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Anna Maria Island works on recruiting new residents, affordable housing

Holmes Beach Vice Chairwoman Jean Peelen addresses island residents and officials Wednesday evening during an islandwide meeting hosted by Home Sweet Home.AMARIS CASTILLO/Bradenton Herald
Holmes Beach Vice Chairwoman Jean Peelen addresses island residents and officials Wednesday evening during an islandwide meeting hosted by Home Sweet Home.AMARIS CASTILLO/Bradenton Herald

HOLMES BEACH -- Roughly 100 Anna Maria Island residents and elected officials broke down a myriad of challenges Wednesday evening in attracting more permanent residents to the 7-mile barrier island.

At a meeting in St. Bernard Catholic Church, the roadblocks discussed included the sky-high housing costs and the decrease of affordable units on the island.

Home Sweet Home, a new group aimed at growing the community while inspiring residents to love living on the island, organized the meeting.

Holmes Beach Vice Chairwoman Jean Peelen said the idea was to seek ideas from the island residents on ways to attract people to live here. Peelen created Home Sweet Home alongside Anna Maria Commissioner Carol Carter and Bradenton Beach Commissioner Janie Robertson.

"We should promote ways people can get jobs and then, 'This is a nice place to live and have a job' because you need to make money to live here," said Judy Alpert, a Bradenton Beach resident since 2007. "We need to promote something like that to motivate people to come."

The islandwide meeting was facilitated by Jerry Murphy of University of Florida's Florida Resilient Communities Initiative, who began the evening by asking residents what they love most about AMI. The list included island ambiance, climate, beaches, arts and wildlife.

Holmes Beach resident Laurel Nevans suggested a greater focus on where affordable housing units are on the island.

"How can we help people who want to live here with their families find a place that they can actually afford to rent?" she said. "Rentals are disappearing by the minute."

Residents were asked to contribute ideas to three "effort areas" geared toward drawing people to the island: social media, connections and promotion.

Under promotion, residents suggested creating a campaign with a slogan to attract residents and diverse housing inventory.

"Any ideas you have about social media -- how we could use it, a new way we could use it would be great," Peelen said.

Mike Fronk, who lives on the island a few months out of the year with his wife, Nita Fronk, and the rest of the year in Minneapolis, dug for who exactly the island is trying to attract and reasons why people aren't moving here.

"Is it younger people -- younger working people, younger families?" the 73-year-old said. "I don't see any younger people here."

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Peelen said major targets are young families and seniors, but they're not the only targets.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said the initiative is a great effort.

"I watched, like many of you, for years as I saw my fellow residents, maybe even myself included, and our elected officials declare our victimization," he said. "We were being victimized by all these people on the outside. ... This is a good, concrete step to take our island and to take control and not to be victims. We need to hang onto an effort like this to make it work."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.

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