Vol 8 No. 15 - January 2, 2008


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Persons of the Year: Legacy III

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Top 10 stories of 2007

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Bridge contractor late before

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper County hopes to build fishing pier

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Second property owner sues city

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Audubon volunteers spot several species

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Affaire to Remember returns home

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Island residents volunteer at De Soto National Memorial Park




Persons of the Year: Legacy III

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

e those who can see beyond the immediate future and aim for the overall picture. They go beyond the day-to-day requirements of the job and don’t let setbacks keep them from their goals.

The Anna Maria Island Sun honors three visionaries who have already left their mark on Bradenton Beach and surrounding communities and who are aiming for a new goal that will be a centerpiece for the county and the Island for years to come. For their efforts, Emily Anne Smith, Lea Ann Bessonette and John Chappie, and their not-for-profit group, The Legacy III, are The Sun’s Persons of the Year.

Legacy III’s three made headlines last year when they proposed a nature center and outdoor performing arts hall for Coquina Park Bayside that would be paid for by private contributions and grants. Some were skeptical but others have joined the effort and the original members are optimistic that it will come to fruition.

Residents of the Island already knew about the organization through the Christmas Prelude that it brought to the Bridge Street Pier every Thanksgiving evening. The event drew thousands of people from Manatee and Sarasota counties plus Island residents and those from the adjacent mobile home park for an evening of fun and music to set the stage for the holidays in a way reminiscent of small town America 50 years ago.

The three people behind Legacy III have taken different professional paths. Emily Anne opened a very successful home design business, Lea Ann worked at city hall as a clerk and John, also a successful businessperson, went from volunteering for city boards and committees to getting elected to the city commission and spending six years as a very popular mayor.

Smith and Bessonette moved to the area in 1994 from Atlanta and rented a residence from Chappie. They gathered together at one point and talked about the holidays.

"John talked about a Christmas Prelude they held in Kennebunkport, Maine, and we talked about the lighting of the Christmas tree ceremony we saw in Atlanta," Bessonette said. "We decided we needed something here."

"We knew that if we did it, we would have to fund it," Smith said. "We funded it for four years and then we formed Legacy III to raise funds for it on the fifth year."

The two women were happy when Chappie became a commissioner who could speak for the Prelude. Eventually, the city commission and the Bridge Street Merchants donated funds to Legacy III to keep the celebration going.
As for the project at Coquina, the idea began as the three were talking on the porch of the residence the two women rented from Chappie.

"John wanted a performing arts center and I wanted a nature center," Smith said. "We all wanted a place to listen to music."

The idea of the two structures was part of the Scenic Highway Committee’s Corridor Management Plan and, in fact, renderings of them are in that plan dated June 2000. It went dormant, however, because the Scenic Highway Committee had a lot of other projects on its plate.

Now it has been revived by business leaders and philanthropists, according to Smith.

"I guarantee, it we will fund it totally with private funds," she said confidently.

These three visionaries look forward to controlled growth in Bradenton Beach that will keep the small town ambience that attracted them. Smith is a residential designer who has left her mark on some 107 single-family homes, 245 multi-family units and 12 commercial complexes. Her designs are evident along Bridge Street and the Bridge Street Pier. She talked about the little city where her business, Designs of Excellence by Emily Anne Smith, LLC, is located.

"When I was looking for someplace to open a business, some people told me not to do it in Bradenton Beach because it was considered the armpit of the area," she said. "I told them that I’m just drawn to Bradenton Beach."

Bessonette now works for Emily Anne Smith and Chappie is now a city commissioner, having served three terms as mayor. They continue to work together to make their vision for the future of Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island become reality.

Top 10 stories of 2007

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The year 2007 on Anna Maria Island could have been written by Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…"

Residents were incredulous over an Easter Sunday gang shooting and the shooting of a businesswoman in her store. Accusations of foolishness flew when the state announced the closure of the Manatee Avenue bridge during spring tourist season, and when dozens of Australian pines were removed from the beach and causeway. The worst came with the death of a beloved police officer.

But residents saw the best times, too, including a daring rescue attempt and the opening of a new community center, rekindling belief in the goodness of Island life.

Here are the Top 10 stories of 2007.

1. Residents donated a temporary home and ran the store for Island businesswoman Sue Normand, 63, who is recovering from a December attack at Island Mail and More, where she was shot in the abdomen. Suspect Mark Koenigs, 54, of Bradenton, was wounded and apprehended by law enforcement officers shortly afterward on the beach when he allegedly displayed a gun. Koenigs is charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and attempted murder.

2. The Florida Department of Transportation caused an uproar when it abruptly announced plans to close the Manatee Avenue bridge to the Island for 75 days in April, May and June, 2008. After negotiating with elected officials, FDOT now expects to close the bridge for 45 days in October and November. The $9 million project is scheduled to begin on Jan. 7.

3. High taxes and insurance rates didn’t do the Island real estate market any favors in 2007. After the Florida Legislature passed a property tax relief law that the Florida Supreme Court ruled partially unconstitutional, the Island group, Coalition Against Runaway Taxation, took the lead, backing a proposed, grassroots constitutional amendment that would cap all property taxes at 1.35 percent of the taxable value of a piece of property. The Legislature was so frustrated by the difficulty in passing property insurance reforms that it passed a "Hail Mary" resolution calling on Florida residents "to pray that God would have mercy on our state and protect us from harm."

4. A brand new Anna Maria Island Community Center and its surrounding sports fields opened in November to provide cultural, educational and family support and recreational and social programs to residents of the Island and the mainland, with a special emphasis on offering fun and productive activities for children and teens.

5. Island residents were stunned by a gang-related shooting at Coquina Beach on Easter. Santiago Delgado Jr., 22, of Plant City took a plea deal and was sentenced to one year of house arrest and two years of probation for carrying a concealed weapon in exchange for testifying against his co-defendant, Rene Vasquez Mendoza, of Plant City, charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting three rival gang members. The event sped up plans to reconfigure the beach parking lot to discourage "cruising."

6. Founders of The Legacy III Inc., a not-for-profit organization, proposed building a performing arts pavilion and nature center, at Coquina Park Bayside using funds from private donations and grants.

7. Holmes Beach residents Evan Purcell and Ian Haddix were awarded the Civilian Service Award for their efforts to assist victims of a motor vehicle that drove off the Anna Maria Island bridge and landed upside down in the water in May. One person died in the accident. police say alcohol was involved in the accident.

8. The June death of Holmes Beach Police Department Officer Pete Lannon devastated Anna Maria Elementary School, where he served as Community Police Officer, crossing guard and D.A.R.E. officer. The school memorialized him with Lannon’s Way, a memorial sidewalk, including a flower-covered trellis and a bell made from one of his SCUBA tanks.

9. Stop Taking Our Pines, Save Anna Maria, and other groups and individuals protested the removal of about 75 mature Australian pine trees from Coquina Beach, cut down to make room for the parking lot reconfiguration prompted by an Easter shooting incident, and for a new asphalt beachside path. They also protested the removal of Australian pine trees on the north side of the Palma Sola Causeway that were not near power lines.

10. The battered body of Carla Ann Beard, 29, was discovered on Dec. 1 on the beach behind a house at 50th Street and Fifth Avenue in Holmes Beach. Beard had left the First Step substance abuse treatment center in Sarasota on Nov. 26. No suspects have been arrested.

Bridge contractor late before

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The contractor hired to begin the Manatee Avenue bridge rehabilitation project on Jan. 7 was late completing two other local bridges.

The $9 million project is scheduled to be completed in 400 days, extending the life of the bridge another 10-15 years.

Contractor Quinn Construction Inc. repaired the Longboat Pass drawbridge between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in 2004-05, according to Debbie Tower with the Florida Department of Transportation, which is also in charge of the Manatee Avenue bridge project.

The original contract was for 160 days, but FDOT added a 38-day extension for bad weather and a 220-day extension for "changing conditions," for a total of 418 days, she said.

The project’s start date was April 26, 2004 and the finish date was June 17, 2005. FDOT considered the project completed within the approved contract time, Tower said.

The "changing conditions" included the discovery that the bridge framing was more deteriorated than originally predicted, said Audrey Clarke, public information officer for the Manatee Avenue bridge project.

Quinn also was several months late on a Riverview Boulevard bridge repair project in Manatee County in 2001.

"It’s my understanding they’ve done a better job since the Riverview bridge," Manatee County Commissioner and Cortez resident Jane Von Hahmann said. "It will depend on FDOT and the weather. If Mother Nature cooperates, I believe they’ll make every effort to get it done on time."

FDOT estimates that the Manatee Avenue bridge will be closed for 45 days in late September, October and November, reduced from 75 days in April, May and June after business owners and Island residents complained to local officials about the timing.

FDOT has increased a $10,000-a-day incentive to Quinn for completing the project early to $15,000 a day. A $10,000 daily fine will be imposed for not meeting the contract schedule, with the exception of an emergency such as a hurricane.

Cortez residents and business owners remain skeptical after suffering through traffic congestion and lost business when FDOT added a traffic light, sidewalks, landscaped islands and pedestrian crosswalks to Cortez Road leading up to the Cortez bridge in 2005-06.

The start date for that project was Aug. 15, 2005, with an expected finish date 215 days later on March 13, 2006, according to FDOT spokeswoman Lauren Hatchell. The work, performed by Sarasota-based Apac Florida Inc., was not finished until June 10, 2006, nearly three months late.

The Cortez bridge to the Island was closed for a 57-day stretch in October and November in the mid-1990s, which affected businesses as much or more than the 2005-06 Cortez Road work did, Von Hahmann said.

"We were out in the middle of Cortez Road playing tennis," she recalled, adding that her family closed its former surf shop during part of that project.

Still, she remains optimistic about the Manatee Avenue bridge project.

"They’ve moved the time to October and November, and from that standpoint, that’s the slowest time on the Island. If I was going to pick a time to be closed, that would be it."


County hopes to build fishing pier

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – On a clear day, you can see the Gulf and the bay from the middle of Bridge Street.

The heart of Bradenton Beach’s commercial district has a brand new restaurant on the Bridge Street Pier and if the county has its way, it might have a brand new fishing pier jutting into the Gulf of Mexico some day soon.

Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Department Director Charlie Hunsicker mentioned the possibility of constructing the pier while outlining what the county plans to do on the beaches of Anna Maria Island in 2008.

Hunsicker said his department would have a workshop with Manatee County Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 9 a.m. about constructing a new fishing pier there. He said the other option would be to pave over the northernmost groin along Coquina Beach. There are three groins along the beach that were installed in the 1970s to control erosion and they have fallen into disrepair. The deck on one groin has collapsed and the other two are roped off to prevent people from walking on them.

Former Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, now a city commissioner, said he talked with County Commissioner Joe McClash about building a fishing pier on the Gulf end of Bridge Street and he is glad to see the county is taking the idea seriously.

"I even talked about building a boardwalk to link it with the Coquina Beach Trail," Chappie said. "It would add to the city’s ability to be a destination for traveler and it would be linked to other facilities in a manner where people would not have to use motor vehicles."

Hunsicker said he was familiar with the city’s recent accomplishments and hoped Bradenton Beach and the county could work together again, like they did in getting the funding for the Coquina Beach Trail.

"The city of Bradenton Beach was very successful in developing its bayside with the new pier and restaurant," he said. "I am hoping the county can work with Bradenton Beach in support of another grant to pay for a portion of the new pier."

Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce said he had heard rumors that the county might try to build a new pier.

"I’m excited to hear that those rumors are true and I hope their plans come to fruition," he said. "This is that kind of thing I would like to see done in the city."



Second property owner sues city

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — Another property owner has sued the city and the city commission over a home remodeling project at 504 South Bay.

Now Laura Gee, who lives next door to the property under construction has hired attorney Ricinda Perry and filed suit in circuit court claiming that the city ignored its own laws and codes in a desperate bid to forestall any further litigation from Terry and Patricia Olesen, who own the house at 504 South Bay.

The city commission approved four variances at the property in a quasi-judicial hearing Nov. 15.

The approval of the variances was necessary if a mediation agreement with the Olesens was to stand.

"Therefore, based upon the petitioner’s review of the record, it appears that the Board (city commission) found in favor of granting the variance in large part because of the requirements of the settlement agreement in Circuit Civil Case Number 06-CA-6002, rather than on the city’s Code of Ordinances," Attorney Perry wrote in her petition to the court. "The Board’s decision to grant the Olesens’ variances departed from the essential requirements of the law by misapplying the City’s Code of Ordinances."

That’s the heart of Gee’s case.

The Olesen mediation and settlement came after months of negotiation. Plans to remodel the Olesen house were approved and permitted by the city, but several months into the construction process, a resident lodged a complaint that resulted in a stop work order when it was discovered that a side wall of the remodeling job was in the middle of a public beach access.

The Olesens claimed they owned half of that access. The city said there is no evidence of that. Other problems came to light with the setbacks on the second floor and setbacks with the placement of air conditioning equipment, which Gee says is in the setback and too close to her bedroom window.

During the variance hearing, Gee offered plans showing other places where the air conditioning equipment could be placed and showing that the costs for relocating the equipment would not be great.

For a variance to be approved, an applicant must meet all eight of the criteria set forth by the city.

"They may have met two of the criteria," Gee said. "But certainly no any more than that."

The criteria have to be met with substantial evidence, according to the code. That’s something that the applicant failed to do, according to the lawsuit. Instead, the applicant and the commission simply paid attention to the terms of the settlement agreement to the exclusion of their own codes.

"The mayor said in the newspaper that she wishes the neighbors would work things out," Gee said. "I approached the Olesens and tried to work it out. I showed them alternative plans. I even offered to pay the additional cost. They said they’d get back to me. That was on a Saturday."

Gee said the next day, on Sunday, construction on the installation of the air conditioning equipment began at 8 a.m.

"And now the wall cuts in where the equipment is," she noted. "That will act like a funnel for the noise."

The Olesens have applied for a temporary certificate of occupancy.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction against the issuance of a certificate of occupancy until an administrative law judge can hear the case.

According to city records, no certificate has been issued yet. A call has been made to City Attorney Jim Dye to discuss the matter.

When a citizen challenges a decision like the granting of a variance, which is quasi-judicial in nature, the case goes before judge who looks at all the evidence that was presented at the actual hearing for the variance. Nothing new can be introduced, and the case is decided on the merits of the record alone.

No date for the hearing has been assigned as yet.


Audubon volunteers spot several species

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The Manatee County Audubon Society’s Gulf Circle spotted six more bird species this year than last year in its annual Christmas bird count, but fewer birds overall.

Volunteers with the Gulf Circle, which covers Anna Maria Island, Cortez, Perico Island and northern Longboat Key, found 90 species, up from 84 last year, according to coordinator David Williamson. Individual birds numbered 6,187, compared to last year’s 7,810.

Because birds are hard to track and the number of volunteers changes each year – this year there were 14, down from 17 last year – the numbers can vary greatly from year to year, he said.

The most unusual species spotted were the Least Sandpiper, Northern Pintail, Greater Scaup (unconfirmed), Greater Yellowlegs, Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler.

In one case, not seeing a species is a good thing, Williamson said – there were no sightings of Muscovy Ducks, which invade inland fresh-water ponds throughout Florida, displacing native species.

Also, House Sparrows and European Starlings are considered invasive, but their low numbers may not be accurate since the birds are usually urban dwellers and the count is focused on natural areas like open fields, wetlands, shorelines and beaches, he said.

More information on the overall bird count is at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc, and information about the 2008 Christmas bird count will be available at www.manateeaudubon.org.

Sponsors are needed to offset the cost of a boat rental and National Audubon Society data entry fees for the 2008 count. Call 302-1808 to volunteer.



Affaire to Remember returns home

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The Affaire to Remember, the Island Community Center’s biggest fund-raiser, has a new date this year, Feb. 23, and a new home, the Center itself.

In the past, the annual event has been held in April and many years ago it was moved from the Center to St. Bernard Catholic Church due to lack of space. Now, with the construction of the new Center complete, the event will once again be held in the Center’s gym.

Center officials are lining up exciting raffle prizes including a television set and golf cart. The law firm of Lutz, Bobo and Telfair has donated a 50-inch, Samsung plasma, HDTV and Breiter Capital Management Investment Advisors has donated a golf cart.

Tickets for the golf cart are one for $10 and five for $20. Tickets for the TV are one for $5, three for $10 or seven for $20. You don’t need to be present to win.

You can take a chance on winning the Pick of the Live Auction for a $100 ticket. Only 100 tickets will be sold at the event and you must be present to win.

The event begins at 5 p.m. with the silent auction, champagne reception courtesy of Air and Energy Air Conditioning and Plumbing, open bar courtesy of Anna Maria Oyster Bars, and hors d’oeuvres courtesy of the Chiles Group of restaurants.

Dinner begins at 6:15 with dinner and dessert courtesy of Harry’s Continental Kitchens, salad and rolls courtesy of the Chiles Group of restaurants and wine courtesy of Premier Beverage.

The live auction kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with the drawing for the Pick of the Live Auction. The cash out begins at 9 p.m. An after party will feature the sounds of Shaman for your dancing pleasure.

Tickets to this sell-out event are $150 per person. Affaire and raffle tickets are available from Center board members or at the Center, 407 Magnolia Ave.

Volunteers, donations for the live and silent auctions and table hosts are needed. Call the Center at 778-1908 to volunteer or donate.


Island residents volunteer at De Soto National Memorial Park

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

BRADENTON — The year is 1539. At the mouth of Tampa Bay in what today is known as De Soto National Memorial park, the native people are members of what is now called the ancient Mississippian culture, or the Temple Mound Builders. They grow maize, but do not possess the gold that Spanish Conquistadores found in South and Central America.

Hernando De Soto had already been to the New World. He applied to the Spanish throne for permission to mount another expedition. It turned him down. He applied again with the same results.

Finally, in exasperation, he says the magic words and was granted permission.

Just what were those words? Ask Adam Ksiazek, of Holmes Beach, and he’ll tell you – just as he tells park visitors who start their tour with the video inside the visitor’s center.

"He told them he’d finance the trip himself," Ksiazek says with the authority of someone who has learned a lot about that expedition to our part of the world. "He (De Soto) was ruthless, brutal, stubborn, obnoxious, a military genius. He had led an expedition to the New World 14 years before and returned with gold. He was probably the richest man in Spain."

Ksiazek tells visitors that De Soto raised an army of 700. He loaded nine ships full of supplies he’d need, including 200 horses, war dogs, pigs, chickens and weapons and set sail for what is now known as the mouth of Tampa Bay.

"The poor Indians," Ksiazek relates. "De Soto made slaves of them and made them carry all the stuff wherever he wanted to go. He cut off their legs when they refused. He cut off a lot of noses."

Ksiazek is a born raconteur. His arms wave around, his eyes are alight, and his voice rises and falls with his narrative.

"I really like volunteering here," he said. "You get to meet a lot of people, and the story is just plain fascinating."

Ksiazek, along with John Moerk, of Anna Maria, and Judy and Denny McClarren are regular volunteers at the park, which has been a part of the national park system since 1947.

"I work outside on the grounds," Moerk said. "It gives me a chance to practice my favorite thing — nature photography. You’d be surprised what we see here — gopher tortoises, all kinds of herons, hawks, vultures. There’s just so much wildlife."

Moerk says he walks the trails of the park each week on Mondays, keeping things clean and working to keep the trails cleared.

"It’s great to be outside," he said. "You meet people from all over."

The McClarrens also volunteer one day a week. They work at the reception desk in the visitor’s center.

"You see people from all over the world — the Netherlands, Japan, Europe, everywhere," Judy said. "People are usually surprised at the big role the Spanish played in Florida history,"

Another volunteer and park mainstay is Bernie Harris, who at 95, has been volunteering at the park for more than 35 years.

"It keeps me young," he said. "I like seeing the people from all over the world. We get a lot of people from Spain and Central and South America during the De Soto Festival."

Harris said he especially likes the living history presentations each day during the tourist season.

"You can actually see how the explorers worked and lived," he said. "It’s fascinating. I used to fire the matchlocks and flintlocks during the weapons demonstrations."

The living history presentations take place daily at Camp Uzita, located in the western part of the parking lot. You can catch them from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

There’s a working blacksmith shop complete with a forge. Metal implements that are used in the exhibits are actually made there.

"De Soto took 12 blacksmiths along on his voyage," said Park Ranger Scott Schrader, who works the forge. "And he didn’t lose one in any of the battles or to sickness."

Schrader explains to visitors that blacksmiths went along with the soldiers to make and repair armor, weapons and arrowheads.

"They were an essential part of the expedition," he said.

Visitors can also see the replicas of how the records of the journey were kept by two chroniclers – one for the king and one for De Soto. The implements used in daily living are on display and the "cast" is in period costume.

Well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome along the trails, which wind through forest and mangroves along the bay.

The park is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas, New Year’s and Easter. Admission to the park is free. To get there from the Island, go across the Palma Sola Causeway, turn left on 75th Street and proceed to the end. Park in the parking lot and go to the visitor’s center for maps and information. There’s a little bookstore there with information about De Soto’s journey.

If you are interested in volunteering, call Diana Bauman at the park. The number is 792-0458.


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