Anna Maria Island mayors say tourist tsunami harms quality of life

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 20, 2013 

Manatee Public Beach is a popular spot for visitors to Anna Maria Island. OTROY MORGAN/Photos From The Air

HOLMES BEACH -- Mayors of Anna Maria Island cities say the quality of life on the island is deteriorating because the area has been so successful in attracting tourists.

They sought funding Monday from the Tourist Development Council to help deal with the onslaught of visitors, which Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said is becoming overwhelming for residents.

She complained of parking troubles and traffic gridlock, beachgoers who defecate on lawns, noisy parties, rude vacationers and city infrastructure that is taking a beating.

"We have lost neighbors and neighborhoods; residents who have been here for years have left, and are leaving," she told the council meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall. "Greed is running the island."

The cities of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach are considering paid- and permit-parking, she said.

"A toll to come on the island is no longer a laughing matter," she said.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy sought help from the council to rebuild a city pier damaged by storms.

Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti urged careful regulation and police intervention when necessary, but added the area "can't throw the baby out with the bath water, and say we don't need tourism."

The economic impact of the area's booming tourism industry reached $143.78 million during the second quarter, said Walter Klages, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of Research Data Services of Tampa.

"You have an incredible, significant impact when it comes to what tourism really contributes, and it is easy to forget," Klages told the board.

Still, he understood the sensitivity of fragile island communities.

"This is not something unique to you -- crowding and changes in quality of life," he said.

A German tourist wassurprised to hear AnnaMaria Island officials complaining about too many visitors.

"Should we leave?" asked Peter Spitzbart, 46, ofMannheim, Germany, who said he was here with his family for a month's stay.

He said he worked hard to earn the money to come here.

"I think this is disappointing to us," he said.

Mary Ann Brockman,president and chief executive officer of the Anna MariaIsland Chamber of Commerce, said those wanting to eliminate or heavily decrease tourism on the island need to rethink their approach.

"I get very upset and irritated and feel bad they don't feel good about tourists," Brockman recently told the Herald. "Just because we're here doesn't mean we're going to close the bridge."

Brockman points out that many of the residents on the island started out as tourists, and it's what the local economy is built on.

"When you live on a barrier island that's total tourism, it's the only thing to sell," Brockman said. "And it's hard to stop selling it with so much exposure to the island given through the local visitor's bureaus.

"The word's out," she said. "This is a beautiful island."

Paulette Webb, 64, a general manager at a publishing company, has lived in the same house in Anna Maria since 1956. She said she has no objection to tourists, but does object to the way more and more renters have been allowed in.

"It's getting busier all the time," echoed Florence Moss, 67, who moved here from Virginia 19 years ago. "They don't seem to be doing much for the residents."

Council member David Teitelbaum, who owns resort properties, said he is concerned about what he calls "defacto hotels springing up without any regulation."

At his hotels, guests who do not behave properly are asked to leave.

"The truth is, the quality of life is the most important thing we can offer," Teitelbaum said.

Even the Anna MariaIsland Turtle Watch has had to change its proceduresafter rowdy visitors disturbed two nests last month, even stepping on some hatchlings.

Director Suzi Fox said the organization will no longer put dates on the nests when turtles are expected to hatch.

Although volunteers were able to rescue the hatchlings, Fox said, the episode left her wondering what had changed.

"In 33 years, we've never had this," she said.

-- Herald business reporter Charles Schelle contributed to this report.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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