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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Anna Maria reluctantly agrees to Perico mediation

Faced with the insurmountable task of either approving the Perico mediation agreement or continuing the legal battle alone against the planned Arvida-St. Joe Co. 686-unit condominium project, Anna Maria city commissioners were given little choice at their Nov. 18 meeting.

"I'm not suggesting we pursue the case alone," said Commissioner Duke Miller, "but I just want to go on record as opposing the agreement."

Commissioners Dale Woodland, Carol Ann Magill and John Quam reluctantly agreed that they opposed the mediation settlement, but the city had "little choice," said Quam.

To date, the lawsuit has not cost the city any money, but pursuing the issue in court would probably drain the city treasury, noted Miller.

"It's a bitter pill to swallow," said attorney Ralf Brookes, who represents the Island cities and ManaSota-88 in the current litigation against the City of Bradenton over the project. But the chances of success in continuing the lawsuit "are not great," he pointed out. In addition, the city would have to pay its own legal fees if it continued the lawsuit and, if it lost the case, a judge could order it to pay the costs of Arvida's attorneys.

"I know you don't want to do this," said Brookes, "but at least we have some legal assurances about the development" with the mediation settlement.

Arvida-St. Joe attorney Ken Hennessey made it clear his company would pursue costs against Anna Maria.

"But Arvida doesn't think Anna Maria will litigate by itself. It's our hope that we have a unified community," Hennessy said, and Arvida prides itself on being a "good neighbor."

He added that Arvida has the option of going back to the original 893-unit site plan if all parties don't agree to the mediation. The agreement reduces the height of buildings on the west side of Perico, but increases the height of structures on the east side. The mediation agreement also gives the county the option to purchase the remaining 125 developable acres to retain for public use.

Manatee County, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach have already approved the mediation, while ManaSota-88 and Holmes Beach resident Joan Perry - named in a separate lawsuit against the project - are still considering their options.

Resident John Conoly observed that St. Joe was basically saying "go with the agreement or be crushed."

Commissioners, albeit reluctantly, agreed, but added in their motion that they were approving the settlement "with objections and concerns as noted."

The motion passed, 3-1, with Miller, who was last in the roll call vote, able to dissent without affecting the outcome.

In other commission business, commissioners declined a request by The Islander for $1,000 for the planned Christmas fireworks show. In previous years, the commission had budgeted funds for the fireworks, but Magill assumed those demonstrations had been sponsored by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

Although not at the meeting, The Islander publisher Bonner Joy said newspaper took over three years ago when the chamber declined to sponsor the event and co-sponsors Rod and Reel Pier and the City Pier Restaurant have been donors for many years.

Magill said that without a nonprofit sponsor, she could not approve the funds. Quam agreed, saying it would "set a precedent."