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Canal-related residential dock dispute lingers on

CORTEZ – A civil lawsuit regarding residential docks located in a canal owned by the Hunters Point Resort & Marina remains unresolved and the court filings continue.

Filed with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Manatee County on June 3, 2022, and assigned to Judge Edward Nicholas, the civil lawsuit filed by Hunters Point developer Marshall Gobuty’s Cortez Road Investments and Finance Inc. (CRIF) ownership group named canal-side property owners Jonathan and Sheila Graham, Mark Ibasfalean, Jacquelyn Shepard, Timothy Fitzpatrick, Mary Norman and Wendy and George Kokolis as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges the docks, boat lifts and other structures associated with those residential properties extend more than 25% into the canal now owned by Gobuty and Hunters Point. Each defendant named in the lawsuit owns canal-side residential property along the western edge of the Hunters Point property.

The lawsuit was triggered in part by the Cortez Village Marina ownership group challenging a permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in 2021 that allows for the construction of the Hunters Point docks.

In March, Administrative Law Judge Bruce Culpepper issued a recommended order in support of the Hunters Point permit being issued and the docks being built. A final order from the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s governing board is needed before the Hunters Point docks can be built.

Changing attorneys

In mid-2022, new pilings for the Kokolis’ desired boat lift were installed in the western end of the canal. This occurred before the lawsuit was filed.

Canal-related residential dock dispute lingers on
Pilings for a new boat lift were installed in the canal in mid-2022. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

A May 3 Zoom hearing before Nicholas is scheduled regarding the Kokolis’ request to withdraw the Mackey Law Group as counsel.

According to the motion filed on March 16, “differences have arisen between Mackey Law Group and Wendy and George Kokolis that require Mackey Law Group’s withdrawal from further representation.”

On March 10, Judge Nicholas issued an order authorizing attorney Fred Moore to represent the Grahams and replace their previous attorney, David Levin.

The allegations

The lawsuit complaint alleges the defendants are maintaining docks, boat lifts and other structures on and in the privately-owned Hunters Point canal and are doing so without the authorization of the canal owner.

With the exception of a boat lift the Kokolis’ installed in the canal in early 2022, most of the other docks, lifts and structures were in place when Gobuty purchased the Hunters Point property and canal in 2016.

The lawsuit seeks the removal of the Kokolis’ boat lift. It also seeks the removal or relocation of the other docks, lifts and structures referenced in the lawsuit.

In July, Gobuty’s attorney, Susan Martin, sent the defendants a letter that said, in part: “Your dock, vessel and associated structures are not in compliance with Manatee County regulations because they exceed 25% of the width of the canal. We believe that we can amicably resolve this issue without the costs associated with protracted litigation.”

After receiving their court summons, the defendants hired attorneys to represent them.

Dock owner’s defense

On Dec. 6, Levin filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the Grahams.

That document notes Jonathan Graham acquired the canal-side property from his father, Donald Graham, in 2012. At that time, a dock and boat lift already extended from the Grahams’ property into the waters of the abutting canal.

The motion states a member of the Graham family has owned the property since 1987 and in 1994 Donald Graham obtained from Manatee County a construction permit to build a boat lift at the already-existing dock.

In 2015, Jonathan Graham obtained from Manatee County a construction permit to remove and replace the existing dock with a new dock to be located in the same footprint as the existing dock, with the previously installed boat lift remaining where it was.

“The issued permit stated the new dock would not exceed 25% into the canal,” the motion for summary judgment notes.

Canal-related residential dock dispute lingers on
Highlighted in blue, the Grahams’ property is one of the canal-side properties referenced in the lawsuit. – Manatee County Property Appraiser – Submitted

The motion references a public hearing held by the Manatee County Commission in January 2018. While seeking commission approval for the Hunters Point development, attorney Caleb Grimes testified that Gobuty filed a declaration which allows homeowners along the canal to maintain and repair their docks.

In December 2021, Graham was notified that Gobuty filed a complaint against him with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regarding the alleged non-compliance of the Grahams’ dock and boat lift. In January 2022, FDEP notified Graham the investigation did not reveal any FDEP violations.

In August 2022, Gobuty filed a complaint with the Manatee County Code Enforcement Department alleging the Grahams’ dock was built without a permit and potentially exceeds the county regulation that prohibits structures from extending more than 25% of the width of the canal.

The ensuing investigation conducted by Code Enforcement Supervisor Kristopher Weiskopf concluded the Grahams’ dock and lift were permitted, approved and no violations existed.

“Nevertheless, CRIF has continued to maintain its action against the Grahams, even after knowing that the allegations made against the Grahams were not supported by the material facts necessary to establish its claim,” according to the motion.

The summary judgment hearing scheduled for Feb. 2 was canceled before the hearing took place and it has not been rescheduled.

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