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Date of Issue: February 24, 2010

Commission rejects land-sale offer

No deal, Bradenton Beach commissioners are telling a developer seeking to sell the city waterfront property in the 1400 block of Gulf Drive.

Commissioners took about 90 minutes to arrive at that conclusion at a Feb. 18 meeting at city hall.

But from the start of the meeting it was clear that they were not interested in paying the $600,000 sale price for the preservation property, even with the developer’s offer to collect the money over 20 years.

The property in question has a long history involving a legal dispute so complicated that the related documents fill 11 file boxes, according to one member of the city planning and zoning board.

“It has been a pitched battle from the get-go,” said Greg Hootman, who represents the city in a case largely underwritten by the Florida League of Cities.

Hootman summed up the dispute with Island Inc.-Beach Development Inc. for the commission last week.

The developers had sought to build residences on property that the city deemed preservation land. The dispute cycled through city and state reviews, and also went to court, where the city won the first round but the developers won a second round. A judge eventually pushed both sides into mediation, which resulted in the developer’s offer to sell the property to the city for $600,000.

“We’re here, in public, with this offer,” Hootman said.

In the discussion last week, commissioners reached consensus on a number of issues.

First, the price is too high.

The total property value for the two parcels for sale, according to the tax rolls, is about $36,000, said building official Steve Gilbert.

“Maybe it would be worthwhile to stop the (legal) cost, but I’m not mad about the idea unless we offer them a buck,” said Commissioner Gay Breuler.

Second, commissioners said they feel the developer is holding the city hostage.

“Maybe we should cut our losses?” Breuler said. “But it seems like we are being blackmailed.… Though that’s not a good word.”

“It’s a good word,” said Commissioner Bob Bartelt.

Third, commissioners agreed that even if the city purchased the property to settle the suit with Island Inc.-Beach Development Inc., there is no guarantee the legal fighting will end.

The developer sold contracts for residences on the property.

“The threat of litigation, I don’t think can be minimized,” Hootman said.

Lastly, commissioners agreed that regardless of whether the land is publicly or privately owned it will be preserved as unbuildable beachfront property.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, planning and zoning board member Bill Shearon said, “The city took a position back 10 years ago that it was preservation, always was preservation and they fought to the hilt to maintain it being preservation.… My question is, why, when it’s going to be preservation, is the city going to pay even $1 of taxpayer money?”

As the discussion continued, Mayor Michael Pierce asked Hootman what would happen if the city rejected the offer but did not make a counter-offer.

Hootman chuckled and told a joke about skipping the class on fortune-telling at law school.

Then he outlined several scenarios: The developer might apply for a building permit, which would trigger a new go-round. The developer might push to take the legal dispute to trial. The developer might find a buyer for the property. The developer might drop the issue.

At the meeting’s conclusion, the commission decided to wait and see which scenario might play out.

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