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Date of Issue: January 13, 2010

Commission to counter settlement offer

Bradenton Beach commissioners are seeking an appraisal on undeveloped beachfront property caught up in litigation.

The property in the 1400 block of Gulf Drive is being offered to the city for $600,000, part of a proposed settlement in a civil lawsuit that goes back years.

Commissioners, meeting Jan. 7 at city hall, said that the price is too high, but they are interested in the Island Inc.-Beach Development Inc. property, which is designated as preservation on a city land-use map and is zoned environmental.

Previously, the city commission approved a grant application to the Florida Communities Trust for the acquisition of the beachfront parcels at 1402, 1404, 1412 and 1414 Gulf Drive. The application indicated that the city would contribute 30 percent or $600,000 toward the property purchase, based on a $2 million price tag.

The grant was not awarded, but the city’s indication that it wanted to invest in the property didn’t go unnoticed.

The city and the developers are in a legal tussle over the land. The developers had sought to build residences on the property. The city had deemed the half-acre of property as preservation land. The dispute went to court, where the city won one round and the developers won on appeal.

While the matter remains before the court, both sides have participated in mediation and indicated they want a resolution.

An early stage of mediation resulted in a finding that the city should buy the land, a suggestion the city previously proposed, but the developers rebuffed.

Now, according to Greg Hootman, the city’s attorney in the case, the developers, having won a $1.8 million judgment in another case connected to the property dispute, seem interested in selling.

The property price, said Hootman, is $600,000, payable over about five years.

“I think we’ve gotten to a point in the case,” Hootman said, “where it’s dollars and time.… Get the sharp pencils out.… Find out how much money is in the envelope.”

Commissioners agreed last week that $600,000 is too much. So they instructed staff to have the property appraised as part of an effort to prepare a counter offer.

Commissioners also want to hear from the public and may hold a town meeting on the matter.

Commissioner Gay Breuler said preservation of the property could help “keep our sweet little city our sweet little city.”

But, she said, how do citizens feel, especially about an expensive land purchase in tough financial times.

Before the meeting, Nora Idso, city clerk and financial officer, provided commissioners with a memo: “At the end of the day, the city does not have $650,000 nor can it conceivably borrow that kind of money for a piece of property that can generate no income.”

Commissioners said perhaps the city could negotiate a lesser price, as well as extend the payment plan, but that they want to hear from citizens.

“We can go out there and say, ‘Here’s the proposal,’” said Commissioner Janie Robertson. “That’s the way we should be doing government.”

“It could go either way,” Breuler said, of the public response.

The city’s FCT grant application had indicated that the property would be used as a park, possibly offering some amenities, such as a picnic shelter and a kiosk for an education center to promote sea turtle awareness.

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