1st Bert Harris case against Holmes Beach readies for trial

“Bert Harris hits Holmes Beach one way or another.”

That’s how Bob McCaffrey saw the week ahead with a trial looming June 13 at the Manatee County courthouse.

But don’t get your hopes up.

There’s been a delay — a continuance requested by the city was granted June 11.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith set the new trial period to begin July 16, citing his philosophy, “that everybody should be prepared for trial.”

Bob and Ellen McCaffrey sued the city in January 2017 seeking $341,000 damages for restricting development of their property at 7003 Holmes Blvd. .

Court records show the two sides reached an impasse during mediation June 1. The discussion, aimed at finding a resolution before trial, was attended by the McCaffreys, their attorney Fred Moore of Blalock Walters, Mayor Bob Johnson and the city’s insurance-appointed attorney Jay Daigneault and insurance representative David Storey.

In court June 11, the judge heard Daigneault’s argument by phone. Moore was present as were the McCaffreys — seated in the gallery.

Daigneault told the judge Shawn Kaleta failed to bring the requested documents to his June 8 deposition.

Moore argued the city already possessed the relevant documents and said Daigneault did not object at the deposition.

“I’m ready to go,” Moore said before the continuance.

In the McCaffreys’ complaint, the 24-year residents claim the city enacted ordinances in 2013-16 that inordinately burdened their property and their rights to develop, sell and realize the best possible return on their investment for their retirement.

The ordinances the McCaffreys attack are:
• 13-03: Living-area-ratio restrictions for single-family homes and duplexes in the R-2 district. The ordinance, they say, reduces their redevelopment footprint as well as lot coverage, building height and setbacks by 42 percent.
• 13-05: Duplex footer repeal. Under the prior code, duplexes could be constructed to resemble single-family homes with a combined foundation. Not after the enactment of 13-05.
• 15-10: Increased setbacks around pools and patios. Pools now are considered impervious and counted in 40 percent lot coverage requirements.
• 15-12: New duplex construction rules, including limit of two bedrooms per unit, two persons per bedroom. Other restrictions include modified driveway width and tandem parking limits.
• 15-19: Pool and spa restrictions, setbacks between units. The new rule allows a maximum of 180-square feet of pool area for condominium ownership.
• 16-02: A comprehensive vacation rental regulation. The ordinance provides for licensing and enforcement, including occupancy limitations.

The McCaffrey amended complaint also alleges two other counts.

One contends the city violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law by rejecting their initial Bert Harris claim with a letter from the city attorney. The count alleges the city commission should have first held a meeting and voted on the claim.

In another count, the McCaffreys allege the city skirted the state public records law by failing to hand over requested documents, including the review of their permit application.

The city denied most of the allegations, saying the records were provided, and asserted 25 defenses.

Kaleta, a builder/developer with several Bert Harris claims and suits pending against the city, is one of 14 possible witnesses for the McCaffreys.

Court documents show 17 witnesses identified by the city for its case.

The trial will be split, with a judge first determining if the city is liable and a jury empaneled to decide on damages.

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