Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff received no objections from commissioners at an April 30 special meeting to address the city’s response to Mainsail’s petition for relief.
The petition was filed with the city April 18 seeking relief from the commission’s 3-2 vote to revoke the site plan for a development project at 5325 Marina Drive.
The petition, filed by Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln on behalf of Mainsail, accuses the city of violating its own procedures in revoking the site plan and that the commission lacked authority to make the decision, saying the decision belongs to the mayor and building official.
The petition was filed under the Bert J. Harris Act, which allows a property owner to seek relief from a government agency that burdens a property’s existing use.
Petruff said the purpose for the city’s response is to set forth, in reasonable detail, why the governmental action was taken. In this case, it was the vote to revoke the Mainsail site plan.
“The response doesn’t have to go blow by blow,” said Petruff. “Quite frankly, Mr. Lincoln did not format the petition in a manner that lends itself with a complaint-by-answer format.”
Petruff said the response she drafted meets state statute requirements, providing a reasonable argument for the city’s actions and providing the special master mediating the case with the necessary information.
Petruff attached several exhibits to the response, including the minutes of all public hearings associated with the Mainsail project.
“The minutes are very detailed and contain a lot of the evidence you heard that you based your decision on,” said Petruff. “I think it will be satisfactory for the purpose it’s intended to be.”
The response claims Mainsail abandoned the property and its proposed project violates the city’s land development code.
“The site has been abandoned and no construction activity has occurred since 2007 except for minor work related to the boat docks,” Petruff wrote. “Installation of the pilings and footers for the primary uses was completed in December 2006. The site has since been allowed to deteriorate, resulting in an eyesore for adjacent property owners and the city.”
Petruff noted Mainsail only filed two permits with the city. One is for installing six boat docks and the other for a sign.
She also said the certificate of liability insurance required by the lease Mainsail has with the city for a portion of the property expired in June 2012, although it was not listed as a reason to revoke the site plan.
“That wasn’t anything you had under consideration that night, however, I think it’s relevant,” she said.
Petruff closed the city’s response by saying the Mainsail site plan no longer complies with the LDC.
“I just want to be real clear that we are dealing with a really old site plan,” she said. “Nothing has happened in a really long time.”
Commissioner Marvin Grossman said he read through Petruff’s response to the petition three times.
“I feel really comfortable with it,” he said. “I think you hit most of the points.”
The other commissioners agreed.
Grossman asked Petruff to explain the procedure once it starts.
Petruff said property owners determined by a property appraiser to have adjoining property to the Mainsail site, as well as citizens who spoke at the public hearings will receive notice of the hearing.
“People who get the notice have a certain amount of time to request to participate in the hearing,” said Petruff.
“They do not have the right to participate with full party status,” she said. “They won’t be at the table. At some time during the proceeding, the special master will set time aside to listen to the views of those people who choose to participate.”
Petruff said the special master will set a convenient time and place for the hearing to accommodate both parties, which is expected to take about 45 days.
Once the hearing is scheduled, the city will have designated representatives at the proceeding.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino suggested since the vote on the Mainsail project was split, one representative from each side of the vote be selected to attend and represent the city.
Mayor Carmel Monti was selected, and Commissioner Judy Titsworth, who voted to revoke the site plan, volunteered to represent the city at the hearing.
Petruff cautioned against Titsworth participating given her participation in the process as an adjoining property owner.
Titsworth said the ethics commission did not find a reason why she should not participate, but Petruff said it could be a rallying cry for the opposing side and cause unnecessary delays to the process.
No commissioner objected to Titsworth representing the city.
Petruff continued to explain the proceeding, saying the first duty of the special master will be to determine if finding common ground is possible for the project to move forward.
“He will spend a lot of time on that,” she said. “There will be breakout rooms available where he can discuss possible solutions with both parties.”
If mediation appears impossible, the proceeding will enter a second phase that is more “trial like,” according to Petruff, who said the special master will take evidence, testimony and listen to witnesses.
“At the end, he makes his recommendation to this commission,” she said. “The recommendation can take several formats. However, the commission can choose not to go along with the recommendation, in which case the decision is ripe for litigation.”
Commission Chair Jean Peelen wanted to know how the city’s representatives would negotiate without input from the rest of the commission.
Petruff suggested a series of work sessions, if necessary, to set some parameters of what the commission would and would not be comfortable with in a possible solution.
Monti agreed, saying, “We still have the same exact voting scenario we did before. I think we need to prepare to see what parameters are acceptable and what are not.”