In a contentious four-hour city commission meeting March 26, Holmes Beach commissioners voted 3-2 to revoke the site plan for the Mainsail development.
Mayor Carmel Monti indicated progress had been made during two weeks of meetings between city staff and the Mainsail development team. The team was instructed to submit an improved site plan from the original Tidemark proposal, but to fit the design into the Tidemark footprint in order to retain approved permits.
City commissioners asked for specific side-by-side comparisons before the public hearing to review and consider the Mainsail proposal.
An incomplete report from the city’s building department led to a 30-minute discussion on whether to proceed with the public hearing. Monti asked the commission to continue the hearing for two weeks.
“We need to take more time to do a better evaluation of the plan,” said Monti.
Commissioner Marvin Grossman moved against that idea, making a motion to retain the public hearing.
Commissioner Judy Titsworth agreed, saying, “They’re here. Let’s listen to it.”
Commission Chair Jean Peelen and Commissioner David Zaccagnino sided with the mayor’s recommendation to delay the public hearing, but were outvoted 3-2, with Commissioner Pat Morton voting to begin the hearing.
Tensions arose early in the discussion.
“This is a tense issue,” said Peelen. “The best way to keep this good and civil and productive is to follow being called on and to follow procedure.”
Mainsail developer Joe Collier and his team proceeded with their detailed presentation, highlighting areas of the site plan where adjustments were made to accommodate what the city was seeking.
Collier’s group of investors purchased the property out of foreclosure about three years ago, and with the property, the existing site plan and what Collier calls entitlements.
Collier said he understands the tense history of the property going back 12 years to the original Tidemark proposal.
“It has nothing to do with us,” said Collier. “We are geared up and ready to go now.”
Grossman fought for the Mainsail public hearing to take place and, following the presentation, led the questioning of Mainsail, while heavily criticizing the site plan.
Monti said the Mainsail group and the city have maintained a good working spirit.
“To just toss it out and say we haven’t made progress isn’t accurate,” he said. “This city needs a focal point like a Pine Avenue in Anna Maria or a Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. Right now, we are a drive by for those kinds of places.”
Public comment was largely opposed to the Mainsail project, calling on commissioners to revoke the site plan, stating a preference to start from scratch.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore spoke in favor of the project.
“I’ve been very involved since day one when I was mayor,” she said. “It’s been through many processes already and, legally, they are in compliance with your laws. What else are you going to do with this spot? The infrastructure is there and it’s ready to go.”
Whitmore also said Titsworth should have recused herself from the process.
“With all due respect, I think Judy has a conflict for potential gain or loss,” said Whitmore.
Peelen and Zaccagnino agreed that Titsworth should not participate in the process because she owns property adjacent to the project. Zaccagnino read from the Florida Ethics Commission manual citing that a public official standing to financially lose or benefit from a vote should recuse themselves.
Titsworth said she contacted the ethics commission, “and they could come up with no reason why I should. They said the decision was mine to make.”
The Florida statute on voting conflicts states “no public officer shall vote on any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss.” Assuming all property owners in the vicinity of Mainsail would gain or lose value based on the development either remaining idle or being developed, it could be said Titsworth would not have a “special” gain or loss.
The city was threatened with litigation on two occasions during public comment if the project was approved, and legal action was indicated by Mainsail if the site plan was revoked.
Mainsail investor Ed Chiles was the only other person besides Whitmore who spoke in favor of the project.
“I’m proud to be a part of this project,” said Chiles. “They didn’t come in here and dig in their heels and say they know what their rights are. They said they want to work with you and make this project better.”
Peelen expressed concern at the direction the commission was leaning.
“I’m very distressed we are about to act on something that could cause a liability against advice from our attorney and mayor,” she said.
Peelen called for a motion to continue the public hearing for two weeks to give commissioners time to review all of the information.
No motion was made.
Grossman, who dominated the conversation in his questioning Mainsail representatives, moved instead to revoke the site plan. Morton seconded the motion.
Further discussion ensued with Titsworth saying Collier and Chiles “failed to do their due diligence.”
Titsworth said the site plan is substantially different from the one previously approved by the city. And city code requires a previously approved site plan to come back to the commission if significant changes are made.
“The days of picking and choosing who complies to the rules end with this office,” she said. “We have an ordinance that needs to be adhered to and citizens who deserve to be heard.”
Zaccagnino said he would side with city attorney Patricia Petruff’s opinion.
“I believe our attorney believes the plan is active,” he said. “We are shooting ourselves in the foot on this one and tempting a sleeping dragon. They can sell this property off for a nice profit and do what they want.”
Monti once again called for reason.
“Let’s be practical,” he said. “Our city is being very vulnerable to a lawsuit we don’t need. We are leaving ourselves open to a situation that will jeopardize the reserves of this city, which I think is a very irresponsible action.”
Grossman, Morton and Titsworth voted to revoke the site plan, while Peelen and Zaccagnino dissented.
After the meeting, Collier expressed his disappointment and confirmed he would consult with his attorney.
Collier said he would explore his options with the property, but that any proposed Mainsail project “is off the table. I have to protect our investors, so we’ll look at the allowable uses for this property, which is zoned commercial.”
Not over yet
While Collier told The Islander after the meeting that Mainsail was off the table, he sent a letter to Petruff, which was read into the record at a March 28 special meeting that was called for a different topic.
Collier again expressed his disappointment at the commission’s decision to revoke the site plan, especially because he was told in meetings with city staff that revoking the plan was not going to be an option.
“I’d like to try one more time before cranking up the legal machinery,” Collier wrote.
He said it was not his intent to “posture or threaten,” but reminded commissioners that his investors already have put more than $545,000 into the property.
“We fully intend to recoup our investment,” he wrote. “I respectfully ask you to reconsider and rescind the vote, and come back to the table.”
Petruff said it was possible for a commissioner to move for reconsideration.
No motion was made, but commissioners did reach a consensus to put the matter up for discussion for the April 9 city commission meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.