The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 17 No. 17 - February 8, 2017


Road rage Lowered speed limit gets reaction

Carol Whitmore


New speed limit signs dot the right of way along
Manatee Avenue into Holmes Beach, slowing drivers
entering and exiting the city.

HOLMES BEACH — Drivers crossing the Anna Maria Island Bridge may have noticed a recent speed change.

The slow down going in and out of Holmes Beach via Manatee Avenue isn't all due to extra traffic. Beginning Jan. 30, the speed limit from the Manatee Public Beach on Manatee Avenue to the Anna Maria Island Bridge was slowed to 25 miles per hour. Speed across the bridge was slowed from 45 to 35 miles per hour.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, who also serves as the city's traffic engineer, reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation in 2015 and again in 2016 about reducing the speed limit along the quarter mile stretch of road in Holmes Beach. The state agency responded by lowering not only the speed on the stretch of Island road, but also across the bridge on the approach to Holmes Beach.

Tokajer said his primary reason for requesting the change is increased safety on a shared road. With the road frequented by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, he said the speed limit needed to be lowered to help prevent accidents. Another reason for the slow down is the amount of traffic going in and out of Kingfish boat ramp.

"You can't put a crosswalk on a bridge, so we have to slow people down," Tokajer said. "It's dangerous for people to come over that bridge at high speeds. Our whole thing is public safety."

The final speed limit determination was made by FDOT because Manatee Avenue is a state road.

In his opinion, Tokajer said the speed limit slow down was not expected to increase traffic congestion in the area.

He said the public response he's received to the change has been primarily positive.

However, that's not the reaction Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore has received.

In a letter sent to Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson on Sunday, Feb. 5 and obtained by The Sun on Monday, Feb. 6, Whitmore said she fielded calls all last week from people angry over the speed limit reduction.

"You have a lot of islanders that are very upset," Whitmore wrote, adding that she was concerned that no notice was given to residents before the change was made.

"I don't think the speed limit can be reduced on a state road to 25 miles per hour without public input," Whitmore wrote. "I do not recall any public meetings regarding this action by the city.

"I don't believe this was a safety issue, personally," she concluded.

After The Sun posted on its Facebook page a video from Tokajer explaining the speed limit reduction to social media, comments were mixed with a few concerned that the change was to create a speed trap in the area.

While motorists become accustomed to the change, Tokajer said officers will be issuing warnings for minor violations.

Island resident Kelly Smith said the reduced speed limit contributed to an added 30 minutes to her commute off-island.

However, Capt. Mark Howard, owner of SumoTime Fishing Charters of Anna Maria Island, commented that he supports an Island-wide reduced speed limit.

For his part, Tokajer said he hopes motorists abide by the new speed limit and safely share the road.

"You're in paradise, slow down and enjoy the view," he said.

Occupancy appeal being withdrawn

ANNA MARIA – The vacation rental company that unsuccessfully challenged the city of Anna Maria's eight-person occupancy limit has begun the process of withdrawing its appeal to a higher court.

Last week, City Attorney Becky Vose received notice of voluntary dismissal from attorney Randolph Smith and the Najmy Thompson law firm. Smith represents Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes LLC doing business as Anna Maria Vacations. Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes LLC is registered to Joe and Kelley Varner.

"Appellant, Anna Maria Vacations, hereby voluntarily dismiss with prejudice this pending appeal. Each party shall bear his or its own attorney's fees and costs," the notice states.

Vose acknowledged receipt of the notice, but as of Monday morning it had not yet been formally filed with the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland or the 12th Circuit Court in Bradenton where the case was first argued in April.

Withdrawal of the appeal would equate to the original court ruling being upheld, which would mean the city could continue to limit vacation rental occupancy to eight people for rental owners who have not received temporary five-year grandfathering exceptions or permanent two-plus-two occupancy exception granted as a means of settling a Bert Harris claim.

Vose said the city does not agree with the final sentence that pertains to each party paying its own legal fees. She holds this position because in April the city submitted a notice of filing prior to the circuit court hearing that notified Anna Maria Vacations and their attorney that the city would seek reimbursement for legal fees accrued, as allowed by Florida Statute 57.105.

If the appellants do not amend their position on legal fees, Judge Gilbert Smith Jr., the issuer of the original circuit court ruling, would be asked to conduct a hearing to determine who pays the city's attorney fees. Randolph Smith filed the appeal last September in response to Judge Smith's ruling.

Anna Maria Vacations filed its original lawsuit against the city in February 2016 in objection to the eight-person occupancy limit contained in the vacation rental ordinance adopted by the city commission in November 2015.

During the circuit court hearing, Randolph Smith contended the city's occupancy limit was an attempt to circumvent a state law that prevents local governments from prohibiting vacation rentals or regulating the frequency or duration of their use.

"The challenged ordinance prohibits a property owner's ability to rent his or her property by limiting how many people may occupy a vacation rental property at one time. These occupancy restrictions are specifically and uniquely targeted to a single class of property owners, those owning residential property used for short-term vacation rentals," Randolph Smith wrote in his original complaint.

Judge Smith did not agree with that assertion, and in the written ruling he handed down later, he addressed the occupancy limits contained in the city's vacation rental ordinance.

"The ordinance does not prohibit vacation rentals that have historically been rented to more guests than is permitted under the occupancy regulations set forth in the ordinance. The limitation on occupancy is a regulation that does not impinge in any way on the regulatory subjects of frequency or duration of frequency or duration of rental. Therefore, the regulation of the ordinance is not in conflict and is not preempted by section 509.032 (of Florida statutes)," Judge Smith wrote.

Steube's office responds to opposition

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

joe hendricks | SUN

Anna Maria resident Amy Tripp is taking a pro-active
role in expressing her opposition to SB 188.

ANNA MARIA – State Sen. Greg Steube has received many e-mails and letters from Island residents and elected officials expressing opposition to the vacation rental bill he recently filed.

Steube's bill, SB 188, proposes local governments be prohibited from enacting new vacation rental regulations or enforcing rental regulations adopted after June 1, 2011.

Some who wrote to Steube received a stock response from his legislative aide, Elizabeth Bolles.

"Short-term rentals have become a vital component of Florida's tourism industry, granting property owners and visitors more flexibility when planning the duration and location of their stay. These types of rentals also help lift financial burdens off family renters by allowing them to stay together in a home instead of multiple hotel rooms that can get unnecessarily expensive. Property rights are advanced by this industry as well, giving owners the freedom to rent out their property as they so choose," Bolles' response states.

"Opponents of this bill claim that short-term rentals invite the potential for 'party houses' when justifying the restrictions enacted by the cities. But cities have their own local laws that address such nuisance complaints, and all homeowners – full-time or part-time – are subject to these rules. If you as a homeowner feel that neighboring renters are disruptive, urge your city to either enforce existing ordinances or pass stronger ordinances that deal with such behavior.

"The government should not be in the business of picking one person's property rights over another. Further, it is important to clarify that this bill does not affect local homeowners' associations and neighborhoods that have adopted their own covenants, declarations, or bylaws. The bill simply serves to help safeguard a vibrant part of our economy while protecting property owners and renters from overreaching city governments."

Bolles then references HB 883, the vacation rental bill adopted in 2011 that said, "A local law, ordinance or regulation may not restrict the use of the vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals or regulate vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use or occupancy."

The resulting state law did not apply to local laws and regulations adopted before June 1, 2011.

In 2014, the state legislature amended the rental law in a manner that currently states local governments cannot prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the frequency or duration of their use, but can pass other legislation specific to vacation rentals, such as Anna Maria's eight-person occupancy limit.

"For more information on SB 188, please visit Thank you for taking the time to write to Senator Steube," Bolles response concludes.

Local efforts

After reading the response distributed by Steube's office, Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said, "I have one word for it: Arrogance."

Anna Maria resident Amy Tripp is scheduled to meet with Steube at his Sarasota office on Feb. 17. Last week, she began circulating an e-mail that contained a link to an online petition she created: Stop Florida SB 188.

"This Florida Senate bill, SB 188, would strip local governments throughout the state of self-governing vacation rentals. This would devastate small communities due to "investor homes" that seek to have unregulated number of people, and allow for short-term rentals for any length of stay in existing residential neighborhoods. That's why I signed a petition to the Florida State Senate, which says: 'Saving local governments and small communities in Florida to be able to retain control regarding vacation rentals," Tripp's e-mail said.

The petition can be found at:

House threatens to cut funds for Visit Florida

The Florida House of Representatives has proposed a bill that would eliminate state funding for two public/private agencies; Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency, and Enterprise Florida, created to attract new businesses to the state.

The bill would transfer all public funds relating to programs in Enterprise Florida Inc., and the Florida Tourism Marketing Corporation (Visit Florida) to the state's Department of Economic Opportunity.

Both agencies have private funds that would not be cut. In 2015-16, Visit Florida had $74 million in public funding and $133 million in private funding, according to the agency.

The bill was filed last week, two days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature for $76 million for Visit Florida and $85 million for Enterprise Florida, and three weeks after the resignation of Visit Florida Director Will Seccombe in the wake of a secret $1 million contract with rapper Pitbull, uncovered in a lawsuit filed by Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Increased scrutiny revealed that the agency paid $9.1 million to a partnership run by Christopher Thompson, the former Visit Florida executive who hired Seccombe.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione credits Visit Florida with much of the record increases in local tourism.

"The lifeblood of Florida is tourism, and without Visit Florida, it would be a struggle," he said.

Tourism is "all about market share," Falcione said, warning that if promotion declines, state destination competitors such as California and New York will "win all day long."

Colorado decided in the 1980s that it was well known enough to stop marketing itself as a tourist destination, and the result was "devastation," he said.

"The people in Tallahassee, through education, will make legislators realize that Visit Florida works really, really well and keep it intact," Falcione said. "It's not about how the administration did things. It's about how well it's worked."

Visitation to the state increased about 20 percent from 2011-12 to 2015-16, according to Visit Florida.

The bill is set for an initial committee hearing this week. The state Legislative session begins March 7.

Water ferry permit delayed

joe hendricks | SUN

Paradise Boat Tours' Sherman Baldwin and Bradenton Beach
Mayor Bill Shearon discuss the delays in the water ferry permit
Baldwin has requested from the city of Sarasota.

SARASOTA – Paradise Boat Tours and Tevatan LLC General Manager Sherman Baldwin's plans to initiate a ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach have encountered bureaucratic delays.

Baldwin thought he was scheduled to appear before the Sarasota City Commission on Monday, Feb. 6, in anticipation of being granted a city-issued a water taxi license that would allow him to operate his proposed Sarasota-based water ferry service that would make multiple daily trips back and forth between downtown Sarasota and the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

On Monday, Jan. 30 learned that his water taxi permit was not listed on the Feb. 6 agenda because city staff wanted more information pertaining to parking, insurance and other logistical details. The city of Sarasota adopted its water taxi permit ordinance in 2003, but according to Baldwin, he's the first to submit an application.

After conferring with city attorney Bob Fournier and Parking Manager Mark Lyons last week, Baldwin was told early this week that his permit request would be placed on the agenda for the evening portion of the Sarasota Commission's Feb. 21 meeting.

At that meeting, the is expected also to determine where along the Sarasota waterfront Baldwin's ferry passengers will arrive and depart. Because of the existing foot traffic, Baldwin would prefer a location near Marina Jacks or O'Leary's Tiki Bar & Grill, both are which are within walking distance of downtown Sarasota. The third option is the Centennial Park public boat ramp to the north, at the intersection of 10th Street and U.S. 41, near the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

Baldwin was prepared to fly to St. Thomas on Feb. 7 to pick up the ferry boat he will lease until his own boat is finished being built later this year. Those plans have been delayed until he has his permit in hand, and he now hopes to begin the ferry service in late February or early March.

The city of Bradenton Beach does not have a ferry/water taxi permitting process, and commercial vessels are allowed to tie up to the city day dock as long as no financial transactions take place at the public facility.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon had encouraged his fellow commission members to attend the Feb. 6 meeting as an expression of support and he was disappointed to learn last week the permitting decision had been delayed.

Shearon previously sent a letter of support to the Sarasota City Commission.

"Tevatan/Paradise Boat Tours is a valued asset to our community and a business in good standing with the city of Bradenton Beach," he wrote. "We feel strongly that a viable water taxi/ferry service servicing Anna Maria Island, Sarasota southwest Florida will be an important part of the overall solution tour our traffic and parking problems."

On Feb. 7, dressed in his white senior captain's uniform, Baldwin made a ferry/water taxi presentation to county and city officials during the Manatee County Council of Governments meeting in Palmetto, where he also discussed his future plans to add a ferry route between the Island and downtown Bradenton.

Center focuses on fundraising efforts


From left, Executive director Kristen Lessig takes a look Jan. 30
at the quilt created by Joan Pettigrew and the Eyeland Needlers
for the Center of Anna Maria Island's annual tour of homes.
The quilt, named "The Mermaid's Journey," will be a raffle
prize during the March 18 event.

ANNA MARIA — Facing a $135,000 shortfall and with little financial help on the horizon from Manatee County or the three Island cities, the leaders at The Center of Anna Maria Island are looking to fund raising to help close the financial gap.

During a Jan. 30 board of directors meeting, board Treasurer Jim Froeschle said while The Center's activities generally break even, the nonprofit is losing $65,000 a month in overhead costs and expenses. With no government support forthcoming, The Center is looking to other sources to help offset costs.

"We are more dependent on private donations than we have been in a long, long time," he said.

While The Center staff and board are seeking other sources of steady income, it's increasing its dependence on fundraising efforts in the second half of the fiscal year.

A groovy mystery

First up on The Center's roster of fundraising efforts is its annual Murder Mystery Dinner Theater.

This year's event covers two nights, Feb. 17 and 18, and features a taco bar created by the Travelling Gourmet. The play, titled "Shag Another Day: Convention of Evil Doers," follows the exploits of Dr. Upheaval and Awesome Powers. Tickets for the event are $40 each with sponsorships beginning a $100.

Board member Lindsay Sauls said this year, The Center hopes to have 250 attendees each night.

The Center's financial goal for the event is $30,000 from ticket sales, auction items and sponsorships.

A blast from the past

Following the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater is a Musical Dinner Theater March 11, featuring a tribute to the Rat Pack.

Lessig said The Center is foregoing its usual Neil Diamond dinner theater evening for one featuring the stylings of Frank Sinatra.

Plans for the event are ongoing.

Sauls said tickets will be $30 and include dinner and a show.

Tour of Homes

Plans also are underway for The Center's annual Tour of Homes.

Sauls said she's confirmed four Island homes for the tour and is working to add more. With the amount of rental properties on the Island, she said it's been difficult to find homeowners willing to allow the tour through their property.

Tickets for the event are $20, with The Center planning a maximum of 1,000 guests.

A raffle for the quilt, "The Mermaid's Journey," created by the Eyeland Needlers, will take place during the event. Tickets are $1 each or six for $5 for the raffle and are available from board members, at the center and through The Center's Tour of Homes committee. Until the tour, the quilt will be on display in The Center's lobby.

Selling sandollars

The Center's newest endeavor to raise funds is an initiative to sell "sand dollars." Board member Sam Pakbaz is leading the charge, working with businesses to secure discounts for the sand dollar booklets.

Each booklet is projected to cost $20 and contain 100 sand dollars. The sand dollars will be redeemable for discounts at participating businesses. Pakbaz said the amount of the discount will be determined by each business owner.

Though The Center plans to roll out the program in the spring, Pakbaz said the goal for the first year is to bring the booklets to public attention. He expects the booklets to begin raising money in the second or third year.

Before the sand dollar booklets are available to the public, Pakbaz is still looking for some area businesses to lend their support. As of Jan. 30, Pakbaz said he has about a dozen businesses who have agreed to allow sand dollars to be used at their establishments. His goal is to gain 30-50 businesses before the program launches in March or April.

To help make business pitches, Pakbaz created a website for the program to explain what sand dollars are and how they can be used. Once the booklets are released to the public, the website will feature participating businesses and help people navigate how to use sand dollars, including what discounts the coupons can be used for.

In the future, Lessig says she hopes funds raised from the sale of sand dollars can benefit other nonprofits as well.

For more information on The Center or its fundraising events, call 941-778-1908 or visit the newly redesigned website at For event sponsorship information, contact Sauls at

The Center is at 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Two venues for AMICCO young artists


Gabriella Ferra

The Anna Maria Island Community Chorus and Orchestra (AMICCO) will break new ground as it celebrates young artists this month.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, the three artists will be featured in AMICCO's first concert in Sarasota County at Northminster Presbyterian Church. This program will be repeated at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church on Cortez Road in Bradenton.

The concerts will feature two young artists from Lakewood Ranch, violinist Gabrielle Ferra and clarinetist Michael Miller, plus 13-year-old cellist Andrew Bailey, from Sarasota.

Gabrielle Ferra is the 2016 winner of AMICCO's Young Solo Artist Competition. She graduated first in her class of 500 from Lakewood Ranch High School and was the concertmaster of the Sarasota Youth Philharmonic during her senior year. Ferra performs her favorite piece, Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26," at the Feb. 11 and 12 concerts.

Michael Miller, a junior at Lakewood Ranch High School, has played clarinet for five years. He sits first chair in the Lakewood Ranch High School wind ensemble and participates in the marching and jazz bands. Outside of school, Michael performs in the Sarasota Youth Philharmonic. He will perform Weber's "Concertino for Clarinet in E-flat Major, Op. 26."

Andrew Bailey, runner up of AMICCO's 2016 Young Solo Artist Competition, was top prize winner of 2015 Venice Musicale Solo competition and top prize winner of Williamson Young Artist Scholarship recipient. He is a featured soloist of the Venice Community Orchestra, Venice Concert Band and Englewood United Methodist Church Concert Series. He will perform Haydn's "Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major."

AMICCO's Chorus and Orchestra will open with Brahms "Nänie" and close with Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" for chorus and orchestra. The Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island makes the annual AMICCO Young Solo Artist Competition possible by providing the competition's financial award for the winner.

"By bringing these performance opportunities to young talent, we give them the incredible opportunity of performing with an accomplished symphonic orchestra, under the renowned baton and mentorship of Maestro Alfred Gershfeld, AMICCO's Principal Conductor," said AMICCO board President Dr. James Stoltie.

"This is a feather in any musician's cap and something they can proudly list on their resume and long remember."

Tickets are available online at, the AMI Chamber, 5313 Gulf Drive N., Holmes Beach, by phone 410-812-2468 or at the door, if still available.

Slogans change, but historic Cortez festival remains


CORTEZ – In 1982, as a storm of opposition to the commercial fishing industry brewed, local fishermen had an idea that caught on – to give people a fun opportunity to learn about fishing firsthand in the historic fishing village of Cortez.

"The whole purpose was public education that net fishing wasn't the destructive force that some people were portraying it as," said Allen Garner, one of the original festival organizers.

That first year, villagers pitched in to make fish chowder, which was gone by noon, recalls another festival veteran, John Stevely, who stored the $3,500 in proceeds in his trunk until the bank opened on Monday morning. The original $1 admission has only been raised to $4 since then.

In its early days, the festival included a blessing of the fleet and a lineup, by size, of fishing boats in the parking lot, where Stevely would climb from one to the next and describe their uses.

Band stages were set up on boat trailers, Cortez style. Villagers used the fishing fleet to shuttle festival-goers by water from Coquina Beach to Cortez, an early water trolley.

In 1994, Floridians passed a constitutional amendment to ban gill nets, putting most of Cortez out of work.

But the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival survived (don't get caught in Cortez calling it a seafood festival), and its 35th debut is on Feb. 18-19.

Garner and Stevely raided their closets to find their festival T-shirts for The Sun, a longtime media sponsor of the event. Here are the slogans from the T-shirts they found:

1980s Our Net, Your Gain

1990s Navigating in the 90s

1996 Casting into the Future

1999 Our Past is our Future

2001 Fishing for a Future

2002 Fishing for You

2003 If Wishes were Fishes…

2004 Got Fish?

2005 Caught up in Cortez

2006 Mullet, Mangos and Music

2008 Net Working

2009 Claws

2010 White Boot Ready

2011 You Are Here

2012 Something's Fishy in Cortez

2013 Better Fish to Fry

2014 Wishin' I Was Fishin'

2015 I'm a Grouper Groupie

2016 It Takes a Fishing Village

2017 Fishing for our Future

If you have a Cortez T-shirt from one of the missing years, please share a photo with us – e-mail

Enjoy the festival!

35th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival

Music Schedule

Saturday, Feb. 18

10-11 a.m. - Shanty Singers

11:15-12:45 p.m. - Manatee River BlueGrass

12:45-1:30 p.m. - Awards and introductions

2-4 p.m. - Eric Von Band

4:30-6 p.m. - Jason Haran

Sunday, Feb. 19

10:30-noon - Soupy Davis and his band

12.30-2 p.m. – Passerine

12:30-4 p.m. - Eric Von (Bratton Store porch)

2:30-4 p.m. - Karen and Jimmy Band

4:30-6 p.m. - Koko Ray

Fishing festival facts

The 35th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, celebrating "Fishing For Our Future," is scheduled for Feb. 18-19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Entertainment includes eight local bands, nautical and environmental arts and crafts, a children's play area, dock talks and demonstrations by Fishing For Freedom.

The food court will feature locally-caught grouper, stone crab and other selections, with menu items for landlubbers.

Admission is $4, with kids 12 and under free. Proceeds benefit FISH, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, to restore and expand the 95-acre FISH Preserve east of Cortez village.

To find the festival, head west toward Anna Maria Island on Cortez Road to the entrance at the Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W. Free parking is available east of the village off Cortez Road at the FISH Preserve, a five-minute walk from the gate. Free offsite parking is available at G.T Bray Park, 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W., Bradenton (turn east off 59th Street onto 33rd Avenue Drive) or at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island, with a shuttle bus to Cortez ($3 round trip).

For more information, visit or call 941-254-4972.

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