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Anna Maria city leaders preemptively consider ordinance regulating commercial activity in public spaces

Safety is among some of the issues raising serious concerns for some leaders on the island about recreational activities on the Manatee Avenue causeway.

ANNA MARIA, Fla. — Taking a trip to Anna Maria Island? Your fun can actually begin way before you get there. 

You can find everything from horseback rides to airplane rides right on the sides of the road. Those various activities and much more make Anna Maria Island quite the popular hot spot for outdoor recreation in Manatee County.

But on Thursday night, some of those commercial activities in the region have now raised eyebrows on the island in one of its three cities.

The causeway over Palma Sola Bay is always buzzing with activity and Isaiah Mays, who is a personal watercraft rental operator, has seen it firsthand.

He and a few other vendors in the area have permits to do business on the sides of the causeway and can make quick money thanks to tourists and locals on their way to Anna Maria Island.

"People want to come out here and have fun. People are looking to do different things. People have kayaks, Jet Skis and we are not the only people out here trying to make money," Mays said, who owns Freedom Jetski Rental.

Mays says it's not uncommon to see businesses among the growing crowds who aren't officially authorized to be there.  

"You do have people who do just, you know, bring Jet Skis and just come out here and they do make it harder for people like us who are doing it legally," Mays said.

"They don't have any of the insurance or the proper things backing them up in case something happens and because of that, that can cause accidents in the long run," Bryan Rivera, who also rents out personalized watercraft, said.

Safety is among some of the issues raising serious concerns for some leaders on the island.

A few miles up from the causeway, city of Anna Maria leaders are talking about preventing pop-up shops that retail recreational activities or goods from showing up in some of their public spaces.

"If you drive that causeway, it's not really very safe. Where you see people running across the road because they got through with their Jet Ski rental, now, they want to take an airplane ride and when they get through the airplane ride, they want to do a horseback ride," City of Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said.

The city council is looking into an ordinance to permit or prevent such commercial activity in the public right of way like roadsides, beach access points and city parking lots.

"Our concern is that the same thing could happen within our city. So, we'd like to have something in place to see what we can do to regulate that, to make sure that we're not overcrowding our city and making it an unsafe place to be," Murphy said.

The vendors we spoke with who are legally on the causeway agree that preemption and strict rules are necessary but called for a balance due to tourism demands.

"If we could just all come together, that would be great," May said.

At the city council meeting tonight, the city's attorney will brief the council on whether any existing laws in place need to be enforced or what the legal framework would be if city leaders decided to create a new ordinance.

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