The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 27 - April 17, 2013


Island church group competes in regatta
Carol Whitmore

The crew from St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in
Holmes Beach paddles hard during the Hernando
DeSoto Bottle Boat Regatta on Saturday.

PALMA SOLA CAUSEWAY – The St. Bernard Catholic Church team got off to a fast start and beat its first opponent, but was defeated in its second attempt in the middle school competition of the Hernando DeSoto Bottle Boat Regatta last weekend.

It was a first attempt for the group, according to Erin Heckler, whose son, Jack, was one of the crew.

“They collected all the bottles and did the math to figure the displacement of water needed,” Heckler said.

“They’ve been working on it for a couple of months,” said Matt Nowicki, who heads the youth group, who said he was proud of what they achieved.

“The church helped by recycling bottles for the boat,” said Kathy Bogag, director of the middle school division of the St. Bernard youth group. “The kids got together every Tuesday and they raised the money to make the boat.”

The church group was the only Island-based entry in the annual event, which celebrates the landing in Manatee County by DeSoto and crew 500 years ago.

Another entry of interest was the “Bag O’ Bottles,” a ship held together with large wire fencing leaving the bottle inside visible. While the look was unique, the team had trouble navigating the waters because there was too much drag. The two young men who constituted the Harlee Middle team were Helaman Portida and George Hernandez.

“They did it working two Fridays and one Tuesday,” said Paul Reynolds, a science teacher at Harlee. “They had a lot of fun and obviously, we didn’t have time to make practice runs.”

The list of winners includes:

Elementary Division: first place, Palma Sola Elementary; second place, Stewart Elementary Team A; third place, Team Winners on a boat sponsored by Freedom Boat Club, the main sponsor of the event.

Middle School Division: first place, King Middle School; second place, Stewart Team B; third place, Team Matt’s Express.

Honorable Mentions went to Team Skittles, St. Bernard Middle, Team Screens Plus and Harlee Middle, Team Sea Mustang.

The USA Fence teams won the Men’s and Women’s divisions and Demetrio’s Pizza won the Festival Cup.

Between the first and second sets of races, the Hernando DeSoto Queen’s Court raced – blonds versus brunettes – and after two races, the judge declared a tie.

The weather was great and so was the crowd as the Hernando DeSoto Crewe watched youngsters make their landing in Manatee County, just like the explorer.

Board talks tourism traffic troubles

HOLMES BEACH – Anna Maria Island was filled to the brim and spilling over with tourists this winter, prompting the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday to vote to seek relief for motorists in the form of a water taxi.

The short season, which began its annual drop the day after an early Easter, has been “rough this year for those of us who live on the Island,” TDC Chair and Holmes Beach resident Carol Whitmore said, adding, “We’re pretty stressed.”

While the strong season boosted the economy, including employment, she said, the only road – mostly two lanes – that runs the length of the Island came to a standstill at times, like checkout lines at Publix and wait lines at restaurants.

At the request of Island residents, county tourism marketers have been promoting other venues in the county in an attempt to spread the wealth, she said, but the beaches are the county’s main tourism draw.

Funding needed

TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen broached the subject, asking the council to offer monetary support to the Island, not just McKechnie Field, the Manatee Players, the Powel Crosley mansion and other off-Island venues.

Nearly half of the county’s 5 percent resort tax collections were generated from the Island in February, the last month for which statistics are available.

Funding for a water taxi, such as the AMI Shuttle, Island Pearl, would “greatly reduce the cars coming to Anna Maria Island,” Peelen said, adding that funding also should be considered for a continuous bike path from Anna Maria Island to Longboat Key.

Because of the unprecedented growth of tourism, new thinking is required, she said.

Island Pearl owners are looking at linking to Fort DeSoto, which could open a gateway to Anna Maria Island for Pinellas County visitors, said TDC member Ed Chiles, a restaurant owner and partner in Pine Avenue Restoration, suggesting, “We can build on that.”

Bradenton Beach has a “tremendous parking problem downtown,” Chiles said, a hot topic as approval is considered for a new restaurant without adding parking spaces. A dedicated lane for electric carts could alleviate some of the parking and traffic problems, he suggested.

The council asked Peelen to revive past discussions with the Metropolitan Planning Organization to find solutions; Whitmore said that previous conversations were blocked at various stages, including at the Anna Maria City Pier.

The pier lessee, not the Anna Maria City Commission, was responsible for a decision not to allow a water taxi to dock, Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said, adding that the pier itself could use some tourist funds for repair.

Mainsail decision stands

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners refused to act on a March 28 request by Mainsail President Joe Collier to reconsider their vote to revoke the company’s site plan for its development near the corner of Gulf and Marina drives.

On March 26, commissioners voted 3-2 to revoke the plan, with Commissioners Jean Peelen and David Zaccagnino dissenting.

At last week’s meeting, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said someone from the prevailing side must make a motion to rescind the vote and if it is approved, they would set a date for a public hearing. No one made that motion.

However, Collier was not deterred and said, “I think the only productive way is to sit down at the table with us and get it done. What do they expect to happen? We own the property; it’s zoned commercial. We’re not going anywhere.”

He also said pointed out that for now, “It’s in the lawyers’ hands. Our lawyers know what they’re doing, but it will be a waste of time and money on both sides.”

Resident Don Schroder told commissioners, “ … I do not believe that in my 27 years of service has there ever been a more serious discussion with the strong possibility that the city will suffer catastrophic financial damage. Will you really sleep well knowing that your single vote might just drive this city into bankruptcy?”

He asked commissioners to consider the following:

• Have they done anything in the past 10 years to find an alternative for the property?
• Would any other company be willing to take over the property knowing that the commission could block their plans?


Moratorium ordinance now law

ANNA MARIA – The city commission gave final approval to three ordinances, including the moratorium on permits for homes taller than 27 feet, with only one protest.

An unidentified woman spoke on the moratorium saying nobody wants to build a home 27 feet high, and it would hurt the value of her investment, but City Attorney Jim Dye said the moratorium is only effective temporarily, until the city commission passes an ordinance limiting the size of homes.

The moratorium exempts permits for structures that have been accepted and are being processed by the city and those structures in the design process that have not been submitted to the city. The moratorium will end when the city lowers the height allowed for residential structures to 27 feet, taking into account existing housing stock and non-conformities.

Animal control

The commission also passed the new animal control ordinance that effectively says the Manatee County ordinance will govern, because the county animal control agency will be enforcing it.

Commissioners passed the nuisance ordinance, which defines nuisances and penalties for repeated offenses. The penalties range from $100 for the first offense to $250 for the second offense within 12 months of the first, $500 for the third offense within 12 months and $500 for each additional offense. The law addresses noise offenses, which have increased due to the expanded number of rental homes in residential neighborhoods.

Six lots

Finally, City Commissioner Gene Aubry submitted his revised plan for the six lots at Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard. The plans call for trees to surround the lots with occasional benches and two unisex bathrooms, a parking lot with 15 spaces for cars along one-fourth of the lots nearest Pine Avenue and a large undeveloped portion in the other three-fourths.

“If you look at the plan, we’re about to put in a bunch of trees, 26 live oaks, and eight benches,” he said. “It’s pretty much real Anna Maria. What you see growing there is what will grow there.”

The park improvements would be financed by Rex Hagen and named after his late wife.

“We’re ready to proceed immediately,” Aubry said. “The donors know what we’re going to do.”

Commissioner Dale Woodland reacted favorably.

“Everyone’s got their own idea of what they want, and this represents a compromise,” he said. “The reason I like this proposal is it’s effective.”

Commissioner Chuck Webb didn’t like the parking.

“I remind everyone that when we bought the six lots, we agreed we would not use it for parking – period,” Webb said. "What I see is it’s making Pine Avenue a lot busier at that end.”

Webb said they agreed to use Roser Church’s parking lot when they needed to, and he said this plan is unnecessary.

Commission Chair John Quam said with the trees surrounding the parking lot, drivers would not be able to see if the lot was full. He said they should make room for drivers to turn around and leave if it is full. Aubrey said they have plenty of space there, and there are two entries and exits. Quam was worried about the bathrooms and sanitation.

“Those bathrooms at Bayfront Park are very, very filthy in the afternoon,” he said. “Who would make sure these are clean? I’m not in favor of the bathrooms.”

Commissioner Nancy Yetter agreed.

“I wouldn’t want to be living next to the bathroom there,” she said.

Aubry said the bathrooms would be built with louvered walls so it will be ventilated without air conditioning in order to keep it simple. Woodland said the bathroom by the Holmes Beach City Hall field is always clean.

Aubry talked about the 100th anniversary of the city pier.

“The pier was built to bring in tourists,” he said. “This is a residential city but tourists come here.

“I think the city has an obligation to make hard decisions. All other lots are filled so it’s almost like you can’t use the lots. I think we have a moral obligation to deal with our visitors.”

Mayor SueLynn said if the city pier lessee, Mario Schoenfelder, restricts parking along North Bay to pier customers only, the city would have to find more parking spaces so she likes the plan.

The commissioners agreed to discuss the plan further at a future meeting since Dye said they needed to sign an agreement with Hagen over the financing.

City orders tree house demolished

Pat copeland | Sun
The tree house is built around an Australian pine and is supported
by telephone poles wrapped with chicken wire and cement and
painted to look like dead tree trunks.

HOLMES BEACH – The city’s building department has ordered the demolition of the tree house at Angelino’s Beach Resort at 103 29th Street.

In a letter to Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, Provisional Building Code Administrator Tom O’Brien said, “You are hereby ordered to demolish and remove the structure in violation within 30 days from the delivery of this notice of violation (April 3).

“Your failure to comply by that date will cause this department to seek more coercive code enforcement actions including fines for continued non-compliance and seeking a court order to forcibly demolish the structure and the filing of liens against the property to recover the costs of demolition and removal.”

“I’m shocked,” said Lynn Tran, of Angelino’s. “The city approved it two years ago and we tried to work it out with DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection). We did what they told us to do. I don’t know what else to do.

“We don’t understand. We’re really surprised. We want to try and save the tree house. This is a small city and we don’t want to go to court with the city.”

The tree house was built in April 2011 on the beach at the resort after former Building Inspector Bob Shafer told them they did not need a permit, Tran explained. In November of 2011, DEP officials issued a notice of possible violation after the tree house came to their attention.

After the fact permit

After working with DEP officials, Tran said in December 2012, they told her to get an after the fact permit and a letter of no objection from the city and supply certain documents. She said Building Inspector David Greene told her that she would have to go through the permit and variance process.

“We asked DEP to waive the letter of no objection, and they looked at what we sent in and said they needed a letter that it complies with setbacks and zoning requirements,” Tran continued.

She said she tried set up a meeting with O’Brien, but he did not return her phone calls or respond to her e-mail until she got the notice of violation.

In his notice of violation, O’Brien said, “Your request for a meeting came as a surprise. You and your attorney elected to pursue a review by the Department of Environmental Protection without approval by the city insinuating that there was no one competent at the city to respond to your request.”

He said Greene is “quite competent as the chief plans examiner for the city of Holmes Beach to research and apply the land development code” and that Greene explained to her that “the city could not author a letter of no objection because the illegal construction is in substantial violation of the Holmes Beach Land Development Code and Florida Building Code.

“He further explained to you that the only possible remedy could be a variance. However, there are no circumstances which could support the granting of a variance.”

O’Brien then questioned Shafer’s approval and pointed out, “This is not a kid’s playhouse in the backyard of a single family residence. This is a three-story assembly structure accessory to a public accommodation. … The continued existence of this structure presents a clear and present hazard to the safety of the general public.”

Tran said she is writing a response and plans to appeal to the mayor and city commission.

“We thought we did something nice, and it turned into a nightmare,” she said.

Restaurant approval pending

BRADENTON BEACH – The city commission has scheduled a final hearing on a 60-seat outdoor restaurant and four-store retail project at 119 Bridge St. on Thursday, April 18, at 1 p.m.

The public is expected to have an opportunity to comment on the proposal by developer Michael Hynds, who scaled down the original 10 retail spaces and made parking concessions, including eliminating indoor seating, which requires parking spaces.

Jacob Spooner, of Bridge Street Bazaar next door, has told commissioners that he is concerned that limited parking on the street already is being monopolized by employees of existing businesses. He said he’s not advocating that the workers be ticketed, but is concerned that the parking shortage will get worse if the restaurant is approved.

Hynds has told the commission that he may be able to use up to four parking spaces at 114 Third St., a commercially zoned property scheduled to be demolished, to supply required parking for the four retail stores.

He also proposes to run a customer shuttle to and from the Manatee County-owned Coquina Beach parking lot, which raised questions from some commissioners and neighbors.

If a business is getting a monetary benefit from using county park property, it must have a county permit, said Mike Whelen, manager of the county’s parks and recreation contracts.

Businesses are allowed “no economic gain from the use of public property according to the parks ordinance without a franchise license agreement,” he said, adding that the Manatee County Commission would have to approve the agreement.

Other businesses such as those that run concessions on the beach and Segway tours on beach pathways have such agreements with the county, he said, adding that Hynds has not applied for a permit.

Enforcing the ordinance against people parking vehicles at Coquina Beach and using a shuttle would be difficult, Whelen said.

“We were told we had to get county permission to use parking at the beach,” Bridge Street hotelier Barbara Rodocker said, adding that she thinks other businesses are being treated more leniently than hers.

“I’m not against something being redone, I just think we have to think about what’s going on here,” said Rodocker, adding that she thinks the street should be closed to cars and made pedestrian only.

“Everybody’s got a parking problem” on Bridge Street, Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said. “It’s not even solvable.”

But property owners have rights, she said, adding that it’s not easy to run a business, and business owners need help getting started.

“Everybody’s looking out for themselves. People should look at it from somebody else’s perspective,” she said.

Shuttling to and from the county parking lot is not part of Hynds’ proposed planned unit development order, city planner Alan Garrett said, adding that the only commitment he made was to provide a single parking space on Bridge Street where a shuttle – or customer vehicles – could pick up and deliver passengers. The plan also does not include the four parking spaces on the lot, which he has not yet acquired, he added.

Hynds must provide only one space for each retail unit because the city ordinance does not require parking spaces for open air dining, he said, adding that those who passed the ordinance probably anticipated outdoor dining as an accessory use of a restaurant, not a primary use, where the trend is leading.

Oil spill leaves residue of uncertainty

On a clear day, you can see – not quite forever –
but at least a few feet underwater off Anna Maria Island.
Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill did not reach local
waters, but widespread, long-term effects on
marine life are anticipated.

Three years ago this week, just about everyone on Anna Maria Island was wondering whether they would wake up and see oil washing up on the beach from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began on April 20, 2010, in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

As oil continued to spill for three months, unprecedented sightings of deepwater whale sharks in shallow local waters, fish covered with lesions, strange odors in the air and peculiar tastes in the water fueled fears about tourism, layoffs, business failures, health problems and a devastated environment.

Such fears, realized in north Florida, dispersed here as time passed, especially after the oil well was capped on July 15 and no oil had been spotted on local beaches.

Since then, high tourism numbers show that tourists have regained their confidence that Anna Maria Island beaches were not h

it by the oil. Local businesses and employees have collected money from the disaster at the oil rig, owned by Transocean Ltd. and under contract to BP, for economic losses from cancelled trips based on tourist misperceptions. Commercial fishermen have netted cash for not being able to fish during and after the spill in parts of the Gulf. Local men and women who traveled north to help in the cleanup have received compensation for health problems resulting from exposure to the oil.

But no one really knows the full picture of what the spill did and is still doing to the environment, and what long-term effects may be coming.

Many species affected

Research shows that the oil and the chemical dispersant Corexit used to make the oil mix with water – which keeps it from coming ashore but makes it impossible to clean up – have created a dead zone on the floor of the northern Gulf, killing marine life from microscopic organisms right up the food chain to apex predators like dolphins.

Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil, according to Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation and lead author of the report, “Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster.”

Ongoing dolphin deaths are a strong indication that “there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem,” he wrote in the report, which states that dolphin deaths in the area affected by oil have been above average every month since the spill.

The report also cites a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study that called the dolphin deaths unprecedented, and ruled out the most common causes of previous dolphin die-offs.

Mote Marine Laboratory scientists in Sarasota are monitoring local dolphin populations for signs of oil effects, taking samples of their skin and testing for environmental contaminants.

They also are doing similar research on sharks, tunas, billfish and loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species that nests on Anna Maria Island beaches from May through October. Loggerheads with satellite tracking devices showing they swam through the oil spill nested on local beaches.

Coral colonies also have been affected, according to Mote researchers, who have concluded that coral larvae common in the Florida Keys die sooner when exposed to the oil and Corexit.

University of South Florida scientists have discovered that even smaller creatures, called foraminifera, were killed by the oil, possibly affecting the rest of the food chain.

Some of the record high manatee deaths in the state were attributed to the spill by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Manatees that frequent local waters migrated to and from the northern Gulf after the spill.

Local bird life also has been affected, with North Dakota State University researchers discovering Corexit in dead eggs of white pelicans, a northern bird that winters near the Island in Cortez.

BP and affiliated Deepwater Horizon companies currently are on trial in federal court for violations of environmental laws in connection with the disaster, which killed 11 people.

Manatee County and all three Island cities have prepared lists of environmental projects they will submit to the state for a share in the expected recovery if the verdict is guilty as expected.

Police chief begins work in Holmes Beach

Pat copeland | sun
Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer was
introduced to commissioners and sworn in by City
Clerk Stacey Johnston at last week's commission meeting.



HOLMES BEACH – The city’s new police chief, William Tokajer, did not waste any time during his first day on the job.

“I met with the mayor, checked my e-mail, did a ride along with an officer and went to the elementary school to meet the principal and take a tour.

“At the school, I went through all the areas and got a feel for the campus and the security and told them we were here for them. Then I went to a Crime Stoppers meeting and did paperwork.

“It feels great. I’ve really enjoyed my first day so far. There’s a lot to get accomplished.”

Tokajer, who began his duties on April 10, has a bachelor’s degree in theology, is working toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and has attended the FBI Academy as well as numerous other law enforcement training courses.

He was with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department from 1983 to 1985 and the Bradenton Police Department from 1985 to 2011, rising through the ranks to deputy chief in 2005. After Bradenton, he joined the Longboat Key Police Department before applying for the Holmes Beach job.

Tokajer also serves as president of the board of directors of Manatee Children’s Services, a position he has held for 19 years.

He met his detractors head on by admitting, “Early in my career, I made mistakes. They were more than 20 years ago. Don’t just look at the two things I did wrong, but what I’ve done since. I’ve learned and grown from my mistakes.

“I urge people to look back in their lives and see if there was not something they regretted and learned from. Get to know me and give me the same respect I received from the city of Bradenton.”

Future plans

He said discussing his plans for the department is premature until he can perform a needs assessment.

“I plan to meet with every officer and civilian employee and find out what their goals are,” he explained. “I want them to get to know me in order to remove the element of fear through communication.

“I will get out in the community and introduce myself to business owners, residents and civic leaders and get involved in community events. My intension is to meet as many people as I can. I want to partner with the community.”

Tokajer said he would not change the city’s practice of community policing and officer discretion.

“If anything, I will enhance it,” he stressed. “I want the citizens to be aware of what’s going on in their neighborhoods, to serve a extra eyes and ears, so we can better provide the service to them.

“Officer discretion is the way it’s always been done. You can gain compliance as easily by making people aware of their violations as giving them citations that will cost them money.”

He currently has no plans to name a deputy chief until he can “gauge the skills and knowledge of the officers to see if there is a candidate in house before I make a choice.”

He said he plans to meet with Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale and Anna Maria’s Sgt. Paul Davis, as well as the police chiefs in Longboat Key and Bradenton.

“The great thing people gain in Manatee County is the interagency cooperation with the law enforcement agencies,” he explained. “Everybody works together as a team because we know we need each other.

“There’s no competition between agencies. Criminals don’t stay in one jurisdiction. It’s in our best interest to communicate well.”

He also plans to stay involved in the state and local law enforcement agencies for the networking, knowledge and mentoring opportunities, but said his first priority is to “be the chief of police for Holmes Beach.

“I love doing police work. My passions are God, my wife and family and police work.”

He urged business owners, residents and civic leaders to come in to the police department to introduce themselves and meet him, but check first to make sure he’s in his office that day and not out walking the community.

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