Photo by Brice Claypoole
On January 12, Representative Will Robinson Jr., supported unanimously by our local state legislative delegation, voted to take two controversial measures. First, to introduce a bill this year to allow Manatee County to override Anna Maria Island’s ordinances and build parking garages anywhere on the island’s state and county lands. Second, to explore the possibility of dissolving the three cities of Anna Maria Island, allowing Manatee County commissioners to govern the island instead.
The legislature’s goal is to preempt a local ordinance that blocks the construction of a four-story parking garage in Holmes Beach which has been proposed by Manatee County Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge. The legislature’s reasoning is that it is “disturbed by the lack of parking spaces.” Indeed, echoing one of Van Ostenbridge’s peculiar statements, Robinson implied that the city is secretly trying to eliminate parking on the island with its measures to fight COVID-19 and to reduce traffic and litter on residential streets. He also contends that Anna Maria doesn’t have a right to strictly regulate development within its borders.
Legislators have been patting themselves on the back for retaliating against the residents “who think it’s their private island.” However, the measures have been met with anger from island citizens who are appalled at what they see as the state’s attempt to take their community and sell it to politically-connected developers. Anna Maria has long fought to retain the character of its community in the face of developers’ desire to turn it into a city of highrises and many see these measures as an attempt to end that fight and give the cities over to developers.
The Manatee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) is heavily connected to developers who pour massive amounts of money into their campaigns. Over the past few years, the commission has again and again ignored the pleas of citizens to slow development. They have amended the county’s comprehensive plan in developers favor, allowed destruction of environmentally sensitive lands, and aided increasing traffic and loss of our communities’ character and environment. Giving the government of Anna Maria to the BoCC would eliminate the will of the people and result in the end of the island’s quaint communities.
Many residents believe this is indeed the very intent of the legislature. Anna Maria’s parking issues hardly seem a reason to dissolve the cities and our representatives likely know exactly what the BoCC would do if given full control of the island. We know from experience that one exception leads to more and eventually the voiding of the laws that protect our community. If Van Ostenbridge gets his parking garage, why can’t the developers have their high-rises?
Are local governments really not allowed to make their own laws anymore? Is it the state’s job to dissolve cities because their citizens aren’t in favor of destructive development? Do all cities have to fear state interference if they stand up to developers?
Holmes Beach Mayor, Judy Titsworth has voiced her beliefs: "It's not about parking. It's never been about parking. They are using the parking to make Holmes Beach look bad—to give us a black eye—and to say 'Because of this, we have to take cities back...' This has been the play for years. There's a whole lot of money to be made on Anna Maria Island... If it can happen to us, it can happen to all the other 700 cities in this state."
"I don't think it is a coincidence that this is all happening at the same time entire boards of county commissioners are being replaced by potential 'yes men' for developers," writes Titsworth. Representatives are "setting up Florida coastal cities to fail."
Contact Manatee County’s representatives and tell them that we will not tolerate this sort of government overreach. Tell them AMI’s citizens deserve a vote in their future, that we do not stand for having deep-pocketed developers’ interests put ahead of those of the public. Even if you live elsewhere in Manatee County, the traffic issues and environmental degradation caused by a new highrise-covered island will affect you. Remind the legislature that they serve the people, not the rich developers. Tell them not to pass a bill overriding Anna Maria’s laws or to dissolve the cities.
State representative contact information:
Rep. Will Robinson Jr.
District office: 941-708-4968
Capitol office: 850-717-5071
Rep. Mike Beltran
District office: 813-653-7097
Capitol office: 850-717-5070
Rep. Tommy Gregory
District office: 941-893-5434
Capitol office: 850-717-5072
Sen. Jim Boyd
District office: 941-742-6445
Capitol office: 850-487-5020
Sen. Joe Gruters
District office: 941-378-6309
Capitol office: 850-487-5022