can be in my house. I can be in the Moose Lodge. I can be in a rental unit on Bridge Street. It can be anywhere within the city,” he explained.

Police Chief Sam Speciale said, “I want everyone to understand that this is not a complaint driven ordinance. I’m going to relate this to traffic signs. With stop signs and speed limit signs, you don’t run signs and speed and wait until somebody calls.

“This is a regulatory ordinance, and there’s a number there, like having a sign on Bridge Street that says 75 decibels. All of the venues have to stay at 75 decibels. If they do, we won’t have complaints.”

Speciale also said, “The police department is not going to wait to get a complaint. My officers are on Bridge Street on the weekends, and they’re taking noise readings. This past weekend there wasn’t one venue over 70 decibels.”

Enforced discretion

As for enforcement, Speciale said an officer will take a decibel meter reading while standing across the street from the venue in question. If the sound exceeds 85 decibels before 7 p.m., 75 decibels between 7 and 10 p.m. or 65 decibels between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., the officer has multiple options at his or her discretion.

The first step will be a verbal warning issued to the owner or manager on duty. A return visit will result in a $75 citation. Subsequent visits could result in additional citations, an order to appear before a county judge or an arrest and a trip to jail.

Written records will be kept and Speciale believes the escalating penalties will deter establishments from viewing a $75 citation as “the cost of doing business.”

The ordinance originally called for establishments to have entertainment licenses, but that language was removed before the ordinance’s adoption in March.

Indoor/outdoor?

When defining indoor and outdoor venues, Garrett said, “Indoors means a completely enclosed building with all windows and doors closed. If the door is left open, you can stand at the door and take the reading. The doors can only be open when a patron is entering or leaving.

“If the Bridge Tender Inn has their sliding doors open, they would be an outdoor building and have to stop at 10. If they close all the windows and doors, they are a completely enclosed structure and can go until one in the morning.”

Jukebox questions

Speciale asked Garrett for clarification on jukeboxes for outdoor venues after 10 p.m.

“Are we considering the jukeboxes as entertainment? If not, can they have a jukebox at 65 decibels? Are we saying we’re going to ‘run silent, run deep’ after 10 o’ clock and nobody’s playing anything all? These are questions I’m getting from the venues,” Speciale said.

Garrett defined entertainment as vocalists, musicians, comedians, contests, karaoke and disc jockeys.

“How is a DJ playing a record any different than me pushing B6 on the jukebox? It’s the same record, so I think you could say a jukebox is entertainment,” Garrett said.

The following day, he was asked if a venue could play a satellite radio station or house music after 10 p.m. He said he thought that would be allowed, but might require further commission clarification.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Island Time bar manager Eric Fleishman said he felt the jukebox ruling was directed solely at his establishment, which he did not think was fair.

Speciale suggested that Island Time and other affected venues let the ordinance play out for awhile, and if the live music requirements are met, the jukebox issue can be revisited.

Jukebox issues aside, Fleishman said he felt confident that Island Time could comply with the enforcement methods.

Drift In owner Joe Cuervo also questioned the jukebox provision, but was relieved to learn that sound measurements would be taken across the street rather than on the sidewalk in front of his bar.

Document sharing investigation concludes

BRADENTON BEACH – A police investigation regarding the unauthorized sharing of pay raise documents resulted in no criminal charges and produced mixed reactions inside city hall as to the seriousness of the offense and the severity of the punishment.

The investigation conducted by Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz revealed that public works employee Christine Watson took cell phone photos of two documents pertaining to dollar an hour pay raises given to Deputy Clerks Audra Lanzaro and Tammy Johnson.

The investigation was triggered by an April 4 e-mail that ELRA Inc. attorney Robert Lincoln sent to City Attorney Ricinda Perry. The e-mail questioned Mayor Bill Shearon’s authority to act as a de facto department head in granting the pay raises without city commission approval or inclusion in the budget planning process.

Lincoln represents BeachHouse restaurant owner Ed Chiles in two lawsuits involving the city, and his letter included copies of the documents photographed by Watson.

The investigation was conducted to determine if a breach of security occurred in regard to how the documents were obtained. Through interviews conducted with staff and city officials, Diaz determined the documents were sitting on top of a desk and located in plain view while Watson was painting the administrative offices. His report states that Watson did not improperly access any personnel files.

“In my opinion, no breach of security was committed and no criminal acts occurred,” Diaz concluded in the report released Wednesday afternoon. The investigation is now closed.

Upon hearing this news, Johnson e-mailed the mayor, commissioners and multiple department heads.

“We have been informed that the criminal investigation is complete and that no criminal activity took place. We were told that nothing could be done.

"I have a serious problem with that. Regardless of whether there were criminal activities or not, unethical and unprofessional activities certainly took place, and that seems to have been swept under the carpet,” she wrote.

“Someone employed by the city passed on illicitly gained information to an attorney who is in litigation with the city. I vehemently take issue with the statement that nothing can be done,” she added.

Citing the employee handbook, Johnson suggested various forms of discipline, ranging from Watson’s termination to being placed on administrative leave.

As Watson’s department head, Public Works Director Tom Woodard determines the disciplinary action to be taken.

“I’m going to present her with a documented verbal warning. This will be the first disciplinary action taken against Christine,” Woodard said, before Thursday’s commission meeting.

“I do not believe there was any malicious intent. A lot of people that work for the city, when they were aware that raises had been given, were upset because protocol was not followed.

“I’ve been here 10 years and a dollar increment raise has never been given during my time here. That hit an emotional chord with a lot of the employees, not just Christine,” he added.

“I’m pleased that Christine will keep her job. She has been a valuable employee for the short time she has been here and deserves a second chance,” said Commissioner Jan Vosburgh.

Woodard said typical raises given to public works employees are in the 50 cents an hour range. The last round of city employee pay raises approved by commissioners during the budget planning process ranged from 1.5 to 3 percent of one’s hourly wage. With the exception of a new employee who has completed their introductory period, mid-budget year raises are rarely given.

After Thursday’s meeting, Shearon acknowledged Johnson’s e-mail and said, “Tom is the department head. It’s at his discretion what action he takes to discipline an employee.”

In regard to Watson’s actions, he said, “Trust is a very important thing to me. When somebody violates that trust, that’s very hard for me to accept.”

Shearon authorized the raises in late January, prior to the arrival of City Clerk Jamie Anderson and City Treasurer Sheila Dalton. Longtime City Clerk Nora Idso had resigned in November because of health issues and Deputy Clerk Karen Cervetto resigned in January after being disciplined by Shearon for time missed and failure to perform certain duties.

“When the deputy clerk left, I only had two people left. I made Audra treasurer pro-tem and Tammy clerk pro-tem because I didn’t have anybody else. I thought the pay raises were justified based on what they’d done in the past and what they were being asked to do,” he said.

Shearon noted that the pay raises were included in the $47,564 budget amendment approved by commissioners during Thursday’s meeting. That figure also included previously unbudgeted salary and benefits expenditures for Dalton, building and planning officials and others, as well as increased revenues and lower than expected expenditures in other departments.

After Thursday’s meeting, Lanzaro commented on the controversy.

“At the time the raises were given we were acting department heads, so I don’t feel the mayor did anything wrong, even though the raises were for us.

“We took on much more than what was in our job descriptions for well over a year while Nora was sick. I feel the raises were well deserved and the mayor did it in good conscience,” she said.


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