The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 47 - September 5, 2012


More houses getting super-sized

HOLMES BEACH – Impressions that residences in Holmes Beach are getting bigger and have more bedrooms are true, according to City Planner Bill Brisson, who reported the statistics to the Holmes Beach Commission last week.

“It’s not your imagination,” he said.

The city’s character was consistent from the 1970s to about 2009, he said, defining character as when at least two-thirds of residences are similar in style. In 2009, larger homes with more bedrooms began to multiply, he said.

Bigger homes with more bedrooms have caused more problems, Brisson said; the commission has been struggling to address noise, parking, overcrowding and trash complaints for months without running afoul of a new state law prohibiting local rental regulations.

One example is on 81st Street, where Barbara Hines makes her home. She changed bedrooms, moving her master bedroom to the back of her home to get away from noisy renters, she said.

“People when they’re on vacation don’t realize they’re in a place where real people work, live and have their lives,” she said. “I don’t think you’ve reached the tipping point yet, but that’s where you’re headed.”

Although most problems are occurring in short-term vacation rentals, the commission would have to limit all rentals, not just short-term rentals, to solve them, Brisson said, suggesting a new concept – Living Area Ratio, or LAR.

LAR, not FAR

LAR is similar to Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which the commission has been debating for several weeks.

A FAR requirement establishes how much floor area a single family house or duplex can have on certain lot sizes, while LAR includes only livable space, usually air conditioned, excluding garages and screened porches, among other areas.

The commission has not determined a fair FAR number that would allow enough room for growing families, but would restrain multi-bedroom vacation rental party houses that are disrupting neighborhoods.

A number previously discussed by the commission has been .3, or about a third of the total lot size dedicated to floor space.

A LAR requirement may be more workable, said Brisson, who looked at the 463 single family houses and 601 duplexes in the R-2 district.

From 1922 to 1979, LARs were .22 or less, Brisson said. From 1980 to 1989, LARs began to increase, reaching .27 in the 1990s, he said.

By 2011, LARs had reached .44, a dramatic increase, he said, adding that the number of bedrooms had increased to 4.6 per home, compared to two-bedroom duplexes characteristic of the city in the past.

Singling out duplexes, the numbers are even higher.

From 1922 to 1999, most of the district’s LARs were .33 or lower, reaching .46 by 2006 and .51 by 2011, he said.

The statistics would justify a decision by the commission to enact an LAR requirement, Brisson said.

The commission must decide if the character change in the city is significant enough to merit action, and if so, whether a LAR requirement would solve the problem, he said.

If the commission decides to limit the size of structures, a LAR of .45 may work, said Brisson, who plans to make another report to the commission on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m., with a definite recommendation.

“The change in character is troubling a lot of people,” Commissioner Jean Peelen said, citing a 10-year-old vision plan in which the city expressed a desire to keep low density housing.

“There will be more if everything is allowed to continue,” Brisson said.

In other business:

Gap rentals

City Attorney Patricia Petruff advised the commission that no gap rentals are allowed in the seven-day minimum rental district. Owners can rent units for less than seven days at a seven-day rate, but can’t advertise or rent for less than seven days, she said.

Peelen had questioned why the code enforcement officer had not cited the owner of a website advertising gap rentals. “Saying ‘Stop that’ is not good enough,” she said.

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said building inspector Bob Shaffer is being trained to handle code enforcement complaints. Peelen asked whether that would be a conflict of interest, since he may have permitted some of the buildings that would be the subject of complaints.

Petruff said subsequent owners sometimes change a building after Shaffer inspects it, but that if something was overlooked in an inspection, it would be a civil court issue.


The commission decided to send to the planning commission a draft ordinance to prohibit pool slides longer than six feet.


Budget hearing Sept. 11

ANNA MARIA – The first public hearing on the $2.28 million budget for 2012-13 is set for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 6 p.m.

Commissioners have set the millage at 2.05, which would generate $28,696 more in ad valorem revenue than the previous year. The millage is the same as 2011-12.

The revenue side shows ad valorem taxes, $1,176,531; electric franchise fees, $150,000; licenses and permit fees, $280,750; communications service tax, $97,039; intergovernmental revenue, $114,000; fines and forfeitures, $29,810; interest revenue, $300; miscellaneous revenues, $204,000 rebates/contributions/donations, $23,280; and stormwater utility revenue, $72,000.

Expenses are: personal, $490,117; operating, $1,246,333; capital outlay, $19,700; project maintenance, $442,145; capital equipment/projects, $17,000 and stormwater maintenance, $72,000.

Department budgets are: administration/finance, $326,710; building, $309,191; code enforcement, $31,694; public works, $341,126; elected officials, $65,648; public safety, $674,244; emergency management, $7,537; projects/ maintenance, $459,145; and stormwater maintenance, $72,000.

The final budget hearing is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 19. A detailed budget is available at city hall.

Special magistrate contracts approved

ANNA MARIA – Commissioners recently approved contracts with attorneys Michael Connolly and Stephen Thompson to be the city’s special magistrates to replace the code enforcement board.

Connolly is the primary, and Thompson is the alternate. The contracts are effective for one year with automatic renewals for one-year periods. They will bill only for time spent in city hall.

“The magistrate will handle the citation system,” City Attorney Jim Dye explained. “At the same time additional code enforcement is also in place. The code enforcement officer can choose to issue a citation or choose to go to the traditional method, depending on the circumstances of the case.”

The citation system includes beach regulations building numbers, fences, flood protection, junk vehicles/boats, noise, recreation vehicles, sea turtle/lighting, signs, stormwater management, visibility triangle and trash.

Uncontested fines are $100 for the first offense and $250 for the second offense. Maximum contested fines are $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second offense. Violations can be contested before the special magistrate.

Building Official Bob Welch said the citation system is ready to go as soon as the city resolves the question of whether Sheriff’s Office deputies will issue citations.

Mayor Mike Selby said a meeting of Sheriff’s Office representatives and city officials would be scheduled as soon as possible to resolve the issue.

Kurt Lathrop retires after 26 years
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Deputy Fire Marshall Kurt Lathrop shows
his award for being named Fire Investigator
of the Year for the state of Florida in 2008.


ANNA MARIA –Kurt Lathrop, of West Manatee Fire District, has fulfilled his childhood dream of joining the fire service and is now ready for other challenges.

“It’s all about helping people,” he said. “It became a rewarding career. I have no regrets.”

“I’m happy for him,” Fire Chief Andy Price said. “He’s had a great career and is moving on to another chapter in his life.”

Lathrop, who was hired by West Side Fire District in 1986 as a firefighter, worked his way up the ranks to become deputy fire marshal in 1998. He continued in that role when West Side merged with the Anna Maria Fire District to become West Manatee in 2000 until his retirement Aug. 31.

Through the years, Lathrop as become best known for his fire investigations with his arson dogs – first Allie in 1990, then Penny in 1998 and Lucky in 2006.

“I always liked fire investigation,” he recalled. “A saw a demonstration of someone who had an arson dog in Pinellas County in 1990. It was the only one in the state.”

Lathrop talked to West Side Fire Chief Ed Cleveland about getting an arson dog and he gave his blessing to the project. He also had support from the other fire districts in the county.

“I established a working relationship with Southeast Guide Dogs and started getting dogs who couldn’t be guide dogs from them,” Lathrop continued.

“I give them their initial training for two to three weeks and then take them to another person for further training. More than 90 dogs have gone through my house.”

The final training for dog and handler takes place over four weeks in Maine, funded by State Farm, and then the pair is ready to go. Lathrop plans to stay with the training program and also will continue his relationship with Southeast Guide Dogs.

“In January, I’ll get a call from Maine that they need a certain number of dogs,” he explained. “I’ll call Southeast and put in the request. I evaluate the dogs, adopt them on behalf of the program and begin training.”

The best and the worst

One of the two best aspects of his job was the investigative side, Lathrop said.

“I got to participate in cases and make a difference,” he said. “An arson dog has to work to eat, so if you are not working a fire scene, you have to work the dog. I’ve always done this on my own time. It was about the program, not the money.”

The second was public education.

“Since I’ve been here, no child in our district has been burned or injured by fire,” he pointed out. “It shows that what we’re doing in the schools is effective. It is money well spent.”

He said Jim Davis, who will take his position as deputy fire marshal, is involved in the Juvenile Fire Setter Program.

“These kids have underlying issues and fire setting is just a cry for help,” he explained. “Through the program some of these things are identified and we can get them the help they need.”

He said he worst part of his job was dealing with tragedy.

“Every time you go out on a call, you’re dealing with someone’s tragedy,” he said. “What’s frustrating is how much of it is preventable. That’s why we spend so much time with kids. We know they’ll get to mom and dad.”

Lathrop, who remarried three weeks ago, has moved to Lake County, where his wife, Josie, a paramedic, works in a hospital emergency room. He has applied to work with her.

“With the career I’ve had, I haven’t lost the passion for what I’m doing, but I’ve accomplished everything I have to offer here,” he concluded. “I hope what I have to offer can be a benefit in other areas.”

Use regulations approved

ANNA MARIA –Commissioners approved an ordinance refining use regulations for the residential, residential/office/retail (ROR) and commercial districts.

In a previous discussion on the ordinance, they changed lot coverage to allow 40 percent maximum impervious surface coverage if the structure is less than 27 feet in height and 35 percent if it is higher to provide an incentive for keeping a home one story.

However, they realized this could penalize owners of homes built seaward of the coastal construction control line, which must be built higher than base flood elevation. Planner Alan Garrett added the following language:

“If the lowest horizontal member of the structure is required to be greater than the base flood elevation for that flood zone, the above stated heights may be increased by one foot in height for each foot above the required base flood elevation. This provision only applies to structures with one living level.”

Commissioner John Quam asked how the new lot coverage percentages would be affected if the city adopts the floor area ratio concept. FAR determines the maximum of amount of square footage allowed in a house.

Garrett said they could delay approval of that portion of the ordinance or adopt it and then change it if the commission adopts FAR.

“I don’t want something we may do in the future to stop what we do now,” Commissioner Dale Woodland said. “The intent of the 40 percent lot coverage was an incentive. Leave this and deal with FAR later.”

The others agreed.

Budget hearings this month in Bradenton Beach

The Bradenton Beach City Commission takes public comment on its 2012-2013 budget at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5 and 19. This is the public’s final chance to comment on the upcoming budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

The proposed $2,421,019 budget would provide a 2.5 percent pay raise across the board for city employees and money for a new police car. Some projects the commissioners want will have to wait, until the economy improves. The commissioners voted to raise the millage rate, essentially the property tax rate, from 2.1359 to 2.3329, an additional $19.70 per one thousand dollars of taxable property value. This is the first raise in the millage rate since 2005.

Minor flooding, beach erosion left in Isaac's wake

Tropical Storm Isaac was an exercise in hurricane preparedness, leaving Anna Maria Island with little trace of the wrath it showed to Louisiana last week as a hurricane.

“We had to do a lot of prep,” including putting up storm shutters on the front of city hall and removing trash cans from trolley stops and beach ends, Holmes Beach Public Works maintenance foreman Gary Blunden said.

Before the shuttering was finished, the storm had veered west, away from the Island, so the remaining shutters were not installed, he said.

“There is some erosion on the beach,” Blunden said, adding that crews had to dig out several benches from the sand.

Only a few tree limbs came down and streets were no more flooded than they are in a heavy rain, he said.

Tropical Storm Debby in June was much worse in terms of flooding, with Isaac only causing some “ponding,” Bradenton Beach Public Works Director Tom Woodard said.

A boat came loose from its moorings and was swept into the Bradenton Beach Pier on Tuesday, Aug. 28, doing a small amount of damage to the hand rail and some boards, which have been replaced, he said.

People filled a lot of sandbags in Anna Maria in advance of Isaac, but no damage was reported, Anna Maria Public Works Director George McKay said, adding that the storm caused no flooding in the city.

Both the Rod and Reel Pier and Anna Maria City Pier closed down when the winds increased, but “It was very mild and manageable,” McKay said.

Lifeguards closed the north end of Coquina Beach as a precaution to keep people from getting caught up in rip currents, but Isaac caused no more trouble than a typical cold front, said Collin Schmidt, of the Marine Rescue Division of the Manatee County Public Safety Department.

Despite the storm, sea turtles continued to nest, including an extremely late nest laid on Aug. 30, which is due to hatch the week before turtle season ends on Oct. 31, according to Pete Gross, of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

Osborn expert investigated

BRADENTON BEACH – A former medical examiner hired by Kelly Osborn to prove that her daughter’s apparent suicide was a murder is under investigation by the State Attorney’s Office in Pensacola, according to the Pensacola News-Journal.

A storage unit rented by Dr. Michael Berkland was auctioned last month in Pensacola, and inside, the new owner discovered human remains, including brains, heart and lungs, in disposable cups and containers, according to the report.

The remains appear to be from more than 100 autopsies that Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in the Florida Panhandle, according to the report.

“After I had time to think about it, it doesn’t bother me at all, other than I feel bad for the other families,” said Osborn, who insists that her daughter, Sheena Morris, was murdered.

Morris, 22, was found hanging from a showerhead at the BridgeWalk resort by Bradenton Beach police the day after neighbors reported a disturbance in the room she shared with her Tampa boyfriend, Joseph Genoese, who was not charged in the case. Police determined the death to be a suicide.

Berkland reviewed Morris’ original autopsy and the subsequent autopsy that Osborn paid to have done later, criticizing the conclusion of suicide, Osborn said.

“It’s my understanding that nothing illegal has been done. He’s also a teacher and he uses tools, like K-9 trainers train search and rescue dogs with human remains,” she said.

“How is this different from part of my daughter’s remains rotting away in the police department in a non-climate controlled environment?” she asked, referring to Morris’ fingernail clippings held in evidence at the Bradenton Beach Police Department that she has requested to be tested for DNA evidence.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said that Osborn’s expert has lost credibility.

“I hope this lays the case to rest,” said Speciale, who has invited Osborn to present new evidence to his department, and says she has not done so.

Osborn wrote Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Aug. 23 requesting that FDLE investigate the case and use information she obtained from Berkland and others.

The FDLE is reviewing the original investigation, but Osborn said that investigators have not contacted her for information.

Osborn, who founded Mother Seeking Justice, online at, is organizing a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 6:30 p.m. followed by a free self defense class at 7:45 p.m. at Pro Karate Center in Palm Harbor, Fla., in honor of Morris and 35-year-old Indian Rocks Beach police academy cadet Kelly L. Rothwell, who has been missing for a year and a half.

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