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Date of Issue: July 21, 2005

Hunts win lawsuit against Anna Maria

In what some local legal experts had considered a "slam dunk" case from the beginning, Anna Maria residents Robert and Nicki Hunt have won their lawsuit against the city for its denial of their site plan for a three-story retail-office-residential structure at 303 Pine Ave.

Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Marc Gilner ruled July 13 that the 3-2 city commission vote against the plan last August was "quashed" and the matter was "remanded for further proceedings that are consistent with this opinion."

Mayor SueLynn said it was her understanding that the Hunts can re-apply to the commission for site plan approval. City Attorney Jim Dye will issue a clarification of Gilner's ruling to the city commission this week, she said.

The Hunts had sought a three-story structure that would contain ground-floor retail while the second floor would have 50 percent retail and 50 percent residential. The third floor would have been residential. The commission had denied the application based upon an interpretation of the city's comprehensive plan and relevant city code that "only" two-story structures in the ROR district were permitted.

In his ruling, Gilner took issue with the word "only." The comp plan and applicable code do not say the word "only," he noted.

While that may have been the intent of the comprehensive plan, "A local government may not deny a development order based on criteria which are not specifically enumerated in its land use regulation," he said.

Some members of the commission, Gilner observed, "essentially read in the world 'only' to limit non-residential use to the ground floor and residential use to the second floor. The word 'only' does not appear in either the comp plan or the code," he said.

For the commission to "interject" this limitation is "inconsistent" with the comp plan and code and "departs from the essential requirements of the law."

There was "ample evidence" that the Hunts complied with the comprehensive plan policy and the relevant code sections. The commission "failed to comply with the essential requirements of the law," ruled Gilner, and he did not have to address whether or not the commission decision was based upon "substantial, competent evidence."

Commissioners Carol Ann Magill, Dale Woodland and Linda Cramer voted against the site plan, while Commissioner Duke Miller and Commission Chairman John Quam voted for the proposal.

Following the August 2004 commission decision, the Hunts in September filed suit against the city asking for relief from the decision.

One local attorney, who asked not to be identified, said it was a "slam-dunk" case against the city from the start. "It was obvious to me that the commission decision was not based upon any evidence but just on their interpretation of what should have been in the comp plan, not what was in the plan. All the case did was cost everybody a lot of money," the lawyer said.

Efforts to reach the Hunts to determine if they would resubmit their site plan to the commission were unsuccessful.