Building Wars

By: 
Mar. 1, 2013

Participants: Anna Maria City and Holmes Beach City commissions and local property owners

Decision: The residential construction battles on Holmes Beach and Anna Maria Island exemplify the changing face of the waterfront communities. During the past five years, the size of homes and rental properties has grown significantly. Believing that the character of the islands is under attack by large rental buildings, a vocal group of residents and city officials have launched regulatory efforts that have frozen most new residential development.

After a failed vote for a building moratorium in early 2012, the Holmes Beach City Commission reversed itself and approved a moratorium on building permits for substantial development in its Residential 2 (rental) district in late December. Spearheaded by the Commission Chair Jean Peelen, the stop was explained as necessary to give the commission time to compose new building rules.

“In 2011, the state Legislature passed a law that took away the power of cities to regulate rentals,” Peelen says. “So we had to regulate an entire district. We're not against progress and tourism, but we get to decide how we house our tourists here. What happens to the quality of life for the people in those neighborhoods who back up against these big houses?”

So far the Holmes Beach commission has approved reducing the LAR (living area ratio) limit to 0.34 of the lot size in the district. On a quarter acre lot (11,000 square feet) this would translate to a building with 3,740 square feet of living space. The commission is holding additional readings to discuss outlawing underground connectors, which developers use to build two single-family homes on land zoned for duplexes.

The Anna Maria commission followed Holmes Beach's lead and passed an administrative moratorium on building permits for single-family construction or any construction that grows the number of bedrooms in a house. The city commission is discussing reducing the height of buildings from 37 feet to 27 feet or imposing a LAR of 0.45.

A month in, the moratoriums appear to be impacting property owners.

“I know of at least 15 specific property owners that this has affected,” says Joe Varner, owner of the rental firm Anna Maria Vacations. “That's just it; a moratorium catches just about everybody. Anybody that wants to build on this expensive land wants to maximize what they can do. Nobody is building one-story homes. We're very concerned that people's property rights are being significantly violated.”

Future: Swirling around the legislative debate is a strong possibility of legal challenges. Richard Rumrell, with the St. Augustine-based law firm of Rumrell Bates & McLeod PA, has already made extensive public records requests of Anna Maria city government. In 2007, Rumrell represented property owners in a successful suit against the city of Venice over short-term rental rules.