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Date of Issue: November 30, 2006

Olesens file suit over ownership

am olsen suit
Much ado about a little land
This 10-foot-wide easement at 504 S. Bay Blvd. is at the center of a controversy between Anna Maria and the owners of the property that has resulted in a lawsuit against the city over who owns 5 feet of the narrow strip of land leading to Tampa Bay. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Months of negotiations to settle a controversy over ownership of an easement at 504 S. Bay Blvd. in Anna Maria have apparently failed, resulting in a lawsuit filed Nov. 17 against the city.

The Olesen family, owners of the property, claim they own half of the 10-foot-wide easement and the right to build into it, while the city claims it can find no record the city ever vacated a portion of the narrow strip of land to the Olesens.

The Olesens have asked the Manatee County Circuit Court to settle the title issue, at the same time seeking a temporary injunction against the city "removing, altering or destroying" any improvements the family has made to the house that the city believes encroaches into the easement.

City building official Kevin Donohue had originally issued a building permit to the Olesens in October 2005 for renovations, but halted the project in April 2006 when he discovered the city had never vacated the easement. The Olesens had been expanding their house into the easement, which they claim the city vacated to their family in 1953.

The Olesens claim their family has used the area in question since the 1950s without complaint from the city and have produced a number of letters written by prior city building officials indicating the Olesens had ownership/use of the 5-foot section.

City attorney Jim Dye has responded that "there has been no evidence presented or uncovered that there has been any intent of the city to abandon that right of way."

He indicated the letters produced by the Olesens "at best indicate a mistaken impression on the part of the city staff at that time that the city previously vacated its interest in the 5 feet. The letters do not show an act of the city commission in 1982, or earlier, to vacate the walkway."

The city includes the walkway in its inventory of beach access points and the 1989 comprehensive plan shows the walkway as city property, Dye has said.

Compromise efforts since April have failed as the Olesens apparently had no interest in applying for a variance or a formal vacation of the easement, although the city commission indicated its willingness to consider either request in a favorable light.

The issue will now be decided by the circuit court.