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HB takes legal path against Bradenton Beach

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

It’s a tale of two cities with one boundary, and the mayor-elect of one city — Bradenton Beach — said that settling the issue with lawyers would do nothing but cause “ill-will and hard feelings” between the two cities.

Holmes Beach commissioners at their Oct. 25 meeting decided not to wait for informal discussions between Mayor Rich Bohnenberger and Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt regarding the quitclaim of 27th Street in 2008 by the Bradenton Beach Commission to the Sandpiper Resort.

While Holmes Beach commissioners took no action at that time, they were opposed to giving up the street and remain so.

Holmes Beach commissioners voted 4-0 at their Oct. 25 meeting, with Commissioner John Monetti recusing himself, to proceed with an initial conflict resolution against Bradenton Beach that will result in officials of both cities meeting to seek a solution. If that meeting doesn’t solve the dispute, the next step could be mediation or a court battle.

Holmes Beach regards the Bradenton Beach commission’s 2008 quitclaim of 27th Street east of Gulf Drive as illegal.

The unimproved street — a grassy area partly used by the mobile home park for parking — is the dividing line between the two cities.

In 2008, Holmes Beach commissioners decided not to pursue any action, instead sending a letter of complaint to Bradenton Beach.

Monetti, who owns rental property near 27th Street, informed the commission in August that the Sandpiper was building a fence along the boundary between the two cities. He said he was concerned for nearby residents who use 27th Street for access to the bay or Gulf Drive.

Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff investigated and informed Bohnenberger and commissioners that she could not find a quitclaim deed that allowed Bradenton Beach to give the street to the Sandpiper Resort. She also said she found a locked gate that denied pedestrian access from Holmes Beach to the Sandpiper.

Those findings by Petruff prompted discussion of conflict resolution on the commission’s Sept. 13 meeting agenda.

At that meeting, commissioners agreed to postpone initiating the conflict resolution process until Bartelt had a chance to report to his commission and return to Bohnenberger with some negotiating points.

No position paper had reached the Holmes Beach commission by its Oct. 25 meeting and commissioners agreed Bradenton Beach had sufficient time to act.

Monetti recused himself after Petruff advised him he might place himself in a possible ethics situation if he voted on the matter, regardless of whether he would profit or not from the vote.

Monetti said it “seems as if someone, somehow is trying to keep me from voting. The 40 homes in that neighborhood would suffer because access to a public road is denied. I had not contemplated someone would say I had financial gain. I see a financial loss.”

Following the meeting, Bartelt said he was disappointed with the Holmes Beach decision and that Bohnenberger appeared to push conflict resolution for an affirmative vote.

“As I told Rich the other night, our city attorney was preparing a positional paper and I thought we could discuss the issue as agreed.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this, especially the expense of involving all the lawyers. It’s a ‘no-win’ situation,” Bartelt said.

He rejected the suggestion by Monetti that the quitclaim and fence might deny public access.

“That’s absolutely not true. Since the vacation, no one has been denied access. The fence issue started with someone driving a golf cart through Sandpiper and tearing up the grass,” Bartelt said.

The Sandpiper put up the fence, but the gates that give pedestrians access to 27th Street East, Gulf Drive and north Bradenton Beach businesses remain open, he said.

Bartelt said the Sandpiper “is just asking a few people to respect private property, that’s all. And unlicensed golf carts are illegal in that part of Holmes Beach, I believe. The Sandpiper is not supposed to be someone’s personal go-kart track,” he said.

Someone with an unlicensed golf cart was using the Sandpiper to avoid Gulf Drive, where unlicensed golf carts are prohibited, Bartelt observed.

For three years since the quitclaim, nobody had a problem, he noted. “Suddenly, a fence is going up and now we’re hearing all this talk from the politicians about declining property values, restricting access and filing a legal action. It’s just going to cost both cities money,” Bartelt said.

Bartelt said he would have the city attorney issue a statement when the conflict resolution letter is received from Petruff.

But conflict resolution is going to “create ill-will and hard feelings between two neighbors,” said Bradenton Beach Mayor-elect John Shaughnessy, a Sandpiper resident.

“No one has ever been denied access to 27th Street and no one will,” he said.

Bohnenberger, however, said his city has to protect the interests of the 40-plus residents in that area affected by the fence. He claimed property values would be lowered because of the fence, but the conflict resolution is not directed toward the Sandpiper.

“Our fight is with Bradenton Beach,” not the Sandpiper, he said.

Petruff was to send a certified letter to Bradenton Beach within five days of the commission vote. Within 30 days of the letter’s receipt by Bradenton Beach, a dispute resolution meeting will be held between both city attorneys, the chair of both commissions and both mayors.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino suggested that if the conflict resolution letter gets Bradenton Beach “moving in the right direction,” the commission could “put the brakes on” while discussions ensue.

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