The city of Bradenton Beach can start the new year knowing at least one of the two lawsuits the city is engaged in may soon come to an amicable end.
“There’s a basic agreement between all parties,” Holmes Beach Carmel Monti told The Islander.
City attorney Ricinda Perry provided commissioners with an update on the lawsuit filed against the city by Holmes Beach regarding the contested Sandpiper Resort quitclaim deed.
Holmes Beach filed the lawsuit in May 2012 seeking to void a 2008 quitclaim deed to Sandpiper Resort from Bradenton Beach and removal of gates and private property signs installed by Sandpiper to block access to the beach and mobile home park.
“Essentially what happened is that we were successful in our claim that Holmes Beach did not have legal standing as presented in their complaint,” said Perry. “However, the court agreed that Holmes Beach should have an opportunity to amend their complaint and they went ahead and filed the amended version.”
Perry said the amended complaint appeared similar to the one the court already rejected.
“However, the slow process of the court and because of the holidays, the court has not yet ruled, but what was happening behind the scenes was a lot of discussion between the future elected to be officials of Holmes Beach and our mayor,” the attorney said.
Perry explained that Mayor John Shaughnessy “took it upon himself” to engage newly elected Holmes Beach officials in discussion and the city’s desire to settle the lawsuit that Bradenton Beach maintains should have never been filed.
“What flowed from that is Holmes Beach had a meeting and proposed a number of ways they would be satisfied and are seeking settlement,” said Perry. “Nobody is happy with the costs they have had to spend, which is, in my opinion, unfortunate.”
Perry said Holmes Beach wants an easement to address drainage issues, but that issue is between Holmes Beach and Sandpiper.
Shaughnessy, a resident at Sandpiper, said the Sandpiper board has agreed to the easement.
Perry also said Holmes Beach wants Sandpiper to allow beach access for pedestrians and bicycles.
“The contentious issue was in regard to golf carts whipping through there in a dangerous manner,” said Perry. “So I don’t see a problem with that, but again, that’s not something the city can control. It’s up to Sandpiper.”
Thirdly, Perry said, Holmes Beach wants private property signs removed and to have public access signs installed, as well as the removal of all locked gates.
“But again, these are issues to be dealt with by Sandpiper, not the city,” she said.
Perry said upon a settlement agreement, all claims and counter claims from all parties would be dismissed.
However, she said there was one segment of the agreement that did affect the city.
“We had asked a year ago if we could bind all future decisions,” said Perry. “We relied on them saying they wouldn’t sue and they changed their minds. The agreement also stipulates that all parties absorb their own fees.”
Perry said the agreement would dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning that once settled, no more lawsuits could be filed in regard to this matter.
“My understanding is that Holmes Beach, Sandpiper and our city wish to bring this to a close,” said Perry. “We don’t want to spend any more money, energy and time on this. If you have a consensus that the terms of this agreement are acceptable, we will start to draw up the agreement.”
Shaughnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler did not participate in the consensus, because they were recused from voting as residents of Sandpiper. However, the remaining commissioners agreed to the terms solely related to the city.
“I’m comfortable with it,” said Commissioner Ric Gatehouse. “With the new administration in Holmes Beach, I think it’s incumbent for us to start with goodwill and start on a fresh note. My only concern is the binding aspect. I don’t want to do this again in two years, but I understand the dismissal with prejudice addresses that.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh and Vice Mayor Ed Straight also agreed and commissioners thanked Shaughnessy for “going above and beyond” in fostering good relations with the new Holmes Beach administration.
“I will make sure, from the city’s perspective, that we come to a settlement,” Perry said.
Once settled, the city still faces a lawsuit filed by three Bradenton Beach citizens over the city’s decision to enter into a joint development agreement with ELRA Inc., the corporate entity of the Ed Chiles restaurant group.
The suit was filed to prevent a dune/parking lot from being developed across from city hall and next to the BeachHouse Restaurant.
The plaintiffs claim the development project violates the city charter, land development codes and comprehensive plan.
“I have no update on the other litigation,” said Perry. “Unfortunately, there has been no real movement. Nothing in the court system and no real settlement proposal has come before me.”
An offer of arbitration was made by one of the plaintiffs in October, but Perry said the city would only consider mediation.
In other city attorney matters, Perry said she talked to department heads about a detailed job description of each city employee. The work is “on track and should be available by the first of next month.”