Anna Maria officials get an earful about short-term rental problems

nwilliams@bradenton.comJanuary 25, 2013 

ANNA MARIA -- Years of pent-up frustration regarding the construction and abuse of vacation rentals in Anna Maria residential neighborhoods was turned loose at Anna Maria City Hall Thursday night.

City officials responded by voting to mandate enforcement of existing restrictions on short-term rental properties.

Dozens of residents flooded City Hall, some forced to crowd the doorway of the building just to hear the discussion. Others peeked through windows from outside the building.

One after another, residents raised their hands to voice their displeasure with the growing dilemma of short-term rentals bringing unwanted and abundant noise, cars and people into the community. The residents said the tourism rush is ruining the quality of life in Anna Maria.

"I hate what I've seen happen to this community," said Commissioner Dale Woodland.

"It's about time the city showed some leadership and put their money where their mouth is and get this done," said Commissioner Gene Aubry.

Resident Richard Penn said a house on his block was advertised to sleep 10 people. Another resident, Jill Morris, said within one block of her neighborhood, two new homes are being constructed while another is undergoing renovation. A sign across the street from her home reads "5 bedroom, 4 bathrooms."

"I'm very concerned about the size of that house given the size of the houses on my street," she said.

A first reading for a proposed revision to city zoning regulations prompted the huge crowd. The revision aimed to limit the number of cars that can park on a property based on the number of bedrooms. Under the new revision, homes with one or two bedrooms would require two parking spaces while three-bedroom homes would be limited to three spaces. Three bedrooms or more would require one additional parking space for each two bedrooms or fraction thereof.

The residents said the revision wouldn't solve the problem.

"Parking is not addressing the elephant in the room," Morris said. "Many of us don't want mansions on our island. This parking issue is trying to shrink the elephant down. Many of us do not want these large houses. This is not how Anna Maria has been in the past."

One resident suggested the city create a regulation that stipulates any home with five bedrooms or more be categorized as a motel and that families who move to the city file a variance if they require such a house.

Bob Carter, who has lived in the city for seven years, suggested the city pass a moratorium to cease all permits to build new homes on the island.

"Certifications will roll in as word gets out about us talking about this," Carter said.

Commissioner Chuck Webb informed the board that short-term rentals are already prohibited in Anna Maria, but the rule hasn't been enforced. Webb, an attorney, found the prohibition in the city's comprehensive plan and zoning code. The plan and code require that all land-use elements be compatible with residential zones and a short-term rental is illegal. Webb then made a motion to force the city to enforce the code. The motion was passed, 4-1, and was met with resounding applause from the audience.

Starting today, the city will begin resubmitting land use category forms to pre-existing property owners to clarify the intentional use of the property. Nonconforming properties will be subject to city enforcement.

Blalock Walters attorney Scott Rudacille, who said he represents property owners in Anna Maria, cautioned the board.

He referred to a lawsuit filed against the City of Venice challenging the constitutionality of its interpretation to categorize short-term vacation rentals as commercial properties that can't exist in residential zones. He said the lawsuit has cost the city millions in litigation fees.

But commissioners and residents said they weren't afraid of a lawsuit.

"We're talking about losing our long-term residents," said Commissioner John Quam.

A second reading of the revision to the city zoning regulations regarding parking is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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