Progress appeared to be made in the June 21 mediation efforts between the city of Holmes Beach and the Mainsail Lodging and Development team at CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
The two sides met as part of an initial mediation process following a 3-2 vote in March to revoke the Mainsail site plan to build a lodge, restaurant and resort units in the city’s downtown area near Gulf and Marina drives.
The site plan revocation was followed by a seldom-used legal filing that mandates mediation.
The site has a long history dating back to 2001, but Mainsail has been the property owner for three years. Purchased twice out of foreclosure after another company’s effort to develop the property, Mainsail’s efforts gained momentum at the beginning of the year.
In order to present a design that maintains the original site plan and its entitlements, Mainsail attempted to use the previous company’s footprint and installed footers and foundations, but made significant changes — which prompted rejection by Commissioners Judy Titsworth, Marvin Grossman and Pat Morton.
The project was supported by Commission Chair Jean Peelen, Commissioner David Zaccagnino and Mayor Carmel Monti, although Monti does not have a vote under the city charter.
Monti, Titsworth and city attorney Patricia Petruff represented the city at the mediation.
Representing Mainsail were attorney Robert Lincoln, president Joe Collier, vice president Brian Check and investor Ed Chiles.
Special magistrate Steven Seibert presided over the proceedings.
“I’m hoping for a civil conversation today,” said Seibert. “Negotiation is what this process is. It’s taking a break from all the legal adversarial process.”
Seibert said it wouldn’t be easy and that both sides would have to understand that a compromise would mean losing something in the process.
“It will take courage,” he said. “My personal feeling is that litigation never gets you more than a good negotiation will.”
Several issues appeared to be impassable at the onset of the mediation. At the heart of the discussion was the use by the development of a private road, Sunrise Lane, abutting the east side of the project, for emergency vehicles, setbacks and density.
Lincoln also maintained the commissioners violated city procedures by voting to revoke the site plan and that commissioners never had the authority to do so.
“Mainsail came in and obtained permits that required a valid site plan and received those permits in 2010,” said Lincoln. “Mainsail had every reason to believe it could finish construction based on the approved site plans. The city’s actions by revoking are unfair because it destroys all those rights.”
Petruff said there were many stipulations attached to the site plan approval and one of many sticking points for the city was that adequate parking would be guaranteed.
Mainsail has contended it has a lease with Wells Fargo bank for offsite parking, but Petruff said no such lease has been presented to the city.
Collier said the lease was part of the acquisition when the property and associated development rights were purchased.
He said Mainsail has a valid lease, but he eventually revealed that the lease was not being paid because he didn’t want to pay for what he couldn’t use.
Collier then said negotiations are ongoing between Mainsail and Wells Fargo to purchase either a portion of the bank’s parking lot or the bank property, but insisted those were only discussions.
However, Collier said the offsite parking would no longer be an issue because one of his concessions was to remove three units from the design, eliminating the need for offsite parking.
Concessions from Mainsail did not come readily, and clearly emotions over the revoked site plan were still running high.
Collier reiterated that Mainsail came to the table and invested funds in good faith based on city promises that the two entities would work together.
“It goes to good faith discussions, and in meetings with city staff, we clearly were under the impression we were in workshop mode,” said Collier. “We responded to things city staff asked us to look at on the site plan.”
Collier said he was reassured by city staff that there were workable solutions.
“We went off on our merry way and spent money,” he said. “We weren’t drawing a hard line with the city. We changed the design then went to the next city meeting to show the changes.”
Collier said it appeared to him that the majority of commissioners had already made up their minds.
“In fairness, I felt ambushed,” he said. “I felt mugged. We didn’t lawyer up for that meeting because I was told we were rolling up our sleeves to work, and the next thing I know the site plan was revoked.”
Chiles said there was a lot of give and take in meetings with city staff and was equally shocked when the commission moved to revoke the plan, especially because the comparison report between the old and new site plans was not presented by city staff, as requested.
“That was shocking to me,” he said. “You had your attorney saying very strongly, ‘You don’t want to go there.’ You had your mayor and the commission chair, who is an attorney, saying ‘You don’t want to go there,’ and they fired the missile anyway.”
Titsworth, who lives adjacent to the proposed project on Sunrise Lane and voted to revoke the site plan, said she had all the information she needed to make an informed decision. She said if the city approved a site plan laden with code violations, the city would have been sued by its citizens.
“I don’t feel like we are unduly burdening anyone,” she said. “We aren’t taking their rights away. They can still have a resort, but it needs to be brought into code compliance. We need to find a balance and make everyone happy. I care about the neighborhood, the developer and this city. I’m the least political person in the world. All I care about is Holmes Beach.”
At times, it appeared a resolution between the two entities would be difficult to reach, but progress was made with Mainsail offering concessions to redesign at least one building to accommodate fire access.
Public comment at the mediation was minimal, but residents Lance Spotts and Islander publisher Bonner Joy, both neighbors of the project, said they were not against the project, but felt it could be done with less impact.
Concern from the city over building on a spit of land that juts from the property into the basin was brought up. Monti said the city would like to maintain the vista of the waterway from Marina Drive, and Collier said one of those two buildings could be reduced in height.
There was a lengthy discussion on which building should be reduced, but an agreement was reached to rework the design of the project.
In exchange for the concession, the city agreed to back away from a June 13 work session consensus to enforce a special exception that limits the number of charter boats docked in Mainsail’s marina.
The special exception limits charter operations to three boat slips, but the city currently has seven permits on file. The city noted there is insufficient parking for the existing boat operators and their customers.
Titsworth, Petruff and Monti all agreed that it was a concession they could temporarily allow and they would bring the matter back before the commission.
The Mainsail team agreed to work on the design and to renew efforts with the city, but Collier wanted a consensus from the city that it was willing to go forward.
Lincoln and Petruff said they will work toward creating a draft to see “what a settlement would look like.”
Mediation is expected to continue June 24-25, while a request for consensus on marina-charter boat operations is expected at the next city commission meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.