Holmes Beach city commissioners decided at their Sept. 13 meeting they’d rather talk to their neighbors to the south than fight them in court, at least for the time being.
Commissioners agreed to postpone initiating conflict resolution and subsequent legal action against Bradenton Beach for the private construction of a fence along 27th Avenue North and, instead, have the mayors of the two cities meet to find a solution.
At the July 24 commission meeting, Commissioner John Monetti expressed concern that the fence might restrict public access of Holmes Beach residents. City attorney Patricia Petruff was instructed to investigate the issue and to send a letter to Bradenton Beach asking the city to hold off construction until they could talk about those concerns.
The division began in 2008, when Bradenton Beach vacated the avenue to the Sandpiper Resort. Holmes Beach opposed the action, as 27th Avenue is the dividing line between the two cities. Holmes Beach said the vacation should have been down the middle of the avenue and considered the vacation illegal, but did not pursue the matter.
In July, however, the Sandpiper Resort applied to Bradenton Beach for a permit to build a fence along the northern edge of the vacated street east of Gulf Drive and the Sandpiper. No portion of 27th Avenue west of Gulf Drive toward the Gulf of Mexico was vacated in 2008.
At the Sept. 13 Holmes Beach commission meeting, Petruff reported that she had sent a letter to Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt asking for a delay, but the letter was never answered. Petruff said she also investigated the quitclaim deed that Bradenton Beach gave the Sandpiper in 2008, but could not find the document. She also reported that she found a lock on one of the gates in the fence.
Petruff said she concluded that the quitclaim deed was inappropriately vacated by Bradenton Beach in 2008. Therefore, the fence should not have been installed, and the “no trespassing” signs should not have been posted.
That led Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger to place a resolution on the Sept. 13 agenda for the city to “initiate conflict resolution with Bradenton Beach prior to initiating court proceedings.”
Before discussion, Petruff noted that conflict resolution between cities before a lawsuit is a “very process-oriented” procedure that could take some time to complete and become expensive. However, it’s up to the commission if it wants to move forward, she said.
Chair Sandy Haas-Martens called for public comment.
Two Holmes Beach residents, commission candidate Andy Sheridan and Robert Heiger, said the city should proceed with conflict resolution, but resident Peter Graziano pointed out the process would “require a big expenditure of taxpayer dollars” by both cities.
“Access to the Gulf has not changed. It’s just a perimeter fence, and still provides unrestricted public access to Gulf Drive,” he said. Any litigation would not benefit the taxpayers of either city, Graziano concluded.
Bartelt said he learned of the problem four days before the Sept. 13 meeting, and said he never received a letter from Petruff.
“I would not have ignored such a letter, but would have immediately called Rich and said ‘let’s talk’ and settle this informally,” Bartelt said.
Holmes Beach resident Jean Peelen, also a commission candidate, said she lives in the area and owns a unit at the Sandpiper, so she could see both sides of the issue. The fence and gate are not restricting anyone’s access to Gulf Drive or the Sandpiper, Peelen said, and the no-trespassing signs have been there since 2008 with no complaints.
Bradenton Beach Mayor-elect John Shaughnessy, who lives in Sandpiper, said there has been “a lot of misinformation about the fence passed around. I’m not here to argue right or wrong, but present a proposal.”
He suggested the commission set aside the conflict resolution for now and allow Bohnenberger, himself and Bartelt to “sit down and arrive at a solution agreeable to both sides.” While he doesn’t think any proposal reached would please everyone, he’s “confident” the mayors can find something they agree upon and bring back to their respective commissions.
Rather than generate “hard feelings and ill-will” on both sides of the fence, Shaughnessy said, “Let’s give it a try, guys. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler, who also lives in Sandpiper, said no one at the resort knows who put the lock on the gate and the lock has been removed. There were never any plans for a lock on the gates, and no plans to restrict access by Holmes Beach residents.
Holmes Beach resident Mary Jones said the gates have been in place since 2008, and she’s never had a problem entering the property or asked to leave.
Petruff noted that a lock provides “an opportunity to exclude,” but she agreed “wholeheartedly” with the proposal to table the motion while the mayors talk.
Commissioners agreed, and set aside the conflict motion until the mayors can return with a recommendation.
Bohnenberger said he was ready to meet as soon as possible, but the commission must decide to accept or reject any compromise.