Legal issues abound in 27th Street dispute

        The ball will be in the city of Bradenton Beach’s court Jan. 5, following Holmes Beach’s vote last month on a settlement proposal to end the wrangling between the two cities over the 27th Street quitclaim to Sandpiper Resort.

        The proposal seeks to resolve the border dispute surrounding the 50-foot-wide unimproved street in Bradenton Beach that Holmes Beach claims was improperly quitclaimed to the Sandpiper Resort Coop. in 2008. Bradenton Beach claims Holmes Beach does not have legal standing to dispute their action.

        Currently involved in a statutory conflict resolution process, the neighboring cities face additional fees for lawyers, a mediator and possibly court action if a settlement is not reached.

        The city of Bradenton Beach’s position is Holmes Beach does not have sufficient interest in 27th Street, or legal “standing” to challenge its 2008 quitclaim to the mobile home park.

        According to the draft minutes of the first conflict resolution meeting Dec. 7, Bradenton Beach attorney Ricinda Perry said, “until a court tells the city of Bradenton Beach they were wrong,” the city’s position is that “Holmes Beach does not have standing.” She said the matter is a “private issue” between property owners, Sandpiper Resort and the city of Bradenton Beach.

        In a recent phone interview, Holmes Beach attorney Patricia Petruff conceded that a court ultimately would decide the “standing” issue, but she believes the city of Holmes Beach has a sufficient connection to object to Bradenton Beach’s 2008 quitclaim ordinance, which she said, “clearly violates Florida law.”

        At press time, Perry had not returned a phone call for comment.


Settlement proposed

        Holmes Beach commissioners voted Dec. 13 to present a formal offer of settlement that proposes to the city of Bradenton Beach that it request Sandpiper quitclaim to Bradenton Beach the northern 30 feet of the former 50-foot-wide street.

        In a letter dated Dec. 16, Petruff said the Holmes Beach city commission directed her to submit the following proposal:

        “After review of surveys contained in city of Bradenton Beach files and inspection of the property, the northern 30 feet of the 27th Street 50-foot right of way is clearly being utilized for right-of-way purposes, including a 10-foot-wide paved road, parking, utilities and stormwater drainage. Mobile homes and other improvements appear to encroach on the remaining 20 feet of the right of way.

        “In order to restore the status quo with respect to this 30-foot area, the city of Holmes Beach proposes that the city of Bradenton Beach request that the Sandpiper Co-op quitclaim the northern 30 feet of the 27th Street right of way back to the City of Bradenton Beach.

        “Further, Holmes Beach proposes that the current signs on the fence which state the property is private be removed, and alternatively, signage stating that the area is available for public and or beach access be installed.

        “Finally, the city commission is requesting that the two existing gates at Avenues B and C be removed and that an additional opening be installed in the fence so that there can be public access through the existing alley. The remaining fence along the northern boundary of the 27th Street right of way can remain in place.”

        Petruff added that the “understanding at the conflict assessment meeting” was that the city of Bradenton Beach would meet with Sandpiper Co-op representatives “to discuss this approach to resolve the matter.”


Point, counterpoint

        Petruff was the attorney when Bradenton Beach first considered the quitclaim of 27th Street to the Sandpiper in 2008. It was done to help the resort clarify ownership while financing some improvements in the mobile home park.

        Petruff said that a letter she wrote in December 2008 “lays it all out.”

        Her Dec. 3, 2008, letter to the then-Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce contends that a quitclaim deed by the city would be improper, and that vacating 27th Street was the city’s only option.

        “As a properly dedicated roadway, the city of Bradenton Beach holds 27th Street in trust for the public and the only way the city may lawfully relinquish its duties as trustee is to vacate the property.

        “Pursuant to Florida law, vacation of 27th Street would result in fee title to property vesting 100 percent in the adjacent Ilexhurst property owners, and not in Sandpiper.”

        Perry responded to Petruff’s “vacation” argument at the Dec. 7 meeting, saying it is “not a workable solution” and that Sandpiper had relied on the quitclaim deed when it obtained a bank loan.

        Perry also said that the Sandpiper co-op board should be represented in the conflict resolution procedures due to having a substantial interest in the outcome.

2008 position, and response

        In 2008, attorney Charles H. Webb, now an Anna Maria city commissioner, represented the Sandpiper and prepared the quitclaim deed. The deed, recorded in Manatee County, cites a Florida statute allowing re-conveyances as the authority for the deed.

        The statute referenced in the deed is inapplicable, Petruff said, because it pertains to a “re-conveyance” by quitclaim only if the land had been conveyed for a specific purpose, and was not so used for 60 months.

        Webb addressed the city of Bradenton Beach in 2008, stating Florida law allows the city to convey unimproved roads, including 27th Street, by quitclaim deed. He also said that because the Sandpiper had exercised private control over the road, a quitclaim deed was proper to clear up ownership issues.

        Petruff disagreed with Webb in 2008, stating that as a properly dedicated road, the Sandpiper could not acquire 27th Street by adverse possession. In a recent interview, Petruff also pointed to utilities and drainage as “improvements” on the street.

        At press time, Webb had not returned a phone call for comment.

        Shortly after sending its 2008 letter of legal objections, Holmes Beach city commissioners backed off the issue at their Dec. 9, 2008, meeting. Commissioners agreed not to spend additional city dollars pursuing the matter.


Dispute re-ignites

        However, the matter resurfaced in August 2011 after a fence and gates were erected and no trespassing signs were posted along the 27th Street boundary with Holmes Beach.

        Nearby property owner and Holmes Beach Commissioner John Monetti said residents want to use the street to reach the bay and the beach. Meanwhile the Sandpiper residents maintain the bayfront is their private property.

The Sandpiper Resort Association currently awaits a proposal from Bradenton Beach before considering its options, but its board reportedly will not meet until Feb. 1.

And Bradenton Beach has not considered the issue as a voting body because it has lacked a quorum of voting commissioners.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler and Mayor John Shaughnessy — a voting member of the commission — have recused themselves because they reside at Sandpiper Resort. And the city is lacking a Ward 3 commissioner due to former commissioner Janie Robertson’s term-limit expiration. No one ran for the seat in the November election.

The commission is expected to appoint a commissioner at its Jan. 5 meeting.

In December, the two cities participated in the first of multiple meetings prescribed under a state conflict resolution statute. It outlines a process and deadlines to be followed before one governmental entity files suit against another.

Because the towns failed to resolve the dispute at the first Dec. 7 meeting, a joint public meeting is now required. It was  required by Dec. 20, 50 days after the Holmes Beach letter of Oct. 27 that first invoked the process was received by the city of Bradenton Beach.

However, Petruff’s Dec. 16 letter suggested the cities schedule a joint public meeting Jan. 17 or  Jan.18, given the fact the next meeting of the Bradenton Beach city commission is Jan. 5.

According to its Jan. 5 meeting agenda, Bradenton Beach will address appointing a commissioner — which will allow a quorum of three voting members — and the Holmes Beach settlement offer.

If no agreement is reached at the joint meeting later in January, mandatory mediation is required, the costs of which are to be equally divided between the cities, according to the conflict resolution statute.

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