The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 14 - January 6, 2010


District justifies building purchase

HOLMES BEACH – West Manatee Fire commissioners approved the purchase of a building on Third Avenue West in Bradenton for $1.1 million using the contingency fund.

The building will house the district’s administration, and it will cost $400,000 to $500,000 for renovations. Prior to the vote, the commission took comment from members of the public that had come in response to a letter they received from Holmes Beach Commissioner Al Robinson opposing the purchase.

Robinson told the board, “Rethink this; justify this. For five people an 11,000 square-foot building to store uniforms and bunker gear. You have a fiduciary responsibility to the people. You’re out of control.”

However, Holmes Beach Commissioner Pat Morton disagreed noting, “If he would have called the chief and sat down with him for half an hour and learned the facts, he wouldn’t have sent the letter.”

Realtor Don Schroder cited an area real estate analysis and said it found that rental fees are dropping and more space is coming available.

“Hold off and start looking at the market,” he advised. “There’s a lot better things to come.”

Ron Robinson, of Holmes Beach, said spending 50 percent of the purchase price to remodel the building is excessive, and Scott Ricci, of Holmes Beach suggested that the district rent office space instead of purchasing a building.

“Explain some of the challenges that created this need to have to renovate this large building when there’s tons of commercial property available,” Larry Chatt, general manager at Island Real Estate, asked the board.

Justifying the purchase

Commissioner Jesse Davis said that in 2008, commissioners took a field trip to the district’s three stations to assess conditions.

“They we cramped, unsafe and not a good environment,” he said.

That same year, commissioners established the fire facilities committee to make recommendations on upgrading the facilities. The facilities committee met from July to September 2008, when it recommended that the fire stations and administration building be upgraded or replaced.

The board accepted proposals for a needs assessment and evaluation of the existing buildings. In June 2009, the board approved its committee’s recommendation of the ToTeMS architectural firm, which began work.

In October, the board learned about the building for sale and began negotiations to purchase it, and in November, it approved the purchase.

“The building meets all our needs,” Chief Andy Price pointed out. “We have 10 (administrative) staff and 3 battalion chiefs, so we need 13 offices. The other part that will make a huge difference for us is having all of us in one location.

“And it’s not just offices; it’s ancillary space. We can take items we are storing at other stations, like public records, and move them to a central facility and open up space at the stations.”

Davis said federal and state regulations required the district to hire more firefighters and noted, “We did that and we don’t have room for them.”

Price said the district also considered purchasing land and constructing a building or renting space, but those options were as much or more costly.

Finding financing

Price said he received three proposals for financing, but he was not happy with any of them.

“It’s been a real struggle trying to get proposals, because of the economy, time of year and this is really small for a government commercial loan,” he said.

Proposals were from Whitney Bank for 6 percent with a five-year balloon, Leasing 2 for 6.9 percent with a 20-year term and from Suntrust Bank for 5.54 percent with a15-year term.

“I’m uncomfortable proposing any one loan,” he told the board. “I ask you to consider using our contingency fund to purchase the building and work on financing over the following six months to replenish the fund. We have a deadline of Jan. 4 to purchase the building or ask for an extension.”

Commissioner Jesse Davis asked how much is in the contingency fund, and Price said $1.3 million. Davis asked if using the contingency fund would affect assessments and Price said no.

The board voted 3-1 in favor of Price’s recommendation with Davis dissenting and Commissioner John Rigney absent.

Parking panel meets Friday

ANNA MARIA — A committee charged with coming up with suggestions for balancing the parking needs of the business district with the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists is set to meet Jan. 8 at 10 a.m.

The committee will discuss parking in the residential/office/retail district, which runs along Pine Avenue and a part of Gulf Drive just south of Pine.

Currently, most businesses along that corridor have their parking spaces head on onto the property. The safety concerns arise because cars have to pull across the sidewalk to park and then back out across the sidewalk into the street to exit.

The mayor and each commissioner appointed one member to the committee.

Larry Albert, Tom Aposporos, Gene Aubrey, Micheal Coleman, Mike Pescitelli and Terry Schaefer form the group. Commission Chair John Quam appointed City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus to be the commission liaison.

Stoltzfus formed his own committee shortly after his election to the commission in November. Since the Anna Maria commission’s usual manner of creating committees is for each commissioner and the mayor to appoint a member, the Stoltzfus committee has been replaced with this new group.

There were objections from some residents and from Stoltzfus about the appointment of Coleman, the managing partner of the Pine Avenue Restoration Project and Tom Aposporos, a realtor who does some work for PAR on the grounds that that make the committee lean too far in the favor of PAR.

Commissioner Chuck Webb, who named Coleman to the committee, said that he thinks everyone should be heard.

“The more voices you hear in a problem solving situation, the more likely you are to come up with solutions that meet with everyone’s acceptance,” he said.

Commissioners have asked that the committee act as quickly as possible.

A joint meeting of the planning and zoning board and the city commission to address the ROR parking issue is slated for Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. in city hall.

Person of the Year: Charlie Hunsicker

AMISUN News Robbery Banker

Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Natural Resources Department, is a natural resource himself, according to his colleagues, and is The Anna Maria Island Sun’s 2009 Person of the Year.

“He’s got the vision, he’s got the passion, and when you have those two things, you’re pretty much unstoppable,” Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon said.

The soft-spoken Hunsicker is equally at home in a suit and tie making complex presentations to elected officials or donning a mask and fins to snorkel for scallops in seagrass beds during Sarasota Bay Watch’s annual scallop census.

He is often seen bicycling in Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton, which he was instrumental in acquiring for the county, along with a historic Palmetto home that will serve as the preserve’s welcome center and natural resources department office.

“Instrumental” is a word echoed by many colleagues describing his role in helping secure the county’s 14 preserves, comprising 30,000 acres.

“He single-handedly pushed the importance of preserving lands to the county commission,” Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “He has been instrumental in getting the county to write grants to help purchase these lands. He’s so calm and collected and has a way of getting officials, from those in Washington D.C. on down, to work with him.”

“He has been instrumental in bringing to the board the reasons why it should buy these lands, and then he would be the key person who would work with the land owner,” former County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann said. “Once the county acquired the land, he made sure the design met all the criteria to get grant funds to do the work, and he did it all on a shoestring budget. I don’t know where we’d be without him.”

Hunsicker also is the main force behind the county’s beach renourishment program, taking over from Jack Gorzeman as the county’s liaison for the first renourishment in 1992.

At the time, the quality of the sand that carpeted the beach was less than desirable - heavy, full of shells and gray. While it resisted high winds and surf, it was not the white sand that had always attracted tourists to the Island’s beaches.

Rick Spadoni of Coastal Planning and Engineering, the company that engineers the county’s renourishments, said that the sand was the choice of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Corps had a different view of the sand,” he said. “They chose the sand for storm protection instead of aesthetics.”

Spadoni said that Hunsicker realized they would need better quality sand for the second renourishment.

In 2005, Hunsicker traveled to Washington D.C. and got an agreement to give the county control over the sand selection, Spadoni said, adding, “That second project produced much more appealing sand.”

Hunsicker helped forge an agreement in 2009 with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Port Dolphin to salvage beach-quality sand from an underwater site slated for pipeline construction that would have made the sand off limits for renourishment for the next 20 years. “He’s one of those people who takes a project and gets intimately involved and makes sure all the details are covered,” said County Commissioner Joe McClash, who was Manatee County Port Authority chairman during much of Port Dolphin’s application process. “He has great skills in bringing a project to completion.”

Hunsicker also worked out a solution to the erosion problem on the north end of Anna Maria.

“It was not considered a coastal area by DEP and so it was not eligible for state funding,” Spadoni said. “Charlie worked with the state to get that land classified as critically eroded all the way up to the Rod n’ Reel Pier, which opened the door for state funding and permitting.”

Hunsicker recently announced that he hopes to preserve at least one of the three erosion control structures on Cortez Beach from demolition by DEP and the Army Corps during the next beach renourishment, citing their function in protecting Gulf Drive from erosion. The piers are prized as recreational areas by surfers, anglers and divers.

Spadoni said that Hunsicker is a champion of the beaches and he finds ways to make sure they get what they need.

“He never lets constraints constrain him,” he said. “He uses a lot of good, common sense and I am honored to work with him.”

He also has a way with people, according to Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, who reports to Hunsicker under her contract with the county to oversee sea turtle and shore bird nesting activity on the beach.

“I was nervous about meeting Charlie. I had loved working with Jack (Gorzeman), and anyone taking over from him had big shoes to fill,” she said, recalling her first impression of Hunsicker.

“There he was with those wonderful blue eyes. He had a kayak strapped to the top of his car singing along with a Beach Boys song coming from his car… it was at that moment that I knew Manatee County was saved. He really gets it.”

-- Staff writers Tom Vaught, Pat Copeland and Laurie Krosney contributed to this report.

Chickee hut first step in Gulf Drive Café plans
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT This chickee hut on the beach at the
Gulf Drive Cafe will soon be available for catered events such
as parties, reunions and wedding receptions. The next stage
of the cafe's expansion will be a tiki bar.

BRADENTON BEACH – The first phase of the Gulf Drive Café expansion, at 900 Gulf Drive N., in Bradenton Beach, is finished. Workers for Seminole Chickee Hut have completed the construction of the large hut that will be used for special events booked through the café such as parties, wedding receptions and other celebrations.

“They still need to apply the fire retardant on the fronds,” said Gulf Drive Café Bar Manager Michael Nation. “Then we’re going to put a concrete floor with tile under it.”

Chickee huts are Native American homes used primarily in Florida by tribes like the Seminole Indians, according to

Chickee houses consist of thick posts supporting a thatched roof and a flat wooden platform raised several feet off the ground. They do not have any walls. During rainstorms, Florida Indians would lash tarps made of hide or cloth to the chickee frame to keep themselves dry, but most of the time, the sides of the structure were left open.

Chickees are good homes for people living in a hot, swampy climate, according to the Web site. The long posts keep the house from sinking into marshy earth, and raising the floor of the hut off the ground keeps dangerous animals like snakes out of the house. Walls or permanent house coverings are not necessary in a tropical climate where it never gets cold.

Chickee huts have other positive attributes to businesses wanting to build a structure that can protect customers from the elements.

Under Florida statutes, chickee huts are treated differently in the review process than all other open-air pavilions. A chickee hut is defined as an open-sided wooden hutwith a thatched roof of palm or palmetto or other traditional materials, devoid of electric, plumbing or other non-wood features, and constructed by either the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians or the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

A chickee hut is exempt from the permitting process, but not exempt from zoning district regulations. The preliminary step in the construction process is for the applicant to request a zoning verification letter. With the zoning verification request, the applicant needs to submit a site plan with scaled dimensions of the structure, including setbacks and height, proof that the builder is a member of either tribe, and drawings and/or images of the proposed structure showing the open design, roof materials and height.

When the state drops the permit requirement to build such a structure, it cuts engineering costs, especially when the construction is within the coastal construction zone, as it is at the Gulf Drive Café.

While approving the chickee hut, the Bradenton Beach City Commission required that the owners not build in water, sewer or electrical utilities so as to use it as a permanent food or refreshment conveyance. That keeps it within the state requirements of a legally approved chickee hut.

Nation said that the next phase of the expansion would be construction of a tiki bar between the restaurant and the chickee hut, which will serve as a waterfront food and drink conveyance. The tiki hut would have room for dancing.

“We’re looking at mid-April to finish the tiki bar,” Nation said. “We won’t get a state liquor license until the tiki bar is finished.”

Meanwhile, the Gulf Drive Café remains open serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Inquiry continues into fatal crash

Bradenton Police traffic homicide investigators are still trying to figure out what caused a 79-year-old man to steer his 2004 Mercury Sable sedan into an oncoming Mack Truck tanker truck about 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 1, on the Palma Sola Causeway near the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

The accident killed Frank Walwer, of Bradenton, and injured the driver of the truck, which was used to haul cooking oil from traps at restaurants.

Walwer was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, but died around 7 p.m. Alfred Sevegny, 57, suffered minor injuries and was treated at Manatee Memorial Hospital. The truck, owned by Blue Septic Systems, was empty at the time.

The crash compelled authorities to close the Causeway for a couple of hours while they investigated the crash and tried to clean up spilled diesel fuel. Crews returned over the weekend to work on the fuel, which was centered on an area north of SR 64 that they cordoned off with police tape. Officials estimated between 40 and 50 gallons of fuel spilled, but they said none of it got into the Intracoastal Waterway to the west of the accident scene. Crews will excavate the dirt inside the taped off area this week to make sure it does not eventually end up in the bay.

Cortez fisherman opens quota brokerage

CORTEZ – Glen Brooks saw a need and filled it as fast as a fish takes bait off a line.

The Cortez fisherman’s startup company, Gulf of Mexico IFQ Inc., brokers sales, leases and trades individual fishing quotas among Gulf of Mexico fishermen in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Brooks, with business associates Jason Bates and Lloyd Geiger, opened the virtual doors of the online business three months before the new Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, system for allocating the commercial grouper catch went into effect on Jan. 1.

Fishermen can buy, sell, lease or trade shares, allocations, permits and endorsements for red or gag grouper, snapper, tilefish and other Gulf fish, allowing fishermen who do not qualify to catch grouper under the new regulations to stay in the game, Brooks said.

“People with excess amounts of quota are calling me up and trading with people who need them, bringing in smaller and newer fishermen,” he said.

The new IFQ program divides grouper catch quotas among eligible commercial fishermen based on their landings between 1999-2004.

The program creates a year-round commercial fishing season and eliminates fishery closures, giving fishermen the flexibility to fish when weather and market conditions are favorable, instead of having to race to catch fish before the overall quota for the fishery is met.

More than 80 percent of commercial grouper and tilefish fishermen who responded to inquiries from fisheries regulators favored the program, including Brooks, president of the Clearwater-based Gulf Fishermen's Association, which represents more than 200 members throughout the Gulf region.

Critics say the program favors old-timers and large-scale operations to the detriment of newer, smaller operations.

“There’s a down side for people who can’t afford to buy or lease additional quota,” Brooks agreed.

The unique solution: Fishermen can go out and catch fish, call the company on the way back to the dock with the poundage, and the company will transfer the amount of quota they need to cover the size of their catch, which will pay for the transaction.

The arrangement also helps fishermen who catch a type of fish they don’t have a quota allocation for, he said. For example, if a grouper fisherman happens to catch red snapper but has no snapper IFQ, he can trade his grouper IFQ for snapper IFQ or lease a snapper IFQ and avoid throwing the fish overboard to die.

Brooks said the idea for the business came to him last year when he met brokers during a visit to British Columbia to study the IFQ system and later learned that no such brokerage firms had been started in the Gulf region, even though the grouper IFQ system was scheduled to begin on Jan. 1.

“We always figured that two or three brokerage firms would spring up,” but so far, his is the first in the region, Brooks said.

IFQs are relatively new to the southeastern U.S., but have been used in British Columbia, Alaska and New Zealand for several years.

An IFQ for red snapper has been in effect in the Gulf for three years, and has been successful for fishermen, fish house and fish stocks, Brooks said.

While it may be easier to sell quotas on the Internet than to catch them in the Gulf, Brooks intends to continue fishing, he said.

“This is not what I ever wanted to do, but it needed to be done,” he said. “I’m not leasing any of my quota yet.”

Visit the business at

Hunt petition in hands of attorney

A legal challenge to actions of the Anna Maria City Commission has been turned over to City Attorney Jim Dye.

Dan Lobeck, a land use attorney, filed the petition on behalf or Robert and Nicky Hunt and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Muzzy and Pineapple Corner, LLC, the owner of 303 Pine Avenue.

The petition was delivered to the city on Dec. 23, just before closing.

“The petition is with the attorney,” said Mayor Fran Barford. “We’re going to address the situation. It’s in the pipeline, and we’re coming up with a plan.”

Barford said that because of the holidays, she doesn’t know exactly what the city’s response will be, but that’s up to the attorney.

In the petition, there’s a challenge to the city’s comprehensive plan and code of ordinances in which the density and intensity of the residential/office/retail district is challenged.

In the petition, Lobeck alleges that Policy 1.2.1 of the comp plan is inconsistent with section 114-282 of the city code. The code permits a higher density of residential units per gross acre, according to the petition.

“Under 1.2.1 of the comprehensive plan, a property owner would be required to have a minimum lot size of at least 7,280 square feet to insure that no more than six (6) residential units would be constructed per gross acre as required by the comprehensive plan,” the petition states. “Section 114-282 of the code, would permit a person owning 5,000 square feet to construct a residential unit, which would be the equivalent of permitting 8.7 units per square acre.

The petition specifically refers to a site plan for a 5,000 square foot lot at 216 Pine Avenue, arguing that since in the case of an inconsistency between the comp plan and the codes, the comp plan prevails, and the site plan should be denied.

The Hunts own Pineapple, LLC, upon which they plan to build a three-story structure.

Their plans were turned down by the city commission several years ago. The Hunts successfully challenged that denial in the courts. Subsequently, they will be allowed to build what will be the only structure with three usable floors in the ROR district.

The P&Z board and the city commission tightened the codes after the Hunt’s challenge. As it stands now, only two usable floors are allowed in any structure in that district.

The city has 30 days to respond to the petition.

If the site plan is not denied, Lobeck asserts that his clients will take further action.

Holmes Beach man knows his hockey
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO PROVIDED The Gulf Coast Flames team,
coached by Holmes Beach resident Fred Eaton, is on track
for a national hockey championship in the 13- to
14-year-old young men's division.

HOLMES BEACH – The beaches of Anna Maria Island and the cold ice in a hockey arena are about as opposite as you can get, but one resident of our fair Island makes a living coaching youngsters in hockey, and his team is making a run at a national championship.

Fred Eaton, of Holmes Beach, coaches the Gulf Coast Flames in the Statewide Florida Hockey League, sanctioned nationally by USA Hockey.

He coaches the Bantam AA Division Red team, consisting of 13- and 14-year-old boys.

“We won the national championship three years ago,” he said, “and it looks like we’re making another run for the national championship.”

They work out of the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex near I-75 and the team practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“So far, we’re in first place nationally,” he said. Our regular season ends in March and then we go into the playoff s in April.”

As for coaching the youngsters, Eaton has been doing it for 18 years, and he temporarily moved up to the pros at one time as part of a Stanley Cup winning team.

“I coached with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004,” he said, “but I returned to coaching the kids where I enjoy it more.”

His current team is 9-0 statewide and they have a 77-8 edge in goals scored.

Eaton said that their players tryout for the league and many of them come from private schools or the public education system. He said a lot of them are playing for scholarships.

No matter what the weather is outside, Fred Eaton enjoys making his living on the ice and returning home to the Island at night.

“Ive got the best of both worlds,” he said. “I coach hockey and I live on Anna Maria Island.”

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