Vacation rental duplexes an issue for Holmes Beach, newly elected officials say

mvalverde@bradenton.comNovember 8, 2012 

HOLMES BEACH -- The three candidates who just ousted incumbent Holmes Beach city officials all seem to agree on one thing: They want to keep their city's "low-key Florida" profile. And in doing so, they say they're ready to listen to constituents, enforce city codes and keep developers in check.

A day after their victory, they walked the streets, pointed out problems and proposed solutions.

"We have a lot of concern on the island," said Carmel Monti, Holmes Beach's newly elected mayor. "There are a lot of rentals that are overextended in terms of sizes ... it's a congestion problem."

The city, one of three on Anna Maria Island, is seeing a spurt of "out-of-control buildings" that are sometimes being rented out to more people than should fit in the buildings, Monti said. Some new vacation rental duplexes are creating parking, noise and trash problems.

Monti will serve a two-year mayoral term after winning 54.46 percent of the votes, compared to Rich Bohnenberger's 45.53 percent. Bohnenberger served as mayor a total of eight years and also served years as a commissioner.

"We want growth, but we want old growth, we don't want it out of control," said Monti.

Judy Titsworth and Marvin Grossman respectively received 36 percent and 25 percent of the votes Tuesday, and as the top two vote-getters will become the new city commissioners in the five-member board. Both attribute their election victories to their push to regulate the rising multiple stories duplexes and mission to improve residents' quality of life.

Departing commissioners John Monetti and Sandy Haas-Martens both supported the new rental duplexes, the Bradenton Herald has reported. Bohnenberger, Monetti and Haas-Martens could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Developers are "finding a way around" city codes that stipulate duplexes can be classified as such if they share the same foundation, Titsworth said.

Many new buildings in the city are seemingly separated, but connected via a "superficial piece of concrete in the sand," Titsworth noted Wednesday. "So that makes the two homes be labeled as one building."

The duplexes can sometimes house up to 32 people, said Grossman. This creates an "out of scale" residential problem for neighboring residents who live in smaller houses, he said.

"The average square footage on a duplex three years ago was about 3,000," Grossman said. "Three years later, it's 4,500 up to 6,000 square feet." The duplexes are rented for one to several weeks at a time, creating a cycle of new people living alongside people who claim Holmes Beach their home, he said.

"We don't need a party city," Grossman said. "There's many around, they don't have to pick ours."

Enforcement of existing city codes can help prevent further building code violations, Titsworth said. To alleviate parking problems, developers should create a parking space for each bedroom in the duplex, she added.

But not all Holmes Beach residents see the vacation rentals as a problematic issue.

"I have no complaints, absolutely none," said Alice Silke, who lives next to a duplex. Another one will be built on the other side of her property, she said.

"These buildings have made the people more aware of their own properties," she said, pointing to a pristine-looking duplex across the street. "They've either given their homes a new coat of paint or added landscape ... they've beautified our street."

The couples and tourists who rent duplexes in her area do not create a noise, trash or parking problem, she said. And they're not pushing her out of the neighborhood, "never in a million years."

About three blocks away, Gretchen Edgren hasn't had the same pleasant experience.

"When there are people, the party people or families, it's very loud, it's kind of disturbing," said Edgren, overseeing a duplex from her backyard.

She's called police six or seven times this year to complain about noise issues, she said.

"We are all very exited about the potential of our island," Grossman said. " ... But I believe a community without residents is not a community. We need balance."

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