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Date of Issue: March 09, 2006

Holmes Beach canal issue reaches boiling point

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No bridge over troubled waters
Many Holmes Beach residents say they will object to a proposed ordinance that will govern their right to utilize a dock space in the T-end canals such as this one between 72nd Street and 73rd Street. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Tempers flared at the Feb. 28 Holmes Beach City Commission when a number of residents from the T-end canal section of the city threatened legal action if the commission passed a proposed revision to the ordinance governing dock usage in the canals.

The commission has spent nearly three years attempting to "tweak" the 1995 ordinance that regulated dock space in the canals (72nd Street to 74th Street), but has not passed an amended ordinance.

While commissioners encountered no objection to the passage of a similar ordinance that evening for the Sunrise Boat Basin, public comment on the pending T-end canal legislation brought temperatures — those of residents and commissioners in attendance — near the boiling point.

Resident Don Fernald of 75th Street said he was "opposed" to the legislation as an "infringement" on property rights and pledged that he and several other affected owners would fight the new ordinance. He added that he expected legal help from the Florida Association of Realtors.

Fernald and his group are primarily against a revision to the current ordinance that would include a non-transfer of dock usage clause that would affect the sale of their canalfront property.

Without the right to use a dock for the next owner, property values would decline by about $30,000, he asserted.

He also noted that the proposed ordinance does not restrict non-Holmes Beach residents, such as those who will live in the planned St. Joe-Perico Island condominium project, from renting a space.

"And we don't want to see Holmes Beach in the dock rental business," he contended. "Let the citizens build their own docks."

"We are putting the city on notice that we are going to put up a fight unless this ordinance is re-done," he vowed.

T-end canal resident Tony Borgan claimed his research has shown that he has "deeded rights" on the T-end canal, and these rights go with the property.

What the city is doing is taking away the rights of Holmes Beach citizens, he said. The commission needs to decide what's right and wrong.

"I don't want to see that my rights have been taken away," he added.

Hold on a minute, said Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens. This issue has been around since the 1995 T-end canal ordinance, after the city first discovered the canal bottom lands had been dedicated to the public by the developer. "What we're doing is just tweaking the ordinance," she said.

That wasn't quite good enough for 50-year resident Earl Mowry.

He claimed he'd had a boat dock for 50 years, but the city took it away from him last year when he no longer had a boat. When he purchased another boat and went back for his dock space, the city told him he no longer had a dock space, although, he said, he's got rights to a dock space in his deed.

 That's no way for the city to treat a man who has lived in Holmes Beach for 50 years, he shouted to the commission.

But that's under the ordinance that's existed since 1995, said Haas-Martens.

Borgan and others claim they have deeds showing their rights, but City Attorney Patricia Petruff said in her legal review of titles, every deed just gives a "right to use a boat space." Those deeds, she said, don't give a "meets and bounds" description of the property which would prove ownership of the bottom land.

The original developer dedicated the waterways to the public, then gave buyers deeds to docks on the property, which he didn't have the right to do, added Commission Chair Rich Bohnenberger.

Borgan and others, however, disagreed.

Commissioner Roger Lutz, himself an attorney, said it would "make my day if we didn't have to get involved. The only reason we're doing this is because we've been told it [the canal bottom] is our property," noting the liability issue that comes with ownership of public lands.

"I'd love to get the city out of liability and seawall repair," he added.

Bring the city a title policy showing ownership of the canal bottom and the dock that stands on it and that's good enough to prove ownership, he concluded.

Borgan and other residents, however, claimed that officials at the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court's office have said the documents they have prove ownership, but Lutz suggested that property owners should not rely on county clerks for a definitive legal opinion.

"These are questions that circuit court judges are paid to decide," said Lutz.

That touched the nerves of several members of the public, who chastised Lutz for his comments and openly shouted their criticism from the floor.

Before chaos descended, however, Bohnenberger adjourned the meeting.

The T-end canal ordinance, however, will remain on the commission's agenda until the revisions are ready for a public hearing.

Fernald and other T-end canal residents said they will be back in force at future meetings to voice their displeasure with the proposal.


City will review deeds

Holmes Beach City Attorney Patricia Petruff said she would review all deeds and documents pertaining to ownership of a dock in the T-end canal section of the city prior to bringing the final revised ordinance to the city commission.

Although Petruff said she'd reveiwed quite a number of deeds in the subject area already, anyone in the T-end canal area who has not had their ownership documents reviewed should bring them to city hall.

City staff will copy the documents and forward them to Petruff for review.

Petruff said Feb. 28 she has yet to find any deed giving the owner title to a dock that would preclude the developer's transfer of the waterways in question to the public.