Anna Maria residents fear their way of life is at risk
Anna Maria resident Amy Tripp likes vacation rentals, but when it comes to regulating them, she wants it to remain local.
So when a bill was filed in the Florida Senate by Sen. Greg Steube that opponents say threatens home rule, Tripp, who has owned a home on Anna Maria since 2001 but moved to the island in 2013, started a petition that now has more than 500 signatures.
“I started the petition so that we wouldn’t have a conversion of residential properties in residential zoned neighborhoods becoming a full-time short-term rental,” Tripp said. “Right now, we have something in place and it seems to be really harmonious for the visitors, for the residents and that’s what we would like to keep.”
Tripp is just one of the residents on Anna Maria Island who are opposed to Senate Bill 188 and accompanying House Bill 425, fearing they would forever alter the character of Anna Maria Island and similar communities across the state.
I feel it will erode the fabric of the community, the community feel that people come here and enjoy.
Amy Tripp, Anna Maria resident
“I feel it will erode the fabric of the community, the community feel that people come here and enjoy,” Tripp said. “They love the small city and the community feel and it will erode that because residents will have a harder time living harmoniously with these full-time short-term rentals.”
Steube’s vacation rental bill states that “local law, ordinance or regulation may not restrict the use of vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals or regulate vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use or occupancy.”
Pointing to the number of Bert Harris Act claims filed against the city of Anna Maria, Steube said Friday afternoon that he doesn’t think that local government should supersede private property rights.
“They can’t treat vacation rentals differently than they are permanent residences,” he said.
Steube said he’s heard from a lot of people, including a resident who he met with Friday, that supports it.
“I think you are hearing from a small faction of residents that live out there, not the whole community,” he said.
With the bill, Steube said he’s taking the law back to how it was in 2011.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “You are telling me in the six years the law has changed that there has been that much change on the makeup and feel of Anna Maria Island? They have to apply regulations uniformly to every property in the jurisdiction.”
If the bill becomes law, the cities can still pass ordinances but they would have to be uniformly applied, Steube said.
“You can’t discriminate based off the use of the property,” he said.
Concerns felt islandwide
On Friday morning, Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said he was currently working on the topic as the city commission will be adopting a resolution opposing Steube’s bill.
“All of the work we’ve been doing for many years to preserve the family friendly area we have out here is at risk,” Johnson said. “I don’t want our residential districts to turn into commercial districts, which is essentially the general effect of what will happen if it passes. Then we start looking like the east coast of Florida. No, thank you.”
This sentiment is shared by all three cities on Anna Maria Island.
“It is front and center for all of us,” Johnson said.
All of the work we’ve been doing for many years to preserve the family friendly area we have out here is at risk.
Bob Johnson, Holmes Beach mayor
In Bradenton Beach, the city commission is having a special commission meeting Monday afternoon to consider hiring a lobbyist, which according to Mayor Bill Shearon is “something brand new” for the city.
“It’s gonna be a real challenge for us because we are so small,” Shearon said. “It’s not budgeted. It’s not in our budget.”
But issues such as the vacation rentals bill make the cities willing to take the challenge.
“It affects our home rule powers,” Shearon said. “That’s the biggest concern.”
As both a former city commissioner and mayor of Holmes Beach, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she totally supports home rule.
“I totally believe that our citizens are expecting us as their local leaders to fill out their wishes,” Whitmore said. “The county has always supported home rule. I think home rule is very important.”
Local ordinances in effect
In Anna Maria, there is a Vacation Rental Ordinance, which “provides a general framework for the regulation of vacation rentals in the City of Anna Maria,” according to a city resolution.
“Through the local enactment of the Vacation Rental Ordinance, the City of Anna Maria has been able to balance competing interests of resident property owners and property owners who purchased property for transient investment purposes,” according to the resolution. “The current balance achieved due to the ability of the City of Anna Maria to regulate the classification, use and occupancy of vacation rentals by virtue of its home rule powers has not created a threat to the economic landscape of the city while simultaneously safeguarding the city’s small town charm.”
The resolution, which was adopted Feb. 23 to hire a lobbyist for the 2017 legislative session, also states that in the cases where property owners have claimed that the city’s Vacation Rental Ordinance infringed on their property rights, the city has reached settlements without litigation.
The other island cities have also taken measures in regard to vacation rentals. And elected officials and residents would like to maintain this local control.
“It’s all at risk,” Johnson said.
For Ruth Uecker, who has lived in Anna Maria since 2010, she wants to see home rule retained.
“I believe sincerely that the local community has a much better touch on what is going on in the community,” she said. “We know what is here. We know our problems. We know how to deal with them. ...I feel that it’s better for us to have home rule so we can deal with these problems and maintain our community.”
The local community knows the day-to-day situations that come up, Uecker said.
“We at the local level have a much better idea of how to manage our city than someone who is sitting in Tallahassee,” she said. “It’s so clear that the people who visit here want the same thing.”
The visitors and residents alike love the peace and quiet, Tripp said.
“We want to still offer that to our visitors who come for peace and quiet and natural beauty of place,” she said.