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Date of Issue: December 21, 2006

Investors admit too much trust in Anna Maria purchase

Everyone's heard the old saying that when you purchase something without a guarantee, "Let the buyer beware."

That's exactly the case for Larry Herrig and Jim Klauer of LBK Realty when they purchased the six lots on North Bay Boulevard in Anna Maria across from the city pier two years ago with the intention of building retail-office-residential units.

"We were too trustworthy," said Herrig. "It appears that we were misled."

Herrig purchased the property with the understanding from attorney David Wilcox and the real estate agent that although the land was zoned commercial, the city would be supportive of a land-use change to residential or retail-office-residential.

"Because we are trustworthy individuals, we took them at their word," said Harrig, who hails from Iowa but is now a Longboat Key resident.

"We were told it was a ‘no-brainer' and it would only take 30 to 90 days to get the zoning changed."

What a surprise when Harrig discovered that the city's comprehensive land-use plan designated that property for commercial usage and the city commission was not interested in changing the lots to retail-office-residential.

Then, said Harrig, he learned that Wilcox had previously attempted to get the property re-zoned to residential but had failed.

"We didn't know that when we purchased the property. I guess it's our fault for being trustworthy, but we believed Wilcox. Knowing what we know now, we never would have paid that much for the property."

Now, Harrig and Klauer are stuck with a commercial property with limited uses. According to the city's land development codes for commercial property, they can only build such structures as a strip mall, antique shop, marina or restaurant.

"But we don't want to build commercially. We thought the city wanted residential structures that fit the character of the city. The comprehensive plan even says that the city wants to preserve the residential character of Anna Maria."

Harrig said his construction partners, Peter Petres and Curt Vilt of Centurion Homes, had been to several planning and zoning board meetings on the comprehensive plan to request a land-use change, but to no avail.

Vilt noted that the ad hoc comprehensive plan committee's report indicated the city needs more residential land-use areas

"I thought this was great. This is just what we need," said Vilt. He was surprised, then, when his request to the P&Z board for a land-use change was rejected.

Harrig also said he asked former Mayor SueLynn for a meeting to discuss the property with the city commission long before the comp-plan public hearing of Nov. 30, but that meeting never materialized.

"We were never told the correct procedures for a comprehensive plan change or rezoning," he said.

For now, Harrig is not sure of his next course of action.

"We are looking at our options. We have a group of other property owners in a similar situation and will discuss what we can do with our attorney."

Harrig did note that one option is to build a marina on the property, which is an allowable use in the city's C-1 (commercial) zone. "Or, we could put in a restaurant," he added.