This election in the Anna Maria Island city of Holmes Beach presents stark contrasts for voters as they cast ballots for city commissioner and mayor. This is a battle between vacation development, business interests and status quo incumbents versus neighborhood preservation, personal values and citizen outrage.
Put another way, this is family-friendly versus party-hearty. New duplexes with a dozen bedrooms and two pools that can accommodate more than 25 vacationers disrupt neighborhoods with noise, trash and parking violations.
The issue has been simmering for several years now, but has reached a boiling point in this election.
With four candidates vying for two commission posts and two campaigning for the mayor's office, the lines are clearly drawn. Two sitting commissioners and the current mayor are contending against three neophyte candidates compelled to campaign against the invasion of giant vacation duplexes that are upsetting the tranquility in traditional low-rise neighborhoods of permanent residents.
Incumbent Commissioners Sandy Haas-Martens and John Monetti are dueling with Marvin Grossman and Judy Titsworth, with the top two vote-getters winning commission seats. Mayor Rich Bohnenberger faces challenger Carmel Monti in the other contest.
All three challengers call for strict enforcement of the city's land development codes, describing current applications of building rules too lax. The city's building inspector was fired last month over enforcement irregularities.
Titsworth represents the third generation of the Holmes family, founders of the city. She has been urging commissioners and the building department to quit approving two duplex units on one city lot, questioning their interpretation of the land development code. She calls for enforcement of the current code, including parking requirements that are not followed.
Titsworth, who works in the building industry, also advocates policy changes on buffering, screening and landscaping to reduce noise and privacy concerns. On her own, she has reviewed new home construction and found non-compliances and setback encroachments as well as a lack of required documentation on file with the city -- which points to troubling signs with the building department.
Grossman put his position on the over-development of short-term resort housing in simple terms: Approvals of large-scale duplexes "need to stop." Furthermore, he embraces smart growth "within a vision that ensures that building density is compatible with our historic, small-town atmosphere."
He calls for reform of the building department, strict enforcement of land codes and other steps to halt the proliferation of the big duplexes.
Mayoral candidate Monti espouses similar positions as Titsworth and Grossman, all to retain the character of the island. With his background leading successful businesses, he intends to operate City Hall in a similar manner and hold public servants accountable.
Bohnenberger wisely cautions the commission against adopting rules that limit rentals because a new state law could come into play and void even current restrictions. Private property rights are another issue that must be dealt with warily.
With eight years as a commissioner, another eight as mayor and seven years as a director of the Florida League of Cities, Bohnenberger's knowledge of government and his cautionary advice should hold great weight. If these challengers win, they should proceed with this warning in mind.
Like Bohnenberger, Haas-Martens and Monetti have served Holmes Beach for many years, and all are trying to work through the difficulties with vacation rental properties.
But the Herald Editorial Board considers this election a prime opportunity for change and new leadership to take Holmes Beach in a different direction.
We recommend Marvin Grossman and Judy Titsworth for election to the City Commission and Carmel Monti for mayor.
Candidates who do not receive the Herald Editorial Board's endorsement are invited to submit a response of up to 300 words by 5 p.m. the day after the endorsement appears in print. Those can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 745-7047.