Rows of rusting rebar stakes dot the landscape of the proposed Mainsail development site. The property has been a city eyesore for years. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Holmes Beach commissioners July 23 agreed to move forward with mediating the Mainsail development project near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives. However, after an encouraging first round of negotiations June 21, doubts were renewed if mediation would be successful.
Commissioners voted 3-2 in March to revoke the Mainsail site plan, which launched Mainsail attorney Robert Lincoln into action, prompting a petition for relief from the city in April.
That action spurred the mediation process, which began in June and was scheduled to continue in July, but commissioners were unable to provide guidance to the city’s mediation representatives when an updated site plan was not presented.
Mainsail representatives presented the updated plans July 23 based on the June mediation where concessions to the original plans for a lodge, restaurant, marina and housing units were made.
Mainsail designer Brian Check said he feels the city’s concerns were addressed.
The revised site plan lowers the building closest to the adjacent neighborhood, removes Building A from the project and reduces the number of units from about 40 to 35, thus eliminating the need for off-site parking.
Improved landscaping is being considered to better buffer the property and adjacent residential neighbors, while Building D was pulled farther from the shared property line on Sunrise Lane.
In exchange for eliminating Building A and reducing Building D, the site plan adds housing units to the lodge, which concerned commissioners.
“To summarize, we are trying to hold 35-37 units,” said Check. “However, some of the units are single bedroom, so our bed count has been reduced.”
Check said by reducing the bed count, it would reduce the number of people able to stay at the resort, essentially addressing another concern of increased congestion.
Mainsail also is increasing parking under the buildings. Check said the revised parking plan would increase parking to 97 spaces, ensuring ample parking beyond the required 74 spaces.
One of the sticking points in moving forward has been the use of Sunrise Lane. Lincoln said Mainsail will work with the property owners but, in the end, he said it didn’t need to because Mainsail owns 20 feet of the road, which was enough to use as an emergency access.
Commissioners Marvin Grossman and Judy Titsworth, who along with Commissioner Pat Morton voted to revoke the site plan, insisted the mediation process include more effort to appease Sunrise Lane residents.
Grossman also wanted assurance that Mainsail would help defend the city from lawsuits from Sunrise Lane residents if the project moves forward. Titsworth resides on Sunshine Lane.
City attorney Patricia Petruff said it was clear from letters to the city that “there is a substantial likelihood someone is going to sue the city no matter which direction the city takes. However, if Mr. Lincoln provides the city with an emergency access easement, that will suffice for the city.”
Petruff said discussions with Lincoln are ongoing in regards to Mainsail assisting the city in defense of a lawsuit.
Mainsail president Joe Collier maintains it is time to move forward.
“In theory, I’d like to get to the point where we can stop with lawyers and start spending money on construction,” he said.
Can mediation work?
The tone changed quickly during commissioner discussion. Titsworth said she wants a lot more from Mainsail before she changes her mind.
“I do want a lot more,” she said. “I guess my biggest issue is we did the right thing. We did play by the rules by voting to revoke. Abandonment was enough to revoke. I just feel we were right in what we did.”
Titsworth said the project still encroaches on setbacks and “now you are going to ask for a height variance for the lodge to accommodate parking. If we are going to another round of mediation, I want to see more.”
Titsworth said she has felt bullied, in particular over the Sunrise Lane issue.
“It wasn’t a friendly, neighborly thing to do,” she said.
Titsworth said she wants the project to succeed, but feels the city has a lot more room to stand its ground compared to Mainsail.
“The fact that we are even mediating is a big concession on the city’s part,” she said. “I still think we can get a lot more.”
Commission Chair Jean Peelen asked Titsworth to be more specific, as the discussion was geared toward specifics for negotiations.
Titsworth and Grossman said Building B needs to be moved farther off the narrow spit of land that juts into the basin.
Commissioner Pat Morton called the whole process a “shell game. I would like to see them get in and develop something, but personally think we should uphold our decision and bring back a new site plan.”
Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who along with Peelen supports continuing to work with Mainsail said negotiations are supposed to be a shell game.
“I think Mainsail has done an outstanding job and made significant modifications,” said Zaccagnino. “They changed Buildings B, C and D and Building A is gone.”
Zaccagnino said mediation isn’t easy. It can’t be one-sided, with the city making all the demands and giving nothing in return.
“It’s about compromise,” he said. “Not everybody is going to be happy with everything. At some point, Mainsail is going to make a business decision and decide to pull out of this altogether and sell the property for a profit.”
Zaccagnino said if that happens, the city could lose all control in deciding what is developed on the property.
Mayor Carmel Monti expressed discouragement over the discussion.
“I guess I thought we decided as a group to go forward and negotiate in good faith,” said Monti. “I think that’s what we’ve done and we came up with some good compromises. This has happened before in the first negotiations. I feel we are back to the same thing in not giving them a fair shake.”
Monti said Mainsail addressed every concern raised during mediation.
“We are kind of beating a dead horse at this point,” he said. “We made some decisions to delegate and now we are going backward and saying we want more. I don’t think we are being as fair to them as they are being fair to us.”
Monti said the appropriate thing to do was to return to mediation.
Titsworth said Mainsail needs to follow city codes and ordinances.
“That’s all I’m asking for,” she said. “I don’t see them budging because I’ve been begging and pleading. But we are a team and if we want to continue mediation, you need to let me know what you want. But mediation can only work if it is going forward.”
Grossman indicated Mainsail does not have the standing in negotiations that Lincoln implied during the initial mediation.
Grossman also said he does not feel Mainsail’s entitlements are valid and that special exceptions should only be issued when they are beneficial to the city.
“To come and argue that we owe these entitlements to you doesn’t ring true to me,” said Grossman. “So essentially, I don’t think you really have these entitlements.”
However, while Titsworth and Morton appeared to be unwilling to budge, Grossman said he was willing to see more from Mainsail. Then he drew a line in the sand.
“One of the things I’m concerned about is the neighbors,” said Grossman. “I don’t want to litigate with them. Since I don’t believe you have entitlements, I would rather litigate with you. I don’t think you have the right to push us.”
Monti said the discussion was getting out of control.
“Let’s go back to mediation like civilized negotiators,” he said. “I don’t think pointing fingers is fruitful. We aren’t respecting the process right now.”
Peelen agreed, saying as long as mediation continues, the city still has a say.
“Once it hits the courts, it’s out of our hands and I don’t want that,” she said. “I never foresaw mediation as Mainsail making a complete change. That’s surrender, not mediation.”
Peelen said she felt the first round of negotiations went well for the city, but “I feel as though some things I’m hearing tonight, I didn’t hear at those negotiations.”
Monti asked building official Tom O’Brien for input, who said all the problems were created by a poor planning review when the concept first came before the city years ago.
“But at this stage, you should limit your discussion to conceptual issues and not get sidetracked on the details,” he said. I don’t think they are going to want to continue to invest money in pursuing a design if they know it won’t be well received.”
O’Brien said it was his opinion that Mainsail made the concessions the city asked for during mediation and to change compromise goals now “is pretty disingenuous.”
Petruff said she would contact the special magistrate and attempt to reschedule mediation for some time in late August or early September.