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BB revises settlement plan in land dispute

By Lisa Neff, Islander Reporter

Bradenton Beach commissioners last week revised a move to resolve a longstanding legal dispute with Island Inc./Beach Development Inc., the owners of a half-acre of beachfront property that the city has deemed preservation.

The commission first rescinded an Aug. 31 decision authorizing special city attorney Greg Hootman to work out a settlement agreement with the developers that involved the city paying out $375,000 for the west side Gulf Drive property.

The commission then voted to authorize Hootman to work on a settlement agreement, which would require the approval of the commission, that didn’t cost the city more than $350,000.

The votes Oct. 7 followed a discussion about a scribner’s error presented at the August meeting that could have cost the city an extra $25,000 to settle the case.

The case dates back to the 1990s, when the developers acquired 2.6 acres of property, most on the bayside, some on the Gulfside, with Gulf Drive bisecting the land.

The developers knew when they purchased the property that a portion of it was identified for preservation in the city’s future land-use map and comprehensive plan.

However, Hootman has said, the developers also were aware when they purchased the land that the city had committed to allow for a higher density in the bayside project because it had deemed the Gulfside property undevelopable. The city, Hootman said, had made the concession because it did not want to “take” property.

But as the project moved forward, developers encountered a hitch. Other city regulations, specifically height restrictions, got in the way of a denser development by the bay.

An effort to build a smaller project on the Gulfside also hit a roadblock.

A legal battle escalated, with the parties focused on a half-acre of preservation land on the Gulfside and what should or could happen with 10 unbuilt units provided for in city planning documents.

The dispute has involved the developers, the city, state agencies, a number of attorneys and a judge who nudged the parties into mediation and encouraged a settlement.

In the last couple of years, several settlement offers have been considered. In August, Hootman told commissioners that Island Inc./Beach Development wanted to reach a settlement — the city buy the land for $375,000 and close the case.

But city officials later learned that Hootman carried forward a scribner’s error — the settlement offer was for $350,000.

So last week, the commission rescinded its prior motion and adopted a new motion, indicating its good-faith interest in settling for $350,000.

Commissioners and the mayor also said they wanted Hootman to negotiate a 20-year financing agreement with the developers that includes a low interest rate — less than 6 percent.

That option was favored over using city reserves.

“I’m going to be very very reluctant to allow us to go into our reserves,” Bartelt said, adding that the economic outlook for the next couple of fiscal years is not favorable.

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