City takes home three wins in court

City takes home three wins in court
Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled in favor of the city’s motion to dismiss in three Bert Harris cases Jan. 8. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON – After a brief recess, Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas submitted a ruling Jan. 8 in three Bert Harris cases brought against the city of Holmes Beach.

When giving his ruling from the bench, Nicholas said that he finds that at the time of purchase of the three properties included in the cases, purchased and developed between 2009-2013, there was no limitation on the number of occupants. He said he also agrees that there is a financial disparity between a vacation rental property that can rent to an unlimited number of people and one that has a limit on occupancy.

However, he ruled in all three cases in favor of the city’s motion for summary judgment based on the idea that while the city’s occupancy regulations, two people per bedroom or six people per unit, whichever is greater, does put a burden on the property owners, he did not find it to be the inordinate burden required under the Bert Harris Jr. Act.

The three properties involved in the Jan. 8 hearing are referred to as Coral Escape, Mojito Splash and AMI Breeze LLC.

The Coral Escape property, located at 132 50th St. in Holmes Beach and owned by Brian Wein as a vacation rental investment property according to court records, is a six-bedroom home. The complaint states that Wein purchased the property in 2009 and redeveloped it to its current size with the intent to rent it as a short-term vacation rental. Attorney Aaron Thomas, arguing on behalf of Wein and investor Shawn Kaleta who owns the other two properties involved, said that the city’s regulations reduced occupancy in the rental from 14 to 12 people. The claim lists an appraised loss in value of $240,000 due to the occupancy reduction.

The Mojito Splash property, located at 304 65th St. and owned by local developer and investor Kaleta, was purchased in 2008 according to the complaint filed by Thomas. The complaint goes on to say that Kaleta developed the property as a five-bedroom vacation rental and that the city’s regulations reduced occupancy from 12 to 10 people. The claim lists an appraised loss in value of $275,000 due to the reduction in occupancy.

The AMI Breeze LLC property, also purchased and developed by Kaleta as a vacation rental, is located at 209 54th St. The complaint states that the property was purchased by the LLC in 2013 and developed as an eight-bedroom property to be used as a vacation rental. Due to the city’s regulations, the claim states a reduction in occupancy from 20 to 16 guests and a reduction in value of $690,000.

Before ruling on the three cases, Nicholas said that he understands the impact and significance of the decision he was making and how his ruling could affect the two dozen other Bert Harris cases pending against the city. He added that he also respects and understands the difference between an undeveloped property and one that the owner has gone to the expense of redeveloping.

“I don’t think the plaintiffs have come close to establishing anything that could be considered an inordinate burden,” Nicholas said, adding that he doesn’t believe the city’s occupancy restrictions to be unreasonable or that city leaders are acting arbitrarily.

“I don’t believe the reduction of two tenants is a significant enough act that the Act (Bert Harris Jr. Act) applies and a dollar amount should be considered,” he said. Nicholas added that he expects an appeal to his ruling to be filed by the plaintiffs and that he would be interested in hearing what an appeals court has to say on the issue.

For her part, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth was “very, very, very happy” with the outcome in court.

“This was huge,” she said, adding that she didn’t expect a same-day ruling. “I’m very excited.”

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