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Date of Issue: January 21, 2009

Alley vacation hearing set

A contingent of Holmes Beach citizens turned out Jan. 13 to fight a proposal that the city vacate a portion of a waterfront alley.

The crowd left mid-meeting under the impression that the proposal from Susan and Fred Bartizal failed for lack of a motion from a city commission reluctant to give away public property fronting on the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the issue came up at the end of the meeting when Derin Parks, an attorney for the Bartizals, alleged that the commission’s failure to take public comment on the proposal violated due process.

A public hearing had been advertised for a first reading of an ordinance on the alley vacation, said Parks.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said she was not aware a hearing was advertised. Neither was Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens.

So the commission moved a first reading of the ordinance and opened a public hearing, though there was no public comment.

A second reading will be scheduled and a second hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

The Bartizals asked the city to vacate a 10-foot unimproved alley on the Gulfside of the Bartizals’ duplex in the 2800 block of Avenue E.

“It’s unbuildable,” said city public works superintendent Joe Duennes. “Some 18 feet from the alley is the erosion control line.… For all practical purposes, it will never be used for anything.”

The Bartizals’ application states, “The property to be vacated is an unimproved alleyway that, from all records, was never used or improved. The alleyway is approximately 10 feet wide and separates two parcels of real property owned by the Bartizals. The vacation of this alleyway would not deprive any landowners of access to their property, nor would it deprive public access to the beach. Furthermore, portions of the alleyway located north of the Bartizal property have either already been vacated or the City of Holmes Beach has consented to the construction of permanent structures over the entire alleyway.”

The application also provides the reason the Bartizals seek the property: “As a practical matter, the Bartizals would like to construct a pool over that portion of the unimproved and unconstructed alleyway that separates their two otherwise adjacent properties. If the alleyway is not vacated, they will be forced to construct a pool extremely close to their existing home.”

Utility services in the area did not object to the vacation, but residents in the area attended the Jan. 13 meeting planning to object to the application.

They left thinking they had won without raising their voices because none of the city commissioners moved for a first reading of the proposed ordinance.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said a vacation would do little to boost the city’s tax base. More importantly, he said, he is opposed to vacating public property, especially public property on the beach.

Commissioner John Monetti added, “We’re not normally in the business of giving away public property.” He said he walked the area several times and noticed that the alley contains sea oats and dunes.

Commissioner Pat Morton said, “I’m for not giving it away” and Commissioner Pat Geyer made a similar comment.

Haas-Martens then said for lack of interest, the issue is “gone.”

Later in the meeting, during public comment, Parks addressed the commission.

“This is a due-process violation,” Parks said of the commission’s failure to hold a public hearing on the application. He said his clients paid the $2,500 application fee, as well as the costs of public notice. “There was to be a public hearing. There was no public hearing. The only thing that was considered was the testimony of the commissioners.… We believe there should have been a public hearing.”

Parks also questioned a delay in scheduling a commission review of the application. He said the application, dated Sept. 15, 2008, was held until some Holmes Beach residents returned for the winter season.

After some discussion, the commission agreed to open a hearing and Parks reserved his comments until Jan. 27.