Bradenton Beach city attorney Ricinda Perry July 5 asked for and received a consensus from city commissioners to hire a special litigator to help with two lawsuits.
One lawsuit against the city was filed by Holmes Beach over the ongoing Sandpiper Resort border-27th Street dispute. The other action contends the city misinterpreted city codes in allowing a dune and parking lot project to move forward across from city hall.
Perry said soon she will file responses to both lawsuits, but she asked commissioners to hire another law firm for legal support.
Perry recommended the city retain Chuck Johnson of Blalock Walters of Bradenton, who Perry called a “top litigator” in the state.
“I will do the lion’s share of the legwork, but Mr. Johnson will do the litigating,” she said. “Neither action qualified for League of Cities, so unfortunately your taxpayers will be burdened by this litigation. When people become contentious on matters, my bill goes up.”
Perry played a role in guiding and recommending how the commission should act in both matters. The commissioners have repeatedly supported Perry and they reached a consensus to hire Johnson.
Taxpayers, in addition to paying Perry’s legal fees, also will pay the bill for an attorney to litigate the lawsuits.
In the HB-BB border dispute, Holmes Beach maintains a quitclaim deed for the length of 27th Street between Gulf Drive and the bayfront granted by Bradenton Beach to the Sandpiper Resort, 2601 Gulf Drive N., was an illegal transfer of property.
Holmes Beach filed an action for declaratory relief May 24 to have the quitclaim voided and a declaration that 27th Street is a public right of way.
The dispute arose when the Sandpiper Resort installed gates and fences with signs announcing “private property” and blocked public access by locking the gates on the fence separating the resort and the city of Holmes Beach.
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler have recused themselves from voting on the matter because they reside at the Sandpiper Resort.
The second lawsuit filed against Bradenton Beach was brought by three citizens, including two former planning and zoning board members.
Former P&Z members Jo Ann Meilner and Bill Shearon, also a former city commissioner, as well as Tjet Martin, Shearon’s partner at the Linger Longer Resort, want the court to void the city’s development plan with ELRA, the corporate entity of Ed Chiles’ BeachHouse Restaurant.
The suit challenges the city’s code interpretation involving a dune and parking lot project approved by the city to begin in October south of the restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, and across from city hall.
P&Z members recommended against the project 4-1 based on a number of land development code and cited comprehensive plan violations geared more toward the parking lot rather than the dune.
The contentious battle culminated at a May 3 city commission meeting when Perry questioned P&Z members’ qualifications.
Perry said city staff were better qualified to interpret codes and discounted P&Z expertise by saying only people with lettered degrees behind their names should interpret codes even though P&Z members are involved in writing the codes.
P&Z members also were rebuked by Commissioner Ric Gatehouse, who accused them of personal bias and presenting a tainted recommendation.
Breuler said she would trust city staff first and foremost, as commissioners unanimously approved the project.
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh later voted “no” when it came time to approve the contract, saying she had become uncomfortable with the agreement.
Following the May 3 commission meeting, four P&Z members resigned, including Meilner, Shearon, Joyce Kramer, and chair Rick Bisio.