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Holmes Beach-Mainsail mediation on unstable ground

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Much like the vacant property that sits near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives, the grounds for mediation between Holmes Beach and the Mainsail development team is riddled with obstacles.

Mediation on the proposed development that includes a lodge, marina and multiple two-and-three-story housing units is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, at CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

However, after an Aug. 15 city commission work session, it is unclear if progress made thus far through ongoing negotiations will go any further.

Since the initial round of mediation in June, Mainsail has made several concessions to the site plan that was revoked in March in a 3-2 vote — a decision Mainsail attorney Robert Lincoln contends was an illegal vote.

The developers have eliminated Building A, which was situated on the peninsula that juts into the basin, reduced Building B, which sat partially on the peninsula and downsized Building D, which sits adjacent to Sunrise Lane — yet another controversial subject in the proposal.

In exchange, developers are seeking concession from the city on its height restrictions. To make up for lost housing units, which the developers say are the primary revenue generator of the project, they want to add units to the upper floors of the lodge.

Commissioners Marvin Grossman, Judy Titsworth and Pat Morton have opposed the site plan from the beginning and want the developers to start from scratch. While pleased with the concessions being offered, the trio does not appear to be budging from any concessions on setback requirements and height restrictions.

Building official Tom O’Brien reminded commissioners during his Aug. 15 “progress report” that everything being discussed is merely a conceptual plan and not set in stone.

“This is just a topic for discussion,” he said. “Don’t get hung up on the details of the conceptual plan.”

While there was a lot of back-and-forth discussion on the project’s setbacks based on a partial seawall constructed by the original developer in 2001, O’Brien said the more significant concession is removing buildings from the peninsula.

Mainsail is now proposing two-story buildings over ground-level parking, and to put lodging under the roof of the buildings as a compromise.

Commission Chair Jean Peelen asked if the proposal can be done under the city’s height restrictions, and O’Brien said that was currently being studied.

“I think we are making good progress on the issues we wanted them to improve,” said O’Brien. “With some encouragement, I hope to continue to make progress.”

However, not a lot of encouragement was forthcoming from the dais.

“I would not approve a four-story building in the center of Holmes Beach,” said Titsworth.

Grossman agreed, saying, “There is no way our citizens are going to want us to change the height restrictions. It would be foolish to even think about it.”

 

War of words

Mediation appears to be complicated by views from both sides that written communications have threatening implications.

In a letter dated Aug. 14 to Mayor Carmel Monti and city attorney Patricia Petruff, Lincoln once again reiterated his client’s legal position, but also acknowledged his letter may be viewed as a threat.

“While some members of the city commission and the community may view what I have to say as a threat, I provide the following in order to inform city commissioners, so they may understand the issues from Mainsail’s point of view when considering their assessment of what is best for the city,” he wrote.

Lincoln went on to outline what Petruff said is likely his legal position should the matter end up in litigation.

“I don’t see it as a threat,” said Petruff. “I do wish that Mr. Lincoln had not sent the letter, however.”

Commissioners opposing the Mainsail proposal did view it as a threat.

Grossman challenged Mainsail “to bring it on,” and offered a suggestion that the city drop mediation and initiate litigation.

“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” he said.

Peelen, a supporter of continuing to work matters out with Mainsail, said the city should continue the process and that the process is working.

“This is not the time to give up on that process,” she said. “It’s give and take and no time to say ‘come on and get us.’”

Grossman said it’s Lincoln making threats.

“I want a change,” he said. “I thought we were coming here to work together, not be threatened. I believe we are right and I think if we went to court, they would lose. I’m not afraid of that. I want to work with them, but I don’t want to be threatened.”

Morton agreed, saying Lincoln’s letter was clearly a threat, but Titsworth then took it one step further.

“His letter is basically his opinion on everything we did wrong up here,” she said.

Petruff said commissioners are getting caught up in things that don’t matter and the goal is whether or not to move forward until such a time an impasse is reached.

Monti agreed, saying the intent all along was to move forward in good faith.

“You are not going to have 100 percent on both sides, but you can come up with a good compromise,” he said. “I feel they have moved forward in good faith and each time we’ve met with them, they have come up with good attributes to their plan.”

Monti said commissioners should stop responding “to puffery in a letter from an attorney and not take a cavalier attitude and say ‘Let’s just go to court.’ As stewards of the city, that’s not very responsible.”

Titsworth disagreed, saying Lincoln is implying he has all the rights and if Mainsail doesn’t get its way, “He’ll see us in court. I don’t want to spend $4,000 on mediation until we see a better plan.”

Lincoln stated in his letter: “If the city asserts that Mainsail has no entitlements … Mainsail will have no choice but to file a legal action to judicially establish its rights.”

He concluded his letter to the city by writing, “I set forth this information to clearly inform the city of the unavoidable consequences of the failure to settle this dispute in an acceptable manner.”

Commissioners took no official action, which leaves the plan in place to move forward with mediation on Sept. 4.

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