Dune project, lawsuit await BB decision on mediation

Bradenton Beach commissioners, city attorney Ricinda Perry and attorney Charles Johnson, hired by the city to litigate a lawsuit filed against the city over an argument to construct a parking lot on the beach, met for about 90 minutes Nov. 15 in a shade meeting.

Shade meetings are closed to the public in order for officials to discuss pending litigation, but a court reporter records the meeting and transcripts are released to the public following resolution of the matter.

The shade meeting was held to discuss an unexpected October offer of mediation from plaintiffs Jo Ann Meilner, Tjet Martin and Bill Shearon, who sued to stop a parking lot/dune project across from city hall and next to the BeachHouse Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N.

The project would include the installation of a 4-foot sand dune along Gulf Drive to protect city hall from storm surge, but includes about 12 additional parking spaces for the restaurant, and about five city parking spaces.

The joint development agreement between the city and restaurant owner Ed Chiles calls for Chiles to pay for the lion’s share of the project.

However, the agreement failed to get past the Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board in April, of which two of the plaintiffs are former members.

During a May city commission meeting, the atmosphere turned unfriendly as P&Z members heard accusations from the dais of a biased and “tainted” recommendation. Perry also questioned whether P&Z members were qualified to make such a recommendation.

P&Z recommended that commissioners reject the agreement based on their interpretation of the land development code, comprehensive plan and city charter.

In the weeks following the contentious May meeting, four P&Z members resigned. Meilner and Shearon, also a former city commissioner, brought forth the suit in June with Martin, a partner of Shearon’s in the Linger Longer Resort.

Meilner then surprised commissioners during public comment at an October meeting by making an offer to arbitrate the case.

She told commissioners that she and her co-plaintiffs had no interest in having taxpayers pay a large legal bill, and made the offer with the sole condition that the city would agree to an arbitrator’s decision.

Perry wanted clarification of whether it was arbitration or mediation the plaintiffs were offering. At a Nov. 1 city meeting, Perry said she wanted to discuss the differences with commissioners. She said she was willing to do so in a public meeting.

Commissioners tentatively agreed to hold the discussion in public, but Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said he preferred a shade meeting just in case details of the case needed to be included in the discussion.

The details of the shade meeting were not discussed.

As of Nov. 1, work on the project was authorized to begin. The project had to wait until the end of sea turtle nesting season, but thus far, the city has opted to hold off on the project.

Should the plaintiffs succeed in their lawsuit, one of the requirements would be for the city to return the development area to its original condition at the city’s cost.

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