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Vol. 17 No. 5 - November 16, 2016



headlines

Bayfest opens festival season

Carol Whitmore

MAGGIE field | SUN

 A classic 1954 Hudson was one of the 127 vintage cars
on display at the festival.

ANNA MARIA – For the past 16 years, Bayfest has welcomed in what we call our season, where the Island grows with seasonal visitors (snowbirds) and tourists. It also usually heralds cooler temperatures, although not always.

Last Saturday’s event had hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors enjoying the music, food, refreshments, vendors and classic cars in slightly cooler weather. When rain rolled through around 4 p.m., it cooled things off a bit, but the rain was short lived, and when it stopped the celebration continued.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce changed the configuration so that the walkway was narrower because the vendors were positioned at the sides of Pine Avenue.

Once again, the roadway to the west was packed with 127 classic cars, trucks, hot rods and an ancient Indian motorcycle according to Bill Mergens, who organizes the car shows every year.

This year, the big stage was in front of the entrance to the Anna Maria City Pier. City Pier Park was not part of Bayfest this year.

Kids had fun on Roser Memorial Community Church front lawn where they drew, made cookies and more under a tent. Across the street, the kids’ zone offered bounce houses, slides and more.

The food court was packed with vendors offering everything from pizza to seafood, and there was ample room to sit and eat under a big tent.

Vendors ranged from snack dips to clothes and souvenirs. There were a number of non-profits represented from Florida Parrot Rescue to Home Sweet Home, the group that’s trying to entice people to purchase homes on the Island.

Board rejects Gloria Dei rezone proposal

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners last week rejected a motion to approve a comprehensive plan change that would have allowed Gloria Dei Lutheran Church to rezone part of its property from PSP (public/semi public) to R-2 or medium density residential.

City commissioners expressed concerns about a change to R-2, which they felt would encourage rental structures. The R-2 zoning would have allowed for four to five duplex structures.

City Planner Bill Brisson opened the public hearing by stating that both medium and low density residential (R-1) are appropriate uses for the property. He said the planning commission recommended the rezone and said the request was consistent with the comprehensive plan.

Brisson then discussed a list of advantages and disadvantages of R-1 versus R-2. He said R-1 would result in a lower number of dwellings; promote residential development contributing to an increase in fulltime residents; result in a slight reduction in traffic and lesser demand for water, sewer and solid waste; and involve less staff time in tracking compliance. He said the disadvantage of R-1 is that R-2 is dominant west of Marina Drive.

Attorney Scot Rudacille, representing the church, said it is encountering major financial issues, and a task force recommended the rezone in order to sell some land and create an endowment to support the church. He pointed out that both St. Bernard Catholic Church and the Christian Science Church had received rezones in the past.

“Gloria Dei is not a developer,” he stressed. “They are not in this to make money. They just want to keep their church and continue their mission and service. They’re committed to staying in this location.”

Public comment in favor

David Stasney, president of the church council, told of the community service projects church members participate in and said, “The money from the sale will help us for decades to come.”

Robert Longworth pointed out that the church building is 58 years old and said, “I think to lose that, you’ll lose a piece of Island history.”

Rev. Rosemary Backer said they only ask for the same consideration as granted to St. Bernard and the Christian Science church.

Jay Poppe said the church has tried to sell the property for two years, but “no one wants PSP.”

“The church is the heart of the community,” Ryan Duncan said.

The city also received 10 letters in favor of the rezone.

Public comment in opposition

Renee Ferguson presented a plan for the city to purchase the land from the church for open space, and said, “I think we should give you, the commissioners, the tools that you need to go to the taxpayers to ask for a reasonable $100 open space tax,” she said, adding that the city could use the money to purchase other pieces of property.

Nancy Deal supported Ferguson’s idea and said, “This would set a precedent. The reason our churches are struggling is because we don’t have full time residents, we have short-term rentals. We’re contributing to the problem by asking for medium density short term rentals.”

Jim Kihm asked the board to consider a change to R-1 and said, “People in the community are concerned about the continued loss of full time residents. You have an opportunity to limit the proliferation of multi tenanted, short term rentals in the city.”

The city also received two letters opposed to the rezone.

Commission comments

Commissioner Jean Peelen said the choice is very difficult because “the intensions from all parties on all sides of the issue are good,” and while she liked Ferguson’s suggestion, it is not what is being voted on.

“The thing that is losing our residential community is short term rentals, and yet we are being asked to approve a new area for them. It would be difficult for me to consider expanding short term rentals.”

Commissioner Carol Soustek said she could vote for R-1 but not R-2 and said, “I do not want to put more rental places on this Island. Our direction for the past two years has been to try and get a balance of residents and rentals.”

There is a difference between a residential community that welcomes visitors and a vacation rental community, Commissioner Marvin Grossman pointed out and added, “We’re trying to keep this community from going over that cliff.

“Up until recently, the greatest fear of the residents is that someone’s going to build a vacation rental next to them.”

Chair Judy Titsworth said she doesn’t want to lose the church but noted, “I don’t feel confident that everything is being done as far as lowering your expenses to try and deal with the income.

“If making it R-2 is the only way you can survive, I’d have to consider that, but added that church officials should have come to the city for help.

Titsworth was the lone affirmative vote on the motion to approve the comprehensive plan change. City Attorney Patricia Petruff said this vote made the rezone request moot.

AMI in line for resort tax funds

Up to $140,000 in resort tax funds could be allocated for day dock improvements and red tide cleanup if the Manatee County Commission approves recommendations made Monday by the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC).

Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), requested that up to $125,000 be reimbursed to the City of Bradenton Beach to replace the damaged floating dock at the Bridge Street Pier, and up to $15,000 be reimbursed to the county’s beach maintenance fund to replace money spent on red tide cleanup over the past two months. The TDC approved both requests for consideration by the county commission.

Falcione complimented the county parks department for getting more people and equipment on the Island’s beaches the past few weeks to clean up dead fish killed by red tide.

Most of the red tide has moved to the canals on the bay side of the Island, TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said. NOAA forecasts high concentrations of red tide in southern Sarasota Bay waters and moderate concentrations in northern bay waters through Thursday.

Dock funding

Tropical Storm Colin in June damaged the floating dock at the Bridge Street Pier, and city officials plan to replace it with a new, 280-foot day dock that will accommodate boats and water taxis, Falcione said.

The project is estimated to cost $250,000, and the county will reimburse up to $125,000 in expenses, he said, adding that contrary to rumor, the county is not making the funding contingent on a mooring field being created on south side of the dock.

The new dock will have a wave attenuation system to prevent damage, he said.

In June, the dock was not damaged by boats, but by waves, said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, who heads the city’s pier team. The city has obtained state environmental permits and is ready to proceed on a request for proposals, he added.

“We are looking forward to having the ability to do water taxis,” he said. “We will get a lot more tourist action through there with the ability to tie up to that dock and visit the businesses on Bridge Street and other places on the Island.”

Resort taxes up

Resort tax collections increased in 2015-16 to a record-breaking $12.4 million, Jennie Johnson, of the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office, told the TDC.

About 87 percent of short-term rental collections were from single family homes, condominiums and mobile homes, she said.

“This shows the need for hotels,” Whitmore said. “We have a major shortage of hotel rooms.”

“Not everyone is trying to circumvent the tax,” said Michele Schulz, of the Tax Collector’s Office, which has increased its enforcement of the tax in recent years. For example, she said, the county is now collecting tax proceeds from some rentals on Airbnb, an online vacation rental site.

Tourism outlook

The short-term economic outlook for tourism is favorable, said Walter Klages, of Research Data Services, the county’s tourism consultant.

The U.K. pound is losing value, which makes the U.S. dollar stronger, he said, meaning that Manatee County is becoming more expensive to its international tourism clientele.

“But up to now, we have not seen substantial reaction to that yet in our market,” he said, advising the TDC that tourism marketing efforts should be reinforced, not withdrawn, from the international market as it gets softer.

From October through August, “We have had a very successful year,” he said, with visitation up 4.6 percent, room nights up 3.7 percent, economic impact up 8.7 percent, occupancy up .8 percent, and the average daily rate up 4.9 percent.

August was down due to red tide, two major storms and reports of the zika virus, he said, with occupancy down 3.4 percent, visitation down 2.1 percent and room nights down 4 percent .

July visitor statistics

July visitation was up 7.3 percent over the same month last year, reaching 71,700 visitors to Manatee County, according to Klages. The rise reflects the 5.2 percent increase seen over the past 10 months.

Room nights countywide increased 6 percent in July. Room rates increased 5.8 percent on Anna Maria Island while occupancy increased 1.4 percent on the Island.

More visitors (17.9 percent) came from Canada than anywhere else, followed by the Southeast U.S., then the Northeast.

The average length of stay was five nights with an average party size of 3.5 people. The majority (66.5 percent) were families, followed by couples, singles, extended family and friends. The average age of the head of the household was 45, with a median annual income of $116,960.

More than 58 percent arrived in their cars, with 41 percent coming by plane, primarily from Tampa International Airport, followed by Orlando International Airport and Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport.

More than 77 percent came on vacation, 16 percent on a “getaway,” with 10 percent here for business meetings, 10 percent to visit friends and family, 5 percent for sports events, and 3 percent for weddings or honeymoons (numbers reflect multiple reasons for travel).

More than 37 percent said it was their first visit to the county, 90 percent used the Internet to get information for their trip, 64 percent booked reservations online, and 91 percent said they were “very satisfied,” wit 7 percent “satisfied.”

Candidates meet and greet at The Center

 

PAT COPELAND | SUN

Candidates Chuck Webb, at left, and Jack Richardson, at right,
listen as candidate Matt Bower answers a question from Alice Newlon.

 

 

ANNA MARIA – In their first foray into local elections, officials at The Center of Anna Maria Island hosted a candidates’ meet and greet on Friday night.

Those attending included candidates for the District 3 School Board and Manatee County Commission seats, the District 7 Manatee County Commission seat and Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach city commission seats.

Each candidate was given five minutes to speak, followed by an informal question and answer session as candidates mingled among the audience.

The following are excerpts from their presentations:

District 3 School Board candidate Misty Servia: We need better scrutiny of our budget, to find a way to recruit and retain good teachers, press our state to end high stakes testing and bring more local control back to our district.

District 3 School Board candidate Dave “Watchdog” Miner: For many years, I’ve been your watchdog. I’m not the watchdog of the developers. They want to kick me off the board. I represent the people.

District 3 Manatee County Commission candidate Matt Bower: I bring trust and accountability. I’m the candidate that represents you. It’s about applying common sense and integrity. Decisions should be based on truth and facts. No games; just do what’s right.

District 3 Manatee County Commission candidate Stephen Jonsson: The party houses and Bert Harris are creating a lot of controversy, and there are transportation issues, especially during season. I will help you and work with you on these.

District 3 Manatee County Commission candidate David Zaccagnino: There are no special interests backing me, and I’m not asking for endorsements. I have the experience and the connections downtown, and I know where to go for answers.

District 7 Manatee County Commission candidate Jack Richardson: The issues are party houses, TDC money, home rule and traffic. I need your vote so we can affect theses issues and maintain our quality of life.

Bradenton Beach city commission candidate Bill Vincent: The number one issue facing our city is the city commission – it is divided, adversarial and non functional. I’m the best candidate and have the skills and abilities to bring to the city.

Bradenton Beach city commission candidate John Chappie: My campaign is about community, the residents, the challenges we face and preserving the residential character of our community. This election is about accountability and transparency.

Anna Maria city commission candidate Chuck Webb: The problem is vacation rentals are making our lives unbearable. The deck is stacked against us, and we need to get control over the situation. Vacation rentals need to pay their way.

County officials pitch half-cent tax

BRADENTON – County Commissioners and Manatee County Information Outreach Manager Nick Azzara have been hosting a series of information meetings aimed at garnering voter support for the proposed half-cent infrastructure sales tax.

If adopted by county voters in November, the additional half-cent sales tax would remain in effect for 15 years, generate an estimated $30 million its first year and help fund 190 infrastructure projects proposed throughout the county.

District 3 Commissioner John Chappie hosted his meeting at the Manatee Utilities building on Oct. 5.

At-large Commissioner Betsy Benac will host a similar meeting at the Braden River Library in Bradenton at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Chappie’s take

During his introductory remarks, Chappie said, “I voted to put this on the ballot. I support this half-cent sales tax. I think it’s a great opportunity to help us catch up. We’re behind. We’re not like our surrounding communities; we don’t have that extra revenue stream that helps maintain our infrastructure,” he said.

Chappie said many county residents have asked him during his eight years as a county commissioner why sidewalks can’t be installed or maintained, why more stormwater projects and drainage projects can’t be done and why more streets and intersections can’t be improved.

“These are projects that we need. The funding is just not there. We’re way behind and it’s not because of bad management. A lot of the funding is dependent on our property taxes. I don’t think that’s a fair way to do it. This is an opportunity where about a third of the revenues collected on the sales tax would come from visitors, not us. To me, that makes sense,” he said.

In respect to the commission district that includes Anna Maria Island and Cortez, Chappie said, “District 3 is one of the older districts and we have a lot of the old infrastructure. We’re not Lakewood Ranch. We don’t have the CDDs (community development districts) all over the place where the residents actually pay for the amenities that improve their quality of life.”

Azzara presentation

After Chappie spoke, Azzara gave a Power Point presentation that further explained the proposed sales tax increase.

Azzara said the county’s population has increased by 50,000 people in the past 10 years, but Manatee remains the only county in the bay area that does not have a sales tax to help pay for infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks, stormwater and drainage projects, police and public safety needs and parks and public facilities.

“This was not a roll up your sleeves and find a new tax to stick it to the people of Manatee County,” Azzara said.

“Manatee County is overly reliant on property taxes to pay for our government, and there’s a disproportionate number of those property owners paying the bill. In unincorporated Manatee County, about one-third of our property owners are paying about two-thirds of the property tax revenues,” he explained.

Azzara attributed the disparity to property owners who pay little to no property taxes because of homestead exceptions and other exemptions accumulated over the years.

“That’s great for us the homeowners, but it’s having new implications for a local government that’s especially reliant on property taxes to pay for our services and our infrastructure. Our property tax revenues today are 18 percent lower than they were 10 years ago – $47 million less than they were in 2007. We don’t have a way to pay for the added strain on our infrastructure,” Azzara said.

Like Chappie, Azzara noted that one-third of the tax revenues would be generated by people who visit or work in the county, but do not live there.

“These are the people also using our roads and our parks and calling our 911 system. We’re asking them to help pay for those services and infrastructure they’re using,” he said.

After stating that Manatee County has some of the highest impact fees in the area, Azzara said, “Impact fees can only go to pay for new roads, new bridges, new things. With the half-cent sales tax, we’re taking about repairing and maintaining what we have.”

Learn more about the proposed surtax at www.mymanatee.org.

An audio recording of the Oct. 5 informational meeting is posted at www.localmatters.podomatic.com.

District 3 candidates respond to questions

MANATEE COUNTY – District 3 candidates Matt Bower, Steve Jonsson and David Zaccagnino are vying for the County Commission seat being vacated by John Chappie. The candidates recently responded to questions posed by The Sun. Here are some of their answers, which have been edited for length.

What can be done to minimize the traffic impact the Pen Bay, Lake Flores and Long Bar Pointe developments have on Cortez and Island residents?

Bower: We have to collaborate with developers, the county, the state and residents to develop plans that include incentives for lessening the number of cars traveling on and off the Island. I have proposed the developers of Lake Flores, Peninsula Bay and Cortez develop public parking areas at each of these designations, while installing a dedicated lane for transit and emergency vehicles to and from the Island, which will include a lane on a new bridge, along with extending the trolley system to Lake Flores.

Jonsson: Traffic studies will ensure the commission is armed with the necessary data to make thoughtful and decisions on this topic. The county must have an open mind when it comes to alternative types of transportation – water taxis, mass transit, trolleys, ride sharing, etc. – to minimize the inevitable growth in the area.

Zaccagnino: I would champion the suggestions of the Island mayors that need to be implemented. The county’s land development code and comprehensive plan need to be updated so major developments will adhere to new rules concerning traffic and density. These developments have already been approved – some by my opponent on the planning commission – but there is still time for them to be adjusted.

Should the Long Bar Pointe developers be allowed to build a marina, and should they granted a mitigation bank for mangrove removal?

Bower: I was instrumental in the opposition of the Long Bar development. Winning that fight inspired me to get appointed to the planning commission. We cannot allow a marina at Long Bar. The environmental impacts from the dredging and large boat traffic would be a disaster. Regarding the mitigation bank, we simply cannot allow that to happen. This is a matter of big money development versus what is right for this community. I am especially worried should my opponent, Steve Jonsson, get elected, considering that many of his supporters are developers, including his ex-business partner Carlos Beruff.

Jonsson: I am not in favor of allowing a marina at Long Bar Pointe. The state mandates the mitigation bank process, however, I believe Manatee County residents should be given ample time to provide public comment to the state agencies.

Zaccagnino: I am not in favor of a marina and dredging a new channel that would destroy seagrass beds and mangroves. I am also not in favor of the Pen Bay marina, for the same reason. I would like the state to change the way the mitigation process works because I believe that in most cases, it is not helping the environmental impact in the direct area of a development.

What should be done in regard to Tourist Development Council and beach concession revenues being used to assist the Island cities with infrastructure needs?

Bower: Under state law, TDC funds cannot be used for infrastructure. We must lobby and affect change at the state level. We must collaborate with communities, elected officials statewide and our local legislative delegation to develop a plan that will allow TDC funds to at least be partially available for infrastructure. I believe the beach concession funds being directly in the hands of the county commission and county administration is counter-productive. We must cut out the red tape and think long-term with fair and equitable distribution of funds.”

Jonsson: “The state carefully mandates how each penny is spent. Manatee County should work with our local state legislative delegation to give the county more flexibility in spending.”

Zaccagnino: TDC funds are state-mandated. I believe in continued lobbying efforts at the state level to get that changed so funds can be spent on infrastructure and safety. As far as beach concession funds, I was at the table and negotiated that into the contract when it went out to bid six years ago. I am glad that the Island mayors have recognized this revenue source and are using it for infrastructure and safety. I support the county and the TDC providing more funds.

Do you support the proposed half-cent infrastructure surtax?

Bower: I now support the half-cent sales tax, as long as it is accompanied by my Sales Tax Accountability Plan.

Jonsson: I support the proposed half-cent sales tax. Dollars generated from the tax will allow our community to make much needed improvements to outdated infrastructure, parks, and public safety operations.

Zaccagnino: I support the half-cent infrastructure sales tax. Our roads, parks, and safety facilities are aging and need to be replaced. If the referendum does not pass, either property taxes will have to be raised or services will have to be cut.

At-large county candidates share their views

MANATEE COUNTY – County voters who live on the Island and in Cortez will help determine the winner of the at-large District 7 County Commission race featuring incumbent Commissioner Betsy Benac and challenger Jack Richardson.

The candidates recently responded to questions submitted by The Sun and here are some of their answers.

What can be done to minimize the traffic impact the Pen Bay, Lake Flores and Long Bar Pointe developments for Cortez and Island residents?

Benac: I propose to implement an area-wide transportation plan that includes multi-modal options and transportation demand management ideas. Mixed-use projects offer the ability to provide for trails, live-work units and other mixed uses, which have the potential for decreasing traffic leaving the site. Park and ride transit options, water taxis, bike shares and car sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are just some of the ideas that can be utilized to reduce roadway impacts.

Richardson: The commission can stop rubber-stamping projects that obviously will add to the traffic problems. I will fight to hire a county administrator who is responsive to the needs of the people and not the developers. We need to clean house in the building department – the people who issue permits to new construction. A huge issue in the building department is how they count the cars to meet concurrency in the first place. I will hold a forum after the election to come up with ideas.

Do you feel the Long Bar Pointe developers should be allowed a marina, and what are your thoughts on the developer’s proposed mitigation bank?

Benac: Any projects proposed need to meet the current comprehensive plan, which limits impacts to existing sea grasses in shallow waters such as those that exist at Long Bar Pointe, and specifically provides for a higher level of protection of the Sarasota Bay Estuary. From what I have read, the proposed mitigation bank is no longer pending state approval.

Richardson: I am against dredging up "The Kitchen." Mr. Beruff can build all he wants, but no boats will be able to access it. Protecting Sarasota Bay, Palma Sola Bay, and Tampa Bay are extremely important. I am suspect of any type of mitigation. I have a huge problem with trying to recreate thousands of years of nature in one big construction project.

What should be done in regard to using Tourist Development Council and beach concession revenues to assist the Island cities with infrastructure needs?

Benac: The Barrier Island Elected Officials coalition is the best vehicle for prioritizing the use of the beach concession funds. Recommendations by this group should be carefully considered for this limited revenue source. TDC funds cannot be utilized to fund infrastructure projects which serve residents, not tourism. I will continue to advocate for the utilization of TDC funds to pay for public safety needs generated by tourists. The TDC board needs to create tourist-related promotions that reflect the diversity of tourism options in the county.

Richardson: We have over 150 different ent types of budgets and funds. Whenever the county administrator and county commission want to fund a project they always seem to find an interpretation on how to move money around. When they do not want to fund something, they always bring up state law or the threat of litigation. They do not fund the Island with the tax generated by the Island because they just don’t want to. We need to change the state law and we have the influence to do it.

Do you support the proposed half-cent sales tax increase to fund infrastructure needs?

Benac: I will vote for the half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund infrastructure updates and maintenance. A sales tax is the best option to insure a fair and equitable distribution of the maintenance costs of infrastructure among existing residents and visitors. The property tax rate for residents will remain low and visitors will pay more of the costs associated with the impacts they cause on our roads.

Richardson: I am not against raising taxes for the mere fact of anti-taxation. However, I am against the mismanagement of county resources. The commission rubber-stamped every single development and this over-development put a constrain on our county resources. If the voters pass this tax, they are giving money to the same people who caused the problem the first place, and many items on the wish list are not needed.

Changes identified to improve land development code

HOLMES BEACH – City Commissioners last week approved a list of changes to the land development code proposed by City Planner Bill Brisson.
The changes are as follows:

• Include a provision for grass parking;

• Include bar, lounge and nightclub as an allowable use in the C-3 (commercial) district;

• Clarify language regarding resort housing in the mixed-use district;

• Add a provision that site plan review is required for development in the REC (recreation), POS (private recreation/open space) and PSP (public/semi public) districts for uses other than clubhouse.

• Revise the definition of driveway to include the entire width of back out parking;

• Add a section to identify situations where an application for a variance is inappropriate.

• Create a definition of minor development in which a site plan may be approved administratively.

The changes will be brought before the planning commission for consideration.

Brisson also will guide the planning commission in updating the comprehensive plan. This process will include reviewing the goals, objectives and policies of each element of the plan.


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