The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 31 - April 22, 2009


Bridge dispute returns

The bridge replacement controversy that began 16 years ago has erupted once again.

State transportation officials last week announced their preference for a new 65-foot tall, fixed-span bridge to take the place of the Anna Maria Island drawbridge.

Speaking before a large room full of elected and appointed officials from all around Manatee County, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) engineer Chris Piazza said they chose the big bridge option based on the public’s responses at meetings and in a survey and because it was cheaper.

"After considering public input and making a comparison of costs, including maintenance and operating, we have decided on the high-level bridge with a southern alignment and the cross section B (with two sidewalks)," he said. "We will take this recommendation to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners and, if they approve it, we will send it to the U.S. Coast Guard."

Piazza said that if the Coast Guard adopts it, the project will be eligible to advance to the design phase. As for funding, there is nothing funded at this time, although the county commissioners asked the state legislative delegation to support a request for $12 million for engineering.

Not so fast

Reaction to the announcement was mixed. Save Anna Maria (SAM) President Ursula Stemm said her group is ready to fight the high bridge again, like they did when FDOT tried to build one in 1993.

"We contacted the same attorney we used for the fight before (David Levin) and he told us what to look for," she said. "It’s still talk at this point."

One of the supporters of the high bridge when it was announced 16 years ago said she smiled when she heard the news.

"A tall bridge is not going to bring any more people to the Island than the bascule bridge," said Pat Geyer, former Holmes Beach commissioner and mayor. "The talk about higher winds on a tall bridge doesn’t scare me."

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said his main concern is getting emergency crews on and off the Island.

West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price said his main concern for a bridge is safety and an emergency lane would mean a lot.

"People don’t know what to do on the bridge when they see an emergency vehicle with lights and siren behind them," Price said. "They tend to pull over and stop, but with no safety lane, the emergency vehicle can’t get around them."

Price said they turn off their lights and siren when they approach one of the drawbridges so people won’t stop.

Marty Dutschayver, owner of Sun and Surf, said he likes the aesthetics of the drawbridge, but he recalls how he felt as a fire commission member when the issue came up in 1993.

"I have to think that a tall fixed span will save lives," he said. "Aesthetically, I would rather have things like they were in 1960 and have them put back the toll gate."

FDOT to seek approval

Piazza said the two-county Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) would listen to their findings and if somebody makes a good argument for one of the other choices, they would reconsider.

"Whether this is what we will take to the Coast Guard is still not set in stone," he added.

He did say, however, that there would be no more hearings to gather opinions from the public. FDOT held three such public meetings over the past six months and the results of a public poll showed that 70 percent prefer a high-level fixed bridge, 4 percent would like a mid-level drawbridge, 21 percent prefer a low-level drawbridge and 5 percent favor another solution or had no preference.

The history of the bridge includes one failed attempt to replace it with a high-level bridge. Built in 1957, the bridge showed its age in 1992, when FDOT regional director David May came to the city governments and told them that they had decided to replace the drawbridge with a 65-foot-high fixed span. That announcement created a public uproar, due mainly to the fact that there had been little, if any, news that a replacement was being considered.

Some of those opposed banded together to form Save Anna Maria (SAM), which hired an attorney and finally proved that FDOT had not followed procedure in alerting the public to the project and it was scrapped.

When FDOT announced in late 2007 that it was going to refurbish the bridge to the tune of almost $10 million, members of the public asked FDOT to consider replacing the bridge, instead. The highway department said it could not because the funds were set aside for the rehabilitation, not replacement of the bridge, but they did agree to do a study on replacing it and said they would seek funding later. The newly refurbished structure is expected to last up to 25 years.

Writers experience Island wedding scene
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Kevin Baker and his wife, Lynn Walker, toast a sunset on the beach during
a photography session with Island Photography owner Dara Caudill. They
were on the Island to research two articles Walker will write.

If you’re going to write about something, you should experience it first.

That’s what Lynn Walker did with her husband, Kevin Baker, when she researched her article on Anna Maria Island recently to do articles for Southern Bride magazine and Romantic Destinations Travel.

Working in conjunction with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, they stayed in the beachfront Seaside Inn Beach Resort in Bradenton Beach and experienced what a couple having a wedding would, minus the ceremony.

They ate at the Waterfront, The Sun House, Harrington House Bed and Breakfast, the Sandbar, Ginny’s & Jane E’s, Beach Bistro, the Gulf Drive Café and Mattison’s Riverside. They took a kayak tour of Palma Sola Bay courtesy of Shawn Duytschaver, got a massage from Amy Welch of Acqua Aveda Salon Spa Store, sampled wedding cakes and pastries at Matt and Dom’s Pastry Café, visited the Anna Maria Island Art League, got a sunset beach portrait from Dara Caudill, of Island Photography, and visited Baobab Tree Gallery and Studio in the Village of the Arts in Bradenton.

Walker, who now lives in Mississippi, is no stranger to the area as she spent a summer living near the beach in Bradenton Beach a few years ago before she got into journalism.

"When I lived there, I was a college girl," she said. "The last thing on my mind was marriage."

She said the Island is still the place to be.

"It has grown, but it still has that wonderful Florida feel," she said. "It’s kind of homey and the people are so gracious."

Walker said that the Island is a great place for destination weddings.

"Destination weddings are becoming big because it allows family and close friends of the couple to stay after the ceremony and possible enjoy a few days on vacation," she said. "Those people will branch out and include fun events on their own, so it really feeds a lot of different businesses."

Walker said her article for Southern Bride, which boasts a circulation of more than 100,000, would be aimed at readers in Alabama, west Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas planning destination weddings.

"What people from there normally do is plan destination weddings in the Florida Panhandle or northern Florida," she said. "They don’t realize that there are places like Anna Maria Island that aren’t much more expensive."

Seaside Beach Resort owner David Teitelbaum, a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, agrees with Walker.

"The secret is out, we’re a great destination and more affordable than similar settings," he said. "We have thousands of weddings on Anna Maria Island every year and a lot of those people are visiting for the first time. Pretty soon, you see them showing up again for a vacation."

Walker said her second article, on RomanticDestinations, will center on more than people wanting to plan a wedding.

"It’s more for couples who are married and want to get away for a romantic time," she said. "They might have kids so they would be looking for some place where their children would have something to do as well."

Walker expects the Southern Bride article to come out toward the end of June, while it should be September or December before the Internet article to is published.

Caudill, who is a member of the Chamber Wedding Merchants, said that she expects the articles will reaffirm what we all know - Anna Maria Island is a great place to be.

Plans stall to buy Seafood Shack

CORTEZ – A bid has stalled to buy the Seafood Shack restaurant, expand its marina and add a second humpback bridge on 127th Street West.

Seven Bridges Development LLC, whose principal is former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Gerald Nichols, signed a purchase contract with Seafood Shack owner Ham Jones about a year ago, but the company has not obtained financing, Jones said, adding that Nichols has been ill.

"I don’t think there’s much to the possibility in these economic times of them going through with their plans," he said. "Nobody’s buying condos, boats, marinas or restaurants."

Sarasota resident Nichols, 45, who also played for Florida State University, the New York Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Southwest Florida-based Banks Engineering approached Manatee County planners with a conceptual design for the Seven Bridges development in October, said Ron Schulhofer, director of public works for Manatee County.

The plans added a second bridge north of the existing humpback bridge and a new canal and boat storage east of 127th Street West, he said, adding that no permit requests have been filed with the county.

Banks is still under contract with Seven Bridges, Banks engineer Shane Cooper confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Seafood Shack ground floor restaurant and marina are open and doing "better than I expected," Jones said. The business was closed for seven months last year while the humpback bridge on 127th Street West was being rebuilt.

Bayside could get new sand

ANNA MARIA — Renourishment may be a step closer to becoming reality for the property owners on the bay side of Anna Maria Island.

Catherine Florko, project manager for the Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Management division of the state Department of Environmental Regulation, said in a letter to the county that there is evidence that the submergence of Passage Key has resulted in wave activity that has caused severe erosion from the Rod&Reel Pier north around the tip of the Island.

In 2007, Manatee County hired Coastal Planning and Engineering to conduct the Anna Maria Island Shore Protection and Feasibility study to specifically address that area.

"The feasibility study concluded with a recommendation that the area … should be restored, but that the restoration would not be successful without the construction of erosion control structures such as T-head groins," Florko remarked in her letter to Charlie Hunsicker, the director of conservation lands for the county.

Florko stated that her department requests confirmation that the county would like a reconsideration of the northeast area for state renourishment funding. "The department asks that the county provide documentation to the department that the shoreline is affected by the Gulf of Mexico and is in need of control measures," Florko said.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford followed up with a letter to Florko asking for clarification about what type of information she is requiring about the effect of the Gulf of Mexico and what erosion control measures are required.

Barford was instrumental in getting the county and state to get involved in figuring out a way to get the flooding in the area under control after residents were unable to get anything done on their own.

Barford held a meeting for residents and representatives of the state and county, which has resulted in progress.

Hunsicker said earlier that funding would probably not be in place for the area to renourished during the 2011 renourishment project on the rest of the Island’s shoreline.

Area gets a spring cleaning
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


They came from all walks of life, from the mainland and even the middle of the state to clean up the Island, Cortez and even the Gulf around our local historic shipwreck.

It was all part of the Great American Cleanup that is held this time of the year and sponsored by Keep Manatee Beautiful. Divers cleared the Regina wreck site of rope and fishing line and students from Anna Maria Elementary School cleaned up the campus, finding an old television set on the shores of the bay behind the school.

Anna Maria City Commissioner Dale Woodland and his granddaughter, Savannah, clean the dunes in Bayfront Park; some of the rope the divers found around the Regina. SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND






Murphy named Community Partner at Founder’s Day
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Above, Commissioner John Monetti, Susan and Sean Murphy,
Mayor Rich Bohnenberger and Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens
share a laugh after Sean accepted his Community Partner plaque.

HOLMES BEACH – At the second annual Founder’s Day Friday, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger named Sean Murphy as the city’s new Community Partner.

"Last year, we took the time to recognize people who helped create this city on our Community Partners plaque," Bohnenberger said. "Each year, we will add someone to the list who adds to the quality of life in our city. This year’s addition is Sean Murphy."

Murphy, who was taken by surprise, quipped, "I am always looked at as the young guy, and now I’m old enough to be on a plaque with the library!"

Bohnenberger also recognized Hugh Holmes Sr., who gave a brief history of the city and noted, "A series of wonderful people built what we have today. There are many people besides my father who should be acknowledged."

While a quartet from the AMI Community Chorus and Orchestra played in the background, Bohnenberger asked others to share memories or observations.

Former City Councilman Jeff Asbury said when he took office, the majority of the city’s streets were shell and he worked to get them paved, but was "crucified in the press for it."

"This Island is my soul," Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore declared. "Your voices are heard at the commission through me."

"Our founders made the Island what it is," Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie said. "We are blessed to live here."

Sandy Haas-Martens, the city’s commission chair, said she came to the Island to work in 1969 and fell in love with it.

"The colorful people and history of this city has given me great fodder for my second book," Carolyne Norwood, author of "Anna Maria Island, The Early Days 1893 to 1940," told the group.

Following the sharing, the group walked to the skate park to dedicate a tree in memory of Helen Hagen, who passed away in January. She and her husband, Rex, through their Hagen Family Foundation, have donated thousands of dollars to the city for improvements to its recreational facilities, including the skate park, ball field and tot lot.

Lohn loses appeal, threatens legal action

BRADENTON BEACH – A resident who claims a duplex built adjacent to his property was not built to code, says he will never give up his fight to have the city force the owners to take care of the problem.

The Board of Adjustment voted on Wednesday, April 15, that discrepancies Ken Lohn pointed out in his argument do not exist because of a misinterpretation on his part.

Lohn contended that the driveway built west of his home serving the duplex in question and a second duplex built by the same developers, GSR Development LLC, is too narrow and there is no landscape separation between the driveway and his home.

The board contends that the driveway is really an easement that was granted with his knowledge by the developers so he could have access to a second property south of his home.

Under the code, a driveway would have to be 12 feet wide, but building official Stephen Gilbert said an easement does not have to be that wide. The paved area is a little less than 10 feet wide.

Lohn contends that the driveway is too close to his home’s drive, but the board said that the code does not apply because the driveway in question is an easement.

Lohn has been fighting this for six years and it took a court order for him to get the board to hear the case. After the ruling he said it would get expensive for the city.

"I’ll appeal to the district court," he said. "We’ll never give up."

Holmes Beach to join Communities for a Lifetime

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners agreed to approve a resolution to join Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach in the state-wide initiative, Communities for a Lifetime.

The initiative, begun in 1999, assists cities and towns in planning and implementing improvements in areas such as transportation and housing to benefit residents, both youth and elder.

"It’s an effort to coordinate all these agencies on a state and federal level to help targeted areas," Ken Venters, volunteer coordinator for the Island Community Center, explained. "The emphasis now is on seniors."

He said if all three Island cities join the initiative, it would make it easier to get grants to implement programs. The only requirement for the city, he said, is to appoint a representative to a task force.

"The task force will decide how broad it wants to get," he said. "It will analyze what’s needed by our citizens, project programs and write grants to address the needs. To me it’s only a win-win situation."

He said the committee could conduct a survey or assessment to learn the needs of the Island’s senior citizens, and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger asked who would conduct the survey and how it would be conducted

Venters said the task force would determine how to do it and possibilities are through the newspapers, churches and Community Center.

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