Plaintiffs offer arbitration in parking lot suit

Resident Jo Ann Meilner offered Bradenton Beach commissioners an unexpected deal at an Oct. 4 meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Meilner is one of three plaintiffs involved in a lawsuit filed against the city in June that demands an end to the city’s joint development agreement with ELRA Inc., the corporate entity of the Ed Chiles’ BeachHouse Restaurant.

The agreement, approved in May despite objections from the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board, allows development of a parking lot next to the restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., in exchange for ELRA assuming the lion’s share of the cost to put in a dune across from city hall.

P&Z recommended commissioners reject the agreement in April, citing violations of the city charter, land development codes and comprehensive plan.

P&Z members were publicly admonished at a May city commission meeting where Commissioner Ric Gatehouse accused P&Z members of bias and presenting a “tainted” recommendation, while city attorney Ricinda Perry said P&Z was not qualified to make such a recommendation.

The contentious meeting led to four P&Z resignations, including Meilner’s, and the subsequent lawsuit.

Meilner, who owns Meilner & Son Construction in Bradenton Beach with her husband, speaking for herself and co-plaintiffs Tjet Martin and Bill Shearon, owners/partners in Linger Lodge in the city, made a counter offer to the suit during public comment of the Oct. 4 meeting.

“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,” she said.

Meilner said the offer would stand if the city would agree that the arbitration results would be binding.

“This is essentially where we are heading through the court system,” she said. “At the end of a long legal battle, a judge will make a final ruling. Binding arbitration will speed the process.”

Meilner said the land development code, comprehensive plan and city charter could be fairly reviewed through arbitration, “without a room full of lawyers making the interpretation.”

As a former P&Z member, she said the plaintiffs in the case live and work in the city and do not want to burden the city with additional expenses.

“Those members of the P&Z, who for many years gave countless hours reviewing the LDC and participating in the visioning process care deeply for our city,” she said. “Currently, the city is being sued on multiple fronts and experiencing enormous unbudgeted legal fees.

“We are willing to make this offer to end some of those expenses and ensure a fair review of the city’s codes,” she added.

Commissioners did not comment on Meilner’s offer because it involves a legal position of the city, but accepted her comments for consideration.

The city already has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees just to have its case reviewed by an outside attorney.

The dune/parking lot project is scheduled to begin following sea turtle nesting season, which ends Oct. 31, but if the plaintiffs were to win the legal battle, everything the city and ELRA did in that effort would have to be undone, according to the terms of the lawsuit.

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