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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Reluctant Holmes Beach approval for Bradenton-Arvida-Perico mediation agreement

Seems nobody in any Island city likes the proposed mediation agreement with Bradenton and the Arvida-St. Joe Company over the Perico Island condominium project.

But it's an agreement that took more than eight hours of negotiations and was "a miracle" to reach, said Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore at the Oct. 26 commission meeting.

"It's as good a deal as we're going to get without a protracted legal fight that may end up with us on the losing end - and forced to pay attorney costs," she told commissioners.

She said Arvida attorneys made it clear in the Oct. 25 mediation session that if Manatee County and the Island cities lost their litigation against approval of the project by Bradenton, they would seek damages. And they refused to sell the property, even for the estimated $100 million it's worth.

"So, this compromise was our best shot. If we continue, it could cost the city a lot of money. At this point, we haven't paid a dime" noted Whitmore.

The mediation essentially calls for lower building heights on the west side of the project, but higher structures on the east side. Only one building on the west side would be higher than seven stories, she said, and the Martinique condominiums in Holmes Beach were used as the height standard. Four buildings on the west side will be seven stories high, while four will be six stories in height. On the east side, one building will be 12 stories, while two others will be 10 stories high.

There will still be 686 units, but Arvida has offered to sell the remaining undeveloped section of the Perico property to Manatee County for $6 million or 50 percent of the appraisal price, whichever is greater. The county has three years to act on the sale clause. In other words, said Whitmore, Arvida will give up any rights to further development on Perico in return for the county, Island cities and ManaSota-88 dropping the lawsuit.

Not everyone was happy with the compromise, but the alternatives were not pleasant.

"I think the City of Bradenton should be ashamed of itself," said Commissioner Roger Lutz. "But I'm concerned that we could not win the lawsuit. The litigation was at least a bargaining chip," and that seems to have provided leverage for at least some Arvida concessions.

"Go with it," said Commissioner Don Maloney.

Other commissioners agreed, but decided it would be easier to opt out of the lawsuit, rather than hold public hearings on a mediation that Manatee County commissioners have already agreed to approve. Lutz said the city should get an agreement with ManaSota-88 and the county that, by opting out of the lawsuit, the city is not responsible for costs. Both of those parties have agreed to ratify the mediation.

"The best deal would have been if they didn't develop the project," said Lutz, "but this may be as good as it gets."

Whitmore credited former Manatee County attorney and Holmes Beach resident Chip Rice, who acted as mediator, for brokering the agreement. "Everyone said without him as mediator, we would have gotten nowhere."