BRADENTON BEACH -- On the far end of Ninth Street North, on the south side, is an empty, triangular-shaped lot.
Covered mostly with grass and some cement, the lot may not look like much to outsiders.
But for those living on the small street in Bradenton Beach, the lot at 113 Ninth St. N. has become the battlefield for growing contention between neighbors.
Several months ago, George and Wendy Kokolis -- who have owned the lot since 1987 and also a duplex on the same street and Gulf Drive Cafe, 900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach -- were granted a setback variance by Special Master William C. Robinson Jr. The variance will allow the couple 15 more feet on which to build on the lot, which is currently zoned
C-1 commercial. The standard setback is 25 feet.
Now before the Bradenton Beach Planning & Zoning Board is a separate request for a special exception that would allow the couple to build a two-unit hotel on the lot. The zoning board will either recommend approval or denial to the city commission. If the city commission does authorize the special exception, the Kokolises would still have to go through a development process before being allowed to build.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Kokolises' application has been met with great protest by other neighbors, such as Stylianos Gavrilis, 65, who owns a small, blue house that sits adjacent of the lot.
"I feel terrible because my property is next to that little lot and if they give them 15 feet, it will block my view," Gavrilis said.
The retired general contractor said he thinks the proposed hotel would create more traffic congestion on the street.
"Besides that point, a motel there for one-night stand or something like that?" he said. "Who knows who's going to be there -- and I have grandkids visiting."
John Arcadi, who lives across the street from the lot, is adamantly opposed to the Kokolises' plans.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the 69-year-old retired heavy highway contractor sat at his dining table. Before him were photos he'd taken of what he said are examples of code violations by his neighbors.
In one photo, a woman is seen standing in the middle of Ninth Street North. According to Arcadi, she was stopping cars to direct parking for the Gulf Drive Cafe. He said she stopped him three times. Another photo shows a beer truck parked in front of the Kokolis' rental home down the street.
A history of conflict
Arcadi has a history of conflict with the Kokolises. According to Arcadi, the conflict began over a disagreement over one of his parked cars. He said it was on city property. The Kokolises disagreed. The police got involved.
"They're just not very nice people," he said. "If they were, all these people wouldn't be against them."
Arcadi insists the Kokolises should be able to build anything they want within the existing code.
"They can build anything they want based on the rules that are in place -- not give them an extra 15 foot in the front ... Build whatever they can just like I did," he said. "I don't think the city should grant them this grandioso gift for nothing. Everybody on this street doesn't want it."
At an Aug. 13 zoning board public hearing on the special-exception request, the tension was palpable.
On the right side of the room sat Arcadi and Gavrilis, among others. On the left side sat Wendy Kokolis, a friend, and Kokolis' attorney, Patricia Petruff.
For more than two hours, the respective sides made their cases.
Petruff spoke about the predicted traffic surrounding the proposed hotel, which has been a concern for the board. She referenced a document with common trip generation rates by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).
"The reason this is important is you will see that hotel/motel trip generation rates are less than half of what a single-family home generates," Petruff said. "The statements made during the variance public hearing and the special-exception public hearing that indicated that this use would bring a lot of traffic to the area are, in my judgment, not valid."
Petruff pointed out that there are many uses that her client is allowed to build without a special permit that would bring much more traffic. She mentioned a condominium on the street that has a private parking lot with access to Ninth Street North.
"There's been a lot of discussion about how much traffic this (the proposed hotel) will bring to Ninth Street and I'm suggesting that the traffic is already there, decisions have already been made about Ninth Street and to disallow a private property owner whose only legal access is Ninth Street to have any use of the property is problematic," she said.
Both Arcadi and Gavrilis spoke at the meeting, reiterating the concerns they've voiced to the city.
During his turn at the lecturn, Arcadi told members of the Planning & Zoning Board that he felt the Kokolises' business was relevant to their proposal.
"The Gulf Drive Cafe has really hurt this neighborhood -- a bunch of retired people, a bunch of older people, the traffic, the noise, the parking," he said.
Arms crossed, Wendy Kokolis listened.
The hearing ended with no decision by the zoning board, and the hearing was continued until 3 p.m. Oct. 8.
Owner details plans
Seated at a booth inside Gulf Drive Cafe a few weeks ago, Wendy Kokolis shared the history behind her and her husband's plans for their plot.
"I had plans on building on it since then (1987) but I was raising my kids in Virginia and we didn't move here until 2004," the 52-year-old said.
Kokolis, who lives in Cortez with her husband, said she first tried to change the lot's zone to "residential" in November 2013. It was met with protests from her neighbors. She said her architect and attorney suggested they leave it "commercial."
"We work all the time," she said when asked about the relationship with her neighbors. "He (Arcadi) riled up a lot of nonsense, which is basically the gist of it. I don't even know any other people over there. ... I stick to myself. I'm too busy."
In response to the violations reported during the Planning & Zoning Board meeting, Kokolis said a lot of them stemmed from Arcadi.
"He's the one calling the city all the time, and the health department," she said. "I think the city's tired of the whole thing, just as much as I am. I'm too busy. I don't have time to retaliate."
A familiar conflict on AMI
This is not the first time tensions have arisen between neighbors in Anna Maria Island over land use. Back in April, Holmes Beach residents voiced their displeasure at a rezoning request during a city planning commission meeting. Property owners Benjamin and Keren ten Haaf requested that their property at 214 54th St., Holmes Beach, be rezoned from a "medium-density residential" to "commercial with a mixed-use overlay," which allows residential uses above commercial or other non-residential uses. The request upset some neighbors, who argued that it would be the first step toward commercializing the neighborhood.
David Teitelbaum, president of Anna Maria Island Resorts LLC, said he's witnessed firsthand this kind of tension.
"I've lived personally through that. You can't be a developer without those kinds of complexities," he said.
Teitelbaum said the focus should remain on the property in question.
"Property rights are property rights and that's the only thing that should be considered," he said. "If a neighbor does not like a neighbor and the neighbor has a right to build what he wants to build, then that dislike cannot be used as a reason to stop the neighbor. Property law is property law."
Kokolis spoke about the latest postponement of the public hearing on her request.
"I try not to let it bother me, I'm too busy ... but it does bother me when I think about it," she said. "But I stay busy by choice. ... I do want it to end."
Robert Porter, 54, owns a triplex rental on Ninth Street North. Back in December 2013, Porter wrote to the city about his concerns about how the Kokolises' business and their plans for the lot have affected the neighborhood. He said that an event staff working a wedding at Gulf Drive Cafe were directing traffic down the street toward his property when the business had filled its parking spots.
"This created a traffic and privacy nightmare for residents," he wrote in the letter.
Porter said he felt as if the Kokolises weren't showing that they wanted to be part of the community.
"When I bought the place, we had lots of regular clients who rented here to enjoy a peaceful setting," he said recently, adding that some of those same clients have decided not to return over the issues.
"We've lost revenue because they've been gaining revenue."
Back at her cafe, Kokolis summed up how she felt about the conflict:
"I just think anybody's entitled to their rights, We tried to change it to 'residential' to be good neighbors -- and now they're probably even madder because we're going to keep it as 'commercial'," she said. "But I tried."
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.