HOLMES BEACH – Rejecting the advice of their mayor and city attorney, commissioners voted 3-2 to revoke the site plan for the Mainsail development eliciting a collective gasp from the full house at city hall last Tuesday.
“Now we have to engage counsel,” Mainsail President Joe Collier said after the vote. “We don’t have any choice. We have to protect our interests and our investors.”
The marathon meeting of nearly four hours regarding the site plan for the development near the corner of Marina and Gulf drives began with a disagreement over whether to even proceed with the pubic hearing.
The public hearing was continued from Feb. 12 so building department officials could meet with Mainsail representatives to compare the site plan of the original Tidemark development, approved in 2001 by a resolution that granted a special exception, with Mainsail’s site plan.
Mayor Carmel Monti said they had received more information from Mainsail andInterim Building Inspector Tom O’Brien “did not feel we had an adequate amount of time to present it and are looking for a continuation to the next meeting.”
However, Commissioner Marvin Grossman disagreed and said, “I move to hear from them. They’re here; they’re prepared. Let them present it today.”
Commissioners Pat Morton and Judy Titsworth agreed with Grossman, and Chair Jean Peelen and Commissioner David Zaccagnino agreed with Monti. Peelen asked City Attorney Patricia Petruff about the legality of proceeding. “Generally when the administrative head of your city tells you he would like you to delay something for two weeks to bring clarity to the situation and to provide additional time for your staff, it is best if the elected officials follow his lead,” Petruff responded. “There’s nothing to be harmed by waiting two weeks, but there’s likely something to be gained.”
The vote to proceed was 3-2 with Zaccagnino and Peelen dissenting.
Site plan questions
The project includes 37 two-story hotel units, a two-story lodge building with an 80-seat restaurant and a 50-slip marina.
Mainsail architect Stephen Smith detailed some of the changes the developer made to its site plan including increasing setbacks, redesigning one building, changing the parking configuration and adding buffering along Sunrise Lane and reducing the lodge to two stories, the number of units from 40 to 37, the restaurant seats from 120 to 80 and the boat slips from 75 to 50.
Grossman asked a series of questions regarding square footage, parking spaces and boat slips and said, “You want the best of both worlds. You want to take all the things the commission in the past gave you in a special exception – the parking, the setbacks.
“You want to use your plan from 2001, and you want us to give you all these changes so it makes it easier for you.”
Collier said that they have already been through an extended site plan review with the former building department, and now there’s a new building department.
“You came to us and said, ‘We don’t like your site plan that’s been in existence for three years,’ ” Collier continued. ‘If you want this approved, you’d better stick with your old site plan, otherwise we’ll revoke it.’
“Your city issued permits for this site plan, foundations were poured and construction began. If you’re now going back and saying you want us to start all over again, that’s not realistic in our world.”
He said they made changes the building department asked for in the spirit of cooperation, but Grossman said, “The building department does not speak for the commission.”
However, Peelen pointed out “They were invited to meet with our building department to work on the site plan to make any changes necessary to make it a better plan. We did that; we invited them.”
She said the building department and planner were to determine if the new site plan was close enough to the old site plan to recommend approval.
“The intention was to come up with a plan that would be good for Mainsail and the city,” Monti added. “We sat down and said we want to cooperate. We made suggestions; they followed those. We made tremendous progress over the original site plan, and to just toss it out without acknowledging progress is not accurate."
Titsworth disagreed with Peelen.
Pro and con
Manatee County Commissioner and former Mayor Carol Whitmore spoke in favor of the project and maintained that Titsworth has a conflict of interest because “she has the potential of financial gain or loss.”
Peelen and Zaccagnino agreed on the conflict of interest issue, and Zaccagnino read from the Florida Code of Ethics and said, “That’s a clear statement that Mrs. Titsworth needs to recuse herself.”
Several residents of the area spoke against the project citing concerns about parking, setbacks and boat traffic, and all urged the commission to start over with a new plan.
“I think it’s going to be a lot worse than people imagine,” said Jo Ann Kirby, of 56th Street.
“We want the developer to make the adjustments and sacrifices, not us,” said another.
Attorney Stephen Thompson, representing project neighbor Lance Spotts, declared that the project has been abandoned and urged the commission to void the site plan.
Restaurateur and Mainsail partner Ed Chiles stressed, “We need to face reality that something will happen on this site. We have an opportunity to work with quality people in a spirit of cooperation.”
When Peelen asked for a motion to continue the public hearing, but did not get one, she said, “I’m very distressed that we are about to act on a very important thing that could create liability against the advise of our attorney and the request of our mayor without all the input I think is necessary for us to have.”
Grossman made a motion to revoke the site plan based on the code provision LDC III:30, which states, “Except as provided under section 4.b. following, any modifications to an approved special exception use and any addition to an existing special exception shall require the same application, review and approval as required under this section for the original approval of the special exception use.”
Morton seconded it. Titsworth agreed and read from a prepared statement and called the project “substantially different from the original site plan.”
Vulnerable to a lawsuit
“I believe our attorney believes the plan is still active and revoking it would put us in major jeopardy,” Zaccagnino said. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
“These guys don’t have to put up with this. They could package it up and sell it off. Someone could put in a Motel 6 there with as many rooms as they can and rent it out for $60 a night.”
“This city is very vulnerable to a lawsuit that we don’t need,” Monti added. “Let’s continue to work with them. I abhor litigation because no one wins except the attorneys. We are leaving ourselves open to a situation that would jeopardize the reserves of this city, and I think it’s very irresponsible.”
Peelen asked Petruff to comment, and Petruff said the changes made by Mainsail are improvements or enhancements and decreases in intensity and density, which are not considered substantial or significant.
“You have a lot of moving parts that make it a very complicated case,” Petruff continued. “Once it gets through the pleading stage, it will be sent to mediation. You’ll have a stranger mediate the case. I don’t think that’s a good outcome. I concur with the mayor.”
The motion was approved with Peelen and Zaccagnino dissenting. Following the vote, Petruff said it creates an issue with the marina and said, “I don’t know what the ramifications are at this point,” and suggested that they put it on a future agenda.
Regarding the vote, Monti said, “I’m disappointed. I thought we had made progress with them in a cooperative spirit. There was no acknowledgment of that.
“We’re now looking at something that will be onerous for the city. We were on the right track to do something good for the city and we derailed it.”
Collier pointed out, “We really were told to relax and we would work though it, and we took that as their word.”