Special Magistrate Steven Seibert reminds both sides at the onset of the second round of mediation between Holmes Beach city officials and the Mainsail Lodge development team Sept. 4 by that the process is about finding common ground. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Not every obstacle has been cleared for Mainsail Lodge to break ground on a proposed hotel, restaurant and marina at the property near the intersection of Gulf and Marina drives, but a major hurdle was crossed Sept. 4 with the successful conclusion of a required mediation process with Holmes Beach.
The Mainsail development team ended the mediation with significant changes to its proposed development by reducing the size of the project and easing tension with nearby residents by eliminating all but two accessory buildings.
It’s been an up-and-down road for both sides since commissioners voted 3-2 in March to revoke the Mainsail Lodge site plan and the subsequent initiation of a legal process and mediation by Mainsail to have that vote rescinded.
Talk of unavoidable litigation ensued until the two sides sat down in June for the first round of mediation, which started on shaky ground but ended with hope that an agreement could be reached.
In the weeks that followed, threats and promises renewed for litigation from both sides leading up to the Sept. 4 second round with the mediator at CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
Once again, the process faltered, but Special Magistrate Steven Seibert offered a clear reminder: “I’m not a fan of litigation. This process is designed to drive people to common ground. Litigation is an expenditure of time, dollars and emotion, and when public entities are involved, are almost never worth it.”
Seibert said it’s his job to create a forum to avoid that scenario, but if it came to that, then both sides could “go to separate corners and draw your swords and do what you have to do.”
Swords would become irrelevant by the session’s close.
Mainsail attorney Robert Lincoln started off the session by presenting the proposed changes agreed to in the June mediation, as well as further changes discussed during ongoing meetings with city staff.
In Mainsail’s updated proposal is the removal of Building A and portions of Building B on the peninsula of land within the basin leading to the bay, and some restructuring to reduce setback violations.
One sticking point in negotiations has been Building D, which sits along Sunrise Lane, a privately owned road. Mainsail owns most of it, but residents own the rest.
Lincoln said Building D was reduced more since the June meeting to one level over parking and pulled back farther from the road.
Mainsail also removed tandem parking — prohibited end-to-end parking under the units — and, with the proposed adjustments, calculated 97 parking spaces. In June, it reduced the number of restaurant seats from 120 to 80 and has since reduced the number of boat slips from 75 to 50 — all in an effort to ensure adequate on-site parking.
There was some concern going into mediation that Mainsail would need a height variance to accommodate more units in the remaining buildings, but Lincoln told Holmes Beach representatives that all buildings are within the 36-foot height restriction.
Mainsail president Joe Collier said his team has done everything the city has requested.
“Everything you asked from us, we did,” he said. “Building B has gone from seven units to four and we reduced it by a story. The site is self park, we reduced our marina entitlements and are not asking for a height variance for the lodge. Now you have a plan before you that corresponds to those requests.”
Commissioner Judy Titsworth, who resides on Sunrise Lane adjacent to the project, wasn’t impressed.
“In regards to the items you say you’ve given up, you’ve only given up three units,” she said. “The other developer gave up the same things.”
Titsworth said she appreciates the effort, but Mainsail shouldn’t act as though it’s conceding anything to the city because it’s the city that has the rights at this point.
Discussion continued on parking issues in that Mainsail wanted to use the city’s current codes, but wanted to retain density allowances under the 2001 codes.
Titsworth said, “You can’t pick and choose. If we don’t make sure we do it right the first time, it sticks with us forever.”
Titsworth wanted the exact number of parking spaces that would be allocated to the lodge and marina, but Lincoln said it’s an unfair request at this stage.
“To sit here today and say exactly how many slips to calculate parking in order to have a settlement isn’t reasonable,” he said. “All of that will be a part of the site plan. We can finalize the numbers for the restaurant, but there are some mixed uses with that. At the point that we do a site plan and we need to specify numbers, we can do that, but saying we have to decide on the fly isn’t possible.”
City attorney Patricia Petruff said it appears Mainsail is going to have about 10 extra parking spaces and can, at the point of a site plan, designate their uses or come in after the fact to make the same request.
“We would do that for any other business in the city,” she said.
Titsworth said Mainsail has not proven it has adequate parking.
“You keep saying you have extra, but we don’t know that,” she said.
Lincoln reiterated, “You’ll know when you have the site plan. Right now, it’s important to lock down the principles of an agreement.”
Titsworth said there was too much room for abuse with banquet space, which requires designated parking to accommodate events, but Lincoln agreed to include in the settlement language that banquet space could only be used by lodge guests.
With that language in place, parking at the lodge would be mixed-use because only guests would be allowed to use the assembly rooms.
Collier said everything would be addressed in the site plan.
“Here’s what I hope to leave here with today,” said Collier. “I can’t spend any more money on the details. All the things we’re talking about will have to go through the building department. We have to comply to all those things.”
During public comment, Commissioner Marvin Grossman told Mainsail representatives they were getting closer to receiving his approval.
“So far, I see many changes I like,” he said. “I don’t know how far away you are from a ‘yes’ vote, but we are getting a lot closer than where we were.”
Grossman said what would put him over the top would be to remove Building D — backing up to Sunrise Lane — altogether to reduce density and possibly appease residential neighbors.
“I would be happy with that,” said Grossman. “It’s not that many units and I wouldn’t even object to trying to put more units into the lodge.”
Lincoln called for a break in mediation to discuss some options with the Mainsail team. Upon returning, he said he and his clients discussed two issues.
“We propose to modify and agree to have the 2001 parking ratio apply to the 37 units in the lodge and restaurant seats and to non-accessory uses in the marina,” he said. “But that any future modifications would be based on the code as it exists at time of modification.”
Lincoln said the group also agreed to remove Building D “on the condition we can reconfigure Buildings B and C to connect to the main lodge,” he said.
Collier added, “While staying in the proposed footprint.”
Grossman expressed concern over the size of the building that would create, but Lincoln said it was an idea to put on paper if the city agreed.
“If we can move forward with a settlement, then it would come back as a site plan,” said Lincoln. “Then we can work on the implementation of that. It gives us an opportunity to better articulate the architecture of the buildings and actually make them look smaller. But we can only do that after a settlement.”
After also agreeing to the original stipulations issued in the original special exception, the two sides came to an agreement.
“I’m thrilled and grateful for you all to hang in here and approach it the way you have,” said Seibert.
The agreement must go before the city commission for consideration and, if approved, Mainsail will create a new site plan.
The process then will involve city staff review, planning and zoning review and, ultimately, a review by the city commission before any construction begins.