Cindy lane | sun
The feud started when Sandpiper installed no trespassing
signs and a lockable gate in a fence along 27th Street.
BRADENTON BEACH – The City Commission voted unanimously on Friday to approve a long-anticipated proposed settlement agreement to end a legal dispute among the city, Sandpiper Resort Co-Op Inc. and the city of Holmes Beach.
The other two parties had not decided on the proposal by press time.
In an action for declaratory relief filed in May 2012 against Bradenton Beach and Sandpiper, Holmes Beach alleged that Sandpiper wrongly prevented Holmes Beach residents from using 27th Street as a shortcut to the beach by installing no trespassing signs and lockable gates in a fence along the street, which borders both cities.
When the gates are locked, beachgoers in the Holmes Beach neighborhood north of 27th Street must walk to the other end of the block to cross Gulf Drive and reach a beach access.
In an attempt to force Sandpiper to remove the signs and gates, Holmes Beach asked the court to declare that Sandpiper does not own the property, alleging that the 2008 transfer of the property from Bradenton Beach to Sandpiper was void because the city didn’t own it outright at the time of the transfer.
Since the original suit was filed, the parties have raised several other disputed issues that remain unresolved.
Sandpiper alleges that it was improper and a violation of the Florida Constitution for Holmes Beach to pay public funds to its city attorney for what it called the “private purpose” of former Holmes Beach Commissioner John Monetti, who owned property adjoining 27th Street and originally raised the public access issue.
Holmes Beach contends that Bradenton Beach violated its own charter by conveying public property to a private entity, Sandpiper.
Sandpiper claims that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case because Holmes Beach did not timely challenge the 2008 Bradenton Beach ordinance that quitclaimed 27th Street to Sandpiper in 2009.
Bradenton Beach alleges that Holmes Beach does not have standing to pursue a legal action concerning property that is outside its city limits. In an attempt to prove its standing, conjectured Bradenton Beach attorney Ricinda Perry, Holmes Beach has asserted that it has a valid drainage easement on the property that allows it to discharge stormwater into Anna Maria Sound.
More than $35,000 in legal fees later, the proposed settlement would end the dispute by having Sandpiper and Bradenton Beach grant an easement to Holmes Beach for pedestrian and bicycle access across the property. No mention was made of allowing golf cart, skateboard and Segway access, which Sandpiper officials said originally prompted them to install the gates and signs.
Sandpiper also would be required to remove private property, no trespassing, and similar signs from the area and remove locks from the gates on the fence, which will be required to have openings for pedestrians and bicycles, as it did before the dispute arose.
The proposed settlement also would allow Holmes Beach to install signs stating the area is open to pedestrians and bicycles.
Under the settlement, Sandpiper and Bradenton Beach also would convey a drainage easement across the northernmost 30 feet of 27th Street to Holmes Beach, allowing Holmes Beach to continue to discharge stormwater.
Under the proposal, the parties would agree to place the pending litigation in abeyance until the parties comply with the terms, dismiss all claims, cross claims and counter claims, give up the right to make related future claims and pay their own attorney fees.
Voting in favor of the proposal were Vice Mayor Ed Straight and Commissioners Jan Vosburgh and Ric Gatehouse. Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler recused themselves from the vote because they each own property in Sandpiper.
The vote included one change – approval of a separate interlocal agreement between the two cities to maintain drainage on the property. That way, each city will know when the other city is working on the property and “the cities aren’t fighting about where the water is going to or coming from,” Bradenton Beach building official Steve Gilbert told the commission.
Gatehouse suggested adding terms to protect the city from litigation on stormwater issues. Perry said the liability issue could be addressed in the interlocal agreement.
The settlement probably will not be acceptable to the Sandpiper board without changes, said Chuck Webb, Sandpiper attorney, who told the commission that the proposal would result in Holmes Beach getting what they asked for in the lawsuit.
Sandpiper is willing to negotiate, but the settlement proposal needs “tweaking before we sign off,” said Doug LeFevre, Sandpiper president.
For example, he told commissioners, any beach access signs installed by Holmes Beach should have arrows pointing to Gulf Drive and the Gulf beaches to keep people from walking the other direction to Sandpiper’s bayside dock, where more no trespassing signs are posted.
Vosburgh, who made the motion to approve the proposed settlement, thanked Shaughnessy for taking the lead in negotiating the dispute, with Perry adding that he saved the city attorney fees by doing so.
Shaughnessy expressed frustration that every time an agreement is seemingly reached, the issues change.
“I’m only interested in solving the problem and moving forward,” he said.
Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti declined comment on the settlement proposal; Holmes Beach Commission Chair Jean Peelen said she had not seen the proposal.
If the settlement is not approved by all parties, Judge Diana Moreland is expected to proceed on a hearing for a motion to dismiss the case on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 1:30 p.m. at the Manatee County Judicial Center.