Anna Maria Island’s beach bungalows, and a way of life, giving way to ‘McMansions’

Anna Maria Island may be largely built-out, but that hasn’t stopped developers from buying older existing homes, tearing them down and replacing them with new high-end homes.

Some call the new homes “McMansions.”

Officials in the cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach say it is a worrisome long-term trend and that they are doing their best to maintain the island’s unique character and sense of place.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy is particularly concerned about the loss of traditional beach bungalows.

“It’s cheaper to sweep the lot clean and build a new home,” Murphy said. “The biggest problem that you have are all the regulations that are associated with taking a bungalow, remodeling it and bringing everything up to speed.”

Starting fresh, the developer doesn’t have to worry about bringing a house up to code or meeting FEMA’s 50 percent rule. They can also make a lot more money by putting new product on the market.

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This vacant house at 903 North Shore Drive in the City of Anna Maria awaited demolition this week. The lot on which it sits will be split, and two new houses constructed, according to city officials. James A. Jones Jr.

Under the FEMA 50 percent rule, a home in a flood plain must be brought into compliance with the flood damage prevention regulations if it is substantially damaged or substantially improved, including elevating the building to or above the 100-year flood elevation.

Murphy would like to see the creation of a historic preservation board in Anna Maria that would develop economic incentives and potentially allow homeowners to go beyond the FEMA 50 percent rule in improving their beach bungalows.

That concept is in its infancy, and officials will try to better define it during a meeting at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Dr., at 10 a.m. on June 5.

“The real estate people tell me they can rent the traditional bungalow at a premium, as opposed to a McMansion,” Murphy said, explaining that many visitors prefer a more traditional beach experience.

Luke Curtis, building official for the city of Anna Maria, said that some of the lots that developers buy are oversized, which allows them to split the lot and replace an older home with two new homes.

When he first began working with the city of Anna Maria, Curtis said he couldn’t get over the amount of construction that was underway in a city with a population of 2,000.

In 2018, there were 23 new homes built in Anna Maria, the majority of those on lots where older homes had once stood. In 2017, there were 31 new homes, and in 2016, there were 29, according to city records.

Steve Traves, owner of AMI Outfitters at 401 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, applauds the measures to save island culture, but says they come 10 years too late.

He and his wife lived 28 years in a two-bedroom, one-bath cottage on the island that was built in 1949. But they sold the house in 2014 and moved to mainland Bradenton.

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The house that sat on this property at 52 North Shore Drive, Anna Maria, was declared unsafe and demolished. The lot will be split and two new homes constructed there. James A. Jones Jr.

Their old house? A developer knocked it down and replaced it with a six-bedroom, four-bath structure. It’s now on the market for $2.4 million.

“It was already kind of happening,” Traves said of developer activity on Anna Maria Island. “When we had the crash in 2008, it was the opportunity for the investors to really get in here.”

Stephen Gilbert, building official for the city of Bradenton Beach, said the land is often much more valuable than the existing older home that sits on the lot.

Of the new homes built in the last decade in Bradenton Beach, only a couple were intended as homes for the owners. The others were intended as investments to be quickly turned over for more cash, he said.

“Most investors that are coming in are LLCs,” Gilbert said. “It’s been going on since I arrived here in 2007.”

In 2018, there were nine certificates of occupancy issued for single-family homes in Bradenton Beach, and eight in 2017.

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Holmes Beach officials have been working to ensure new residential construction is built to scale, and does not add to traffic, noise and trash in the city. James A. Jones Jr.

Jason Sato of Sato Real Estate, perennially one of Manatee County’s top selling agents, says it boils down to economics and what the home buyer wants.

“People want new. More people are looking for new. There is also the FEMA 50 percent rule,” Sato said. “It’s easier to just build new.”

A typical lot on Anna Maria Island can sell for anywhere between $400,000 and $500,000. With new construction, it can sell for $1.2 million or more, Sato said.

In Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island’s largest city, the loss of older homes to newer construction has been going on for the past decade, Mayor Judy Titsworth said.

Residents’ desire to “save our city” and a way of life led to the election of the current commission, Titsworth said.

Top of resident concerns was traffic, trash and noise, she said.

“There was a saying that if a developer could get one lot on the block, the others would fall,” she said. “There was a mass exodus of residents. A city has a duty to police its neighborhoods. Our goal is to bring balance back.”

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Views like this on Anna Maria Island keep visitors returning year after year, and inspire some to try to buy or build there. James A. Jones Jr.

The Holmes Beach municipal code has evolved to ensure new development is built to scale and doesn’t overpower the neighborhood, she said.

Holmes Beach issued 17 certificates of occupancy for new homes in 2018, and 21 in 2017, according to city records.

“I was born and raised in Holmes Beach. I’ve been here 56 years. My father was born here. I’ve seen all the big changes. Some times change is good, but not all change is good,” Titsworth said.

“I think we have accomplished a lot in the past six years with living area ratio regulations, with maximum amount of bedrooms, occupancy limits, parking requirements, and noise regulations. Our programs are working wonderfully. Our visitors are here for peace and quiet, so it is important that we keep all of that,” she said.