Bradenton Beach city attorney Ricinda Perry said she would not likely recommend that city accept an offer to arbitrate a lawsuit filed to end a joint development agreement with the BeachHouse Restaurant for a dune/parking lot project.
Perry updated commissioners at an Oct. 18 city meeting, following an Oct. 4 announcement from one of the plaintiffs that they were willing to send the case to binding arbitration as opposed to litigating in the court system.
The lawsuit alleges the joint development agreement violates the city charter, land development codes and comprehensive plan, and seeks to halt the project the city approved in May.
Jo Ann Meilner said Oct. 4, “We propose to withdraw our complaint against the city of Bradenton Beach regarding the development agreement and offer instead a review by a qualified judge arbitrator experienced in land-use matters.”
Perry said the manner of presenting a legal offer at a public meeting was unusual.
“As you all know, in an unorthodox manner, one of the plaintiffs came in and asked for binding arbitration,” said Perry. “We found it appropriate to speak to opposing counsel, so I sent correspondence to see if he was seeking mediation or arbitration.”
Perry said there is a difference.
“The client said arbitration but, if he is seeking mediation, then he needs to give us an idea of what he wants to go forward with,” she said. “There is no point of getting to mediation with no concept in mind of how they intend on getting this settled.”
Perry said arbitration would end up costing the city almost as much as litigating the suit.
“So I’m not in favor of arbitration,” she said. “You do the same amount of legwork as you would for a judge … I’m much more comfortable litigating it.”
Perry said she is still waiting to hear back from opposing counsel on the details of the offer.
“If it is mediation, give us an idea of what you are thinking of in terms of settlement, so we don’t waste time,” she said. “We are at a standstill until he clarifies what he wants.”
Meilner and Bill Shearon, both former members of the planning and zoning board, as well as Tjet Martin, a business partner of Shearon at the Linger Longer Resort are plaintiffs in the suit.
Meilner, Shearon, and two other P&Z members resigned after a contentious process to pass the agreement in partnership with the Ed Chiles-owned restaurant across from city hall.
P&Z recommended in April that commissioners reject the agreement based on the violations they cited in their recommendation.
A May city commission meeting turned into accusations from the commission and city attorney that P&Z members were not qualified to make such a recommendation and that the recommendation was based on personal bias.
The contentious meeting led to the four P&Z resignations in May, and the subsequent June filing of the lawsuit.