The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 11 No. 36 - June 15, 2011


LaPensee wins Business of Year

Harry Stoltzfus

From left are Shawn LaPensee, Karen LaPensee,
Greg LaPensee and pools manager Tom Sanger. The
company won the Manatee County Chamber
of Commerce Small Business of the Year award.

HOLMES BEACH – LaPensee Plumbing & Pools is one of four winners of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce 2011 Manatee Small Business of the Year awards.

The Island business was honored last week as the winner in the category of small business with more than $2 million in annual sales.

"We never thought that we would win," said Karen LaPensee, company president and incoming chair of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce in November. "We're looking around the room and seeing all these great businesses and didn't think it would be us."

Family-owned LaPensee has operated on Anna Maria Island for 26 years, first as a home-based business in Anna Maria, then in three locations in Holmes Beach, including the current one at 401 Manatee Ave. W.

LaPensee's husband and co-founder, Mike LaPensee, retired last year, and their son, Greg LaPensee, is the new license holder, while daughter, Shawn LaPensee, is marketing director.

In addition to full service plumbing, LaPensee also offers pool maintenance, irrigation service, backflow prevention service, gas piping and 24-hour emergency service at 941-778-5622.

The company also has an interactive Living Showroom, allowing customers to try shower heads and faucets before they buy.

The award winners, who were required to be nominated, fill out applications and be interviewed, were chosen from 98 nominees, and received plaques and certificates.

Bradenton business United Systems Computer Group won in the category of $500,000 to $2 million in sales and Webtivity Design Solutions, of Bradenton, won in the category of less than $500,000, while Environmental BioTech International, of Bradenton, won the Industry Excellence of the Year award.

New uses sought for Thelma by the Sea
Carol Whitmore

The former lodge Thelma by the Sea sits at
its new home in the Historic Green Village on Pine Avenue.

ANNA MARIA – Commissioners were amenable to three requests from Lizzie Vann and Mike Thrasher, of the Historic Green Village on Pine Avenue.

The first was to make Thelma by the Sea a bed and breakfast, the second was to serve beer and wine at evening events at the Village Cafe at Rosedale and the third was to hold a farmer's market at the Village.

Vann Thrasher told the board that she is waiting for a permit to build a foundation for Thelma and begin renovations. Thelma, a former lodging establishment, was moved to the Village in May from its home of nearly 100 years on North Bay Boulevard.

"We had some plans drawn up which show the second floor divided into three bedrooms and a reception area," Vann Thrasher explained. "The breakfast would be taken at the cafe. The ground floor would be commercial space."

She asked if commissioners felt that would be a desirable use for the building, and planner Alan Garrett pointed out that a bed and breakfast is not a permitted use in the residential/office/retail (ROR) district on Pine Avenue.

"Either a single family residence or an upper story residential unit above and office or retail is what the code allows," Garrett said.

Code change

Commissioner John Quam asked City Attorney Jim Dye if any change would affect the entire ROR district and Dye said it would. Quam said he is concerned that changing the code would allow hotels.

"If the commission decides to amend the code, you would have full authority to add definitions or controls to address concerns," Dye responded.

Chairman Chuck Webb asked if the city could provide a special exception section to the code.

"You could amend the code to allow a bed and breakfast as a special use with site plan approval or whatever approval process you create," Dye said.

Mayor Mike Selby asked if it would require more parking spaces. Garrett said one more would be needed.

"It was that type of a structure for many years," Commissioner Gene Aubry noted. "What it is contributing to this city is very important. It's an ideal use for it. Let's investigate this and work with Alan. I think it should be done."

Webb said he has no problem looking into it, but is concerned about the effects on the ROR district.

Commissioner Dale Woodland brought down the house with his remark, "Other than a whore house, it's the perfect use for it," but he said he felt that commissioners should get input from the community and then discuss it again.

Commissioners asked Garrett to work with the Thatchers to develop standards and criteria for a code change and bring it back to them to discuss at their next meeting.

Woodland said it might require a change to the comprehensive plan, but Garrett said it depends on how they define bed and breakfast.

Alcohol at the café

Thrasher said she's had requests from local residents for evening events at the café such as lectures, demonstrations and game and music nights, but people also want beer and wine.

"Can we dispense it some way?" Vann Thrasher asked.

"Our definition says sell or dispense," Garrett explained. "If that is the case, they cannot be within 2,500 feet of a church or another establishment that sells alcohol.

"We know they are, but there is an exception to that if you are a full restaurant, and the restaurant must be open and serving at all times that beer or wine is sold or dispensed."

Vann Thrasher said the café would be open any time there is an event.

Woodland asked how the café could qualify for the exception. Garrett said it would have to serve full course meals including a salad or vegetable, entrée, beverage and bread.

Woodland said the situation arose with the former Tropical Treats restaurant, and owners added one menu item in order to qualify for the exception.

Quam asked what ratio of food is required for the exception and Garrett said 60 percent. Vann Thrasher said hers would be 95 percent. Webb advised Vann Thrasher to "craft what you do to what the code says."

Farmer's market

The third request was to hold a regular farmer's market at the Village, either in the parking lot or on the café deck, during certain months. Vann Thrasher said the issues are rest rooms and parking, and she has 40 parking spaces and outside public restrooms.

"Would it be encouraged or discouraged?' she asked.

Garrett said it would require a special event permit, and the city could issue a blanket one for every Saturday in certain months or amend the code.

Aubry said it is no different from the flea markets held in the vacant lot across from Ginny and Jane E's.

Webb said he has no problem with it and advised Garrett to issue to proceed with the blanket permit if it is not prohibited by the code.

Protest of budget cuts planned


A group of pro-animal activists is asking others to join a protest against proposed cuts in Manatee County Animal Services' adoption programs in front of the old courthouse across from the county administration building at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 16. Protestors are asked to wear green.

According to a release from the Humane Society of Manatee County, the county had originally been working toward a no-kill policy for animals that come to the pound, but now the commissioners are talking about cutting the budget and eliminating those efforts.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore has been strongly in favor of a no-kill policy at the animal control facility and has joined efforts by others toward that end. She urged protestors show up Thursday and said the animal services budget will be discussed by the commission during a budget meeting on July 29 at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers.

Last year, 2,846 animals were killed at the county facility, according to the release. The Humane Society asks that no-kill supporters help reverse that trend by joining this protest.

City wants six lots on Pine

ANNA MARIA – Commissioners said they are in favor of trying to find a way to purchase the six lots at the pier end of Pine Avenue, but want to know the fair market value before proceeding.

Mayor Mike Selby told commissioners that he had talked to the lender, and he offered to sell the lots for $3 million at 3.75 percent interest for 10 years with no payments for two years and interest only payments for 10 years.

"We could control the property for two years while we try to find private money, grants and any other forms of financing," Selby said. "I think the city has missed some opportunities in the past – the marina, Villa Rosa.

"We owe it to our citizens to have a vision of what we see the city looking like in 20 years. I really support the city controlling those six lots."

Commissioner Dale Woodland said it is a "real exciting opportunity for the city," and people in the community support it. Commissioner Gene Aubry agreed.

Chair Chuck Webb asked if the bank owns it and Selby said it is in foreclosure.

Value debate

"The city has the power of eminent domain to take property and pay fair market value, Webb said. "We should find out what that is and compare it to the offer."

"I oppose eminent domain," Woodland stressed. "I want it to be a community effort."

No other commissioner expressed support for eminent domain, but Commissioner John Quam said he would like to know the fair market value.

"I have said for years that we need to start acquiring property for parks," Webb said. "I support it if the city comes up with a plan for its use. If we're serious about this, we need to have an appraisal."

Mike Coleman said Pine Avenue Restoration has had a contract on the property for two years and began negotiating price two-and-a-half years ago.

"We made an all cash $2.5 million offer not that long ago, and it was turned down," he revealed. "Fair market value is a little south of this price point, If the city decides that this isn't the price they want to pay, you should walk away now.

"You can get terms or price, but you can hardly get both. They offered very favorable terms. We think we could raise a half million. The question is what might happen there. Once it's gone, it's gone."

Public Works Supervisor George McKay, speaking as a citizen, urged commissioners also to consider purchasing the lots where Thelma by the Sea stood.

Commissioners asked Selby to get the fair market value on the six lots.

Local birds could be delisted
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

A white ibis feeds along the Bean Point
shoreline with Egmont Key in the distance.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommended last week that 16 species listed as "threatened" or "of special concern" be removed from the state imperiled species list, including the brown pelican, the snowy egret and the white ibis, all found on Anna Maria Island.

The others are: alligator snapping turtle, Florida black bear, Florida mouse, Florida tree snail, gopher frog, Lake Eustis pupfish, limpkin, Peninsula ribbon snake, Pine Barrens treefrog, red rat snake, rivulus, striped mud turtle and Suwannee cooter.

The 16 species are being recommended for delisting because scientists determined they are not at high risk of extinction, according to the commission. Before any change in status occurs, a management plan must be written and approved for each of the species after public hearings.

Forty other species were recommended to remain listed as threatened, including the American oystercatcher, black skimmer, least tern, little blue heron, roseate spoonbill and snowy plover, all found on the Island.

Five species were recommended to remain listed as species of special concern, including the osprey, found on the Island.

April tourist tax collections up

Resort tax collections for Anna Maria Island confirm casual observations that the 2011 winter tourist season was a busy one.

According to the Manatee County Tax Collector's office, resort tax collections from January through April, the most recent month for which statistics are available, were up on the Island from the same four-month period last year.

April was the best month of this year so far, with Island-wide collections up an average of 26 percent over April 2010. April collections in Anna Maria were up more than 73 percent, Bradenton Beach was up nearly 8 percent and Holmes Beach was up 24 percent.

In comparison, resort tax collections countywide were 3.8 percent higher than last April.

The 5 percent resort tax is imposed on short-term rentals including hotels, motels and vacations homes and condominiums rented for less than six months. The tax funds Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau efforts to attract more tourists to the area and beach renourishment projects.

Resort tax collections by city


Anna Maria
January $44,375
February $47,890
March $68,615
April $36,392

Bradenton Beach
January $73,324
February $71,332
March $139,260
April $82,097

Holmes Beach
January $189,888
February $234,260
March $288,950
April $187,549


Anna Maria
January $44,244
February $49,598
March $68,806
April $63,127

Bradenton Beach
January $74,252
February $83,711
March $136,992
April $89,065

Holmes Beach
January $184,824
February $228,275
March $304,006
April $233,679

Source: Manatee County Tax Collector's office

AME to keep resource officer

HOLMES BEACH – One way the Manatee County School Board wants to save money is to get rid of school resource officers who help with school crossing protection and anti-drug training as well as other duties.

While most elementary schools in the district will likely lose their officers, Anna Maria Elementary (AME) will retain its, thanks to the Holmes Beach Police Department.

"We fully plan to staff that position for the school," said Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson. "Officer (Brian) Copeman will be back at his duty when the opening bell rings next school year."

The post of resource officer came about when the police department got a grant to staff the school crossing guard position and to teach the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) course to the fifth graders about 13 years ago. The grant allowed the department to hire an extra officer for those duties and after the grant ran out, the department funded the position.

Copeman was transferred from regular patrol to resource officer in 2007 to replace officer Pete Lannon, who died from cancer earlier that year. The two policemen taught the DARE course to fifth graders for the past 11 years.

While the other elementary schools will be looking for ways to educate fifth-graders on the hazards of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, Copeman will continue to serve AME because, as Police Chief Jay Romine put it several years ago, "We feel it is our way of serving the children of the Island."

Adopt a sea turtle nest

From left, Elizabeth Demboski, Glenn Wiseman,
of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird
Monitoring, Debbie Taylor, Dian Nealey, Rachael Sur
and Linda Sur check out a track made by a loggerhead
sea turtle the morning after it was laid on
Friday, June 10 at Bean Point in Anna Maria.
The pink flag was planted by a volunteer who found
the tracks that morning.

ANNA MARIA – John DeFazio digs carefully into the sand, feeling for leathery loggerhead sea turtle eggs as a group of women gather around and watch, like midwives at a birth.

"How do you know they won't break?" asks one of the group of teachers and friends from Illinois.

"They're not fragile like chicken eggs," says DeFazio, who has been an Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteer for 22 years. "They're thick and flexible."

"Why do you have to dig them up?"

"We don't," he says, explaining that he is only looking for one of up to 120 eggs that could be in the nest to verify the nest's location, which was estimated by the volunteer who discovered the tracks leading to it earlier in the morning.

He will record the nest location using GPS, then stake it so that people don't trample it and date it so that Turtle Watch can monitor whether it hatches.

"Here they are," he says, as the women crowd around, cooing over the turtles-to-be in their freshly-laid eggs.

The maternal instinct prompted elementary school teacher Debbie Taylor to adopt a sea turtle nest through Turtle Watch in honor of the wedding anniversary of her daughter and son-in-law, Lauren and Martin Gribble.

She won't be here to see it hatch, but she took the free tour – offered throughout the nesting season (May 1 through Oct. 31) – to learn about the Island's turtles, since she hopes to become a Turtle Watch volunteer when she and her husband, Gerry, retire and relocate here.

With Father's Day coming up on Sunday, June 19, a paternal instinct to adopt is just as good a reason to join the Turtle Watch family, which protects the threatened loggerheads from natural causes such as predators and high tides, and from manmade causes such as disorientation by lights and beach furniture.

Suggested donations for adoptions are $25 per hatchling and $100 per nest. For information on adoptions and tours, call Turtle Watch at 941-778-5638.

Turtle Watch is collecting photos from past volunteers for a special celebration this summer. Digital or scanned photos can be e-mailed to Suzi Fox at, or call Turtle Watch to drop off photo prints, which will be copied and returned.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper