Canal ownership presents unique situation

Hunters Point canal
Several Cortez homeowners own docks and boat lifts along the canal owned by developer Marshall Gobuty. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

CORTEZ – What impact does the revelation that Hunters Point Resort and Marina developer Marshall Gobuty owns the inland canal that borders his proposed development site have on neighboring property owners?

The Sun posed this question to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) after this fact was made public during the Manatee County Planning Commission’s Dec. 14 review of the Hunters Point development plans.

Representatives of the two state agencies were asked if Gobuty’s ownership of the canal allows him to restrict navigation on the heavily used canal that begins at the Bradenton Boat Club and connects with the Intracoastal Waterway near the Seafood Shack restaurant. Several homes along the canal have docks and boat lifts and the canal also connects with H&H Marina and the Buttonwood Inlet RV Resort.

FDEP Public Information Manager Shannon Herbon referred The Sun to Swiftmud Public Information Officer Susanna Martinez Tarokh, who provided the following response: “Our regulation staff tells me typically the title holder doesn’t own the water, only the bottom lands, and he could restrict someone building something on the bottom lands he owns. Unless his ownership documents say something else, he really cannot control the use of the canal.”

Tarokh’s response supports county staff member Dorothy Rainey’s statement that canal-side homeowners need Gobuty’s permission to build a dock or install a boatlift that has supports extending downward to the submerged lands below.

Tarokh’s response contradicts Rainey’s statement that these property rights are granted to Gobuty by a state-issued submerged land lease.

“According to our regulatory staff, this project does not have a Sovereign Submerged Lands located within the project area issued by the District,” Tarokh’s email said.

Tarokh attached a copy of a 2007 title search associated with the property before Gobuty acquired it in 2016. The title search was requested by Hunters Hill Inc. Vice President Christopher Ayre, a business associate of Peter and Eva Thurell, the property owners at that time.

“Our records indicate the canal was dredged/altered, and there is insufficient information to determine the location of the mean high-water line at this site prior to alterations. Therefore, we recommend the proprietary requirements normally applied to state-owned lands not apply to this activity,” the title search document states.

Local impact

During the Planning Commission meeting, Margaret Tusing, the county’s principal planner, addressed the canal ownership when discussing Gobuty’s request to reduce the waterfront structure setbacks to create more room for his development.

“This is an unusual situation. When you look at the waterfront setback requirements it has a provision that talks about if you own the canal or you own the waterway you do not have to meet the 30-foot setback. Marshall does own this waterway, however at some point in time the individual property owners aren’t going to own the water anymore; the homeowner’s association is probably going to own it. That’s why we’re using an abundance of caution, coming forward with this specific approval to allow it to be reduced to the 15 feet,” Tusing said.

There are no known documents that ensure neighboring property owners the continued use of their existing docks, but Gobuty’s attorney, Caleb Grimes, told the Planning Commission and the public that his client has no issues with the existing docks and no intent to limit the historic use of the canal for navigational purposes.

Barring an easement or some other written agreement, neighboring property owners may be left reliant on the developers’ word and/or the homeowner’s association’s future decisions regarding any potential restrictions or fees imposed upon new or existing docks. If Gobuty sells the property before it’s developed, ownership of the canal would transfer with it.

County commissioners will be asked to approve the Hunters Point Resort and Marina development plans on Thursday, Jan. 11. The public hearing will allow for public comment on all matters pertaining to the proposed project.

Previous coverage

Hunters Point plans revealed