Holmes Beach roundtable nets same-same views
The four candidates seeking election to three seats on the Holmes Beach City Commission displayed few differences of opinion on the issues during The Islander's roundtable discussion Saturday.
Incumbent Commissioners Rich Bohnenberger, Pat Geyer and Don Maloney and challenger Pat Morton presented their backgrounds, qualifications and thoughts on a host of matters before about a dozen residents in their bids for a two-year term on the board. The three top vote-getters will take office in the Nov. 4 election.
Bohnenberger, 63, has served on the city commission for five years, and was previously elected mayor for a two-year term. He has been active in a number of state and local governmental programs including Leadership Manatee and Leadership Florida. He was instrumental in bringing a drug-free workplace to Holmes Beach government and a street-paving program to the city, as well as the stormwater utility program.
"My goal for next year is the Key Royale Bridge repair," Bohnenberger said. "The cost keeps going up 5- to 6-percent a year, and if we wait for the Florida Department of Transportation to come to our rescue, the [allocated funding of $1.5 million] in its budget is repeatedly postponed. I propose the city enter into a program to pay for the bridge replacement that would require the DOT reimburse the city."
Geyer, 72, moved to the city in 1960, has been on the city commission "for many years," including a four-year stint at mayor.
"I'd like to see Holmes Beach remain as nice as it was when I first came here," Geyer said.
Maloney, 75, has been a city commissioner for seven years. He has been active in Florida emergency management issues, is a graduate of the Florida Institute of Government program and Florida League of Cities seminars.
"I want to increase the interest of citizens in government," Maloney said. "My main topic is to get more people involved. We also have to take an active approach to growth management."
Morton, 54, is a condominium manager who is seeking his first post in public office. "I love people and love to work with people," he said. "I see some things that need to be changed, and we need to have a commission that is more friendly to the public. People are just disgruntled, and that's why I'm here."
The four candidates were in general agreement that the height of buildings in the city should not increase above the current 36-foot elevation measured from the crown of the road, and agreed that a citizen's desire for higher ceilings in a home should not be the sole rationale for taller buildings.
"The commission has yet to decide what to do with heights," Bohnenberger said, adding that state government has one set of criteria for elevation and the city another. "I favor a site-specific approach to heights, not a blanket approach."
Geyer said she believed the commission should "place a cap on what the board of adjustment can do with height variances," adding that three or more members of the board should vote on height matters.
"I can see giving back [the height] that the federal government or the state has taken away, but not on a citywide basis," Geyer said.
Maloney said he "has not now nor ever has had any intention to raise building height above 36 feet."
Morton concurred with the other three on the height issue.
Planners are debating the addition to city zoning codes of a residential-office-retail mixed-use zoning category that would allow residential use to offices and shops Ñ basically permitting people to live in business areas of the city. The four candidates for the most part agreed to wait and see what was presented by planning commissioners before making a decision on the ROR matter.
A Florida Constitution amendment banning smoking in the workplace, specifically restaurants, has spurred a desire by many establishments to increase outdoor dining. City codes restrict such al fresco dining, however, and the candidates agreed that such codes should be relaxed.
"I believe the law was a knee-jerk response to some special interest groups," Bohnenberger said, "and I favor sidewalk cafes in Holmes Beach."
"A table and chairs outside is the thing to do," Geyer agreed, "and we should just forget about if they have enough parking or not."
"I agree," Maloney said, adding that he has requested the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would allow outdoor dining.
"I don't think the no-smoking ban should have been enacted," Morton said. "I favor a change in city codes to allow seating outside."
Rental restrictions in Holmes Beach have been an issue in recent years, as some landlords began renting units in generally residential areas for weeks or even days. In Key Royale, the city imposed a 30-day minimum rental period for homes, but the rest of the city does not have such a restriction. The four candidates favored stricter minimum standards citywide.
Specifically, the four favored one-week minimum rental restrictions citywide.
The candidates also agreed that code enforcement in the city should be changed to a pro-active rather than the current re-active process.
And they agreed that bike lane and sidewalk improvements should and will be continued, including a stretch of Marina Drive north of Gulf Drive that has been the scene of at least one bicycle calamity in recent months.
The candidates also agreed to be uncertain regarding expansion of any scenic highway designation in Holmes Beach. Currently, Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach has received the scenic designation and the Palma Sola Causeway from 75th Street to Holmes Beach is proposed to be included, opening the way for federal and state grant money for improvements such as landscaping and additional sidewalks or bike lanes.
The candidates said they were uncertain about requesting the designation, particularly for the "missing link" between the two areas in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.
"I don't know what would be in it for Holmes Beach," Bohnenberger said.
"I don't know how much it would cost us or how much it would restrict us," Geyer said.
"I lost 100-percent interest in the scenic highway program when Bradenton Beach was included," Maloney said.
"I'm not sure," said Morton. "What are they doing with it?"