Holmes Beach uses building moratorium to define city character

cnudi@bradenton.comDecember 30, 2012 

HOLMES BEACH -- The Holmes Beach City Commission wants to take up to six months to decide what kind of housing their community will allow in the future.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote Jan. 8 on whether to approve a moratorium on construction in the areas zoned for duplexes.

"This will give us some time to review the type of structures that were allowed in the past," said Commissioner Marvin Grossman. "There's some confusion between the (city's) land development code, the zoning codes and the comprehensive plan."

Grossman, Commissioner Judy Holmes Titsworth and Mayor Carmel Monti were elected to office in November on a platform of stopping the demolition of small duplexes built in the 1950s and 1960s, and replacing them with large, multibedroom structures.

Many of their supporters have complained that the renters of these new duplexes were creating problems in their neighborhoods.

"The moratorium is way overdue," said Laurel Nevans, who lives about a block from one of these new duplexes.

"I'm so glad we elected a new slate of commissioners to do what the people have wanted for the last five years," Nevans said.

She said that a couple of builders were buying up the older duplexes that working people could afford.

They typically were single-story ranch-style structures with one bedroom on one side and two bedrooms on the other, Nevans said.

Another Holmes Beach resident, Kathy Caserta, said one of those larger duplexes was built across the street from a 1920s-era cottage she restored and rents.

Where there was once one smaller home, "there's four grand buildings each with their own pool," Caserta said.

Nevans and Caserta said these larger duplexes are changing the character of Holmes Beach from the residential neighborhoods with long-term renters to vacationers coming to the island for a single week.

There have been complaints of loud noise, trash throughout the neighborhoods, parking violations and an increase of crime, Nevans said.

"They're a nuisance," she said.

Nevans said because the units have so many bedrooms, some with as many

as six, there are more vehicles than can fit on the property, so there is a parking problem.

Noise from the larger crowd of short-term vacationers disturbs the neighborhood, she said.

"The noise was so bad on Christmas Day I had to leave my own home," Nevans said. "They're a different class of people than the snowbirds," that used to rent the older units.

None of the contractors and builders contacted for this article was available for comment, but Louise Najmy, an attorney for one of the busier builders, Bay to Beach Construction, said his clients want to do what the community wishes.

"Beach to Bay stands committed to work with the community," Najmy said, "to have the island grow with charm.

"That is why they are willing to accept the moratorium and work with the commissioners," he said.

According to Jack Sandelman, president of Big Fish Association Management in Holmes Beach, he attended a commission workshop Dec. 13 where the moratorium ordinance was discussed.

The chamber was filled with people on both sides of the proposal to stop construction for six months in the duplex areas. Many builders, he said, felt the moratorium would cost them money.

Sandelman said he was looking for a way to find a consensus and he tried to make the point to the commissioners that six months is too long.

"There is a problem with the enforcement of the code," he said. "They may need to clear up a few laws or interpretations."

Commissioner David Zaccagnino, the only commissioner to vote at the Dec. 18 meeting not to proceed with the moratorium, said the commission hopes to move as fast as possible so it will have as little impact on the construction industry as possible.

"We have a new building department in place looking at plans more closely," Zaccagnino said. "That was why I voted against it. I wanted to give the building department a chance to see if it'll make a difference."

Now that it looks like the moratorium will be approved, he said he wants to address the issues that will solve the problems the residents have brought up.

One of the items that will help reduce the size of the new structures is implementing a living area ratio for duplex lots, Zaccagnino said.

Commissioner Titsworth, who also is a contractor, said she was in favor of the moratorium because the demolition of older duplexes "was getting out of hand."

"Everybody is on board that something has to be done," she said. "I'm a builder and I try to design things more in line with what people in the city want."

Titsworth said one of the issues the commission is studying is restricting the building of only one swimming pool on each lot.

Holmes Beach was founded and named after Titsworth's family and she said the moratorium will provide the time needed to fix any loopholes in the codes.

The moratorium will affect only those permits filed after Dec. 25 and seek to make changes that will cost more than 50 percent of the value of a structure.

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