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Date of Issue: July 30, 2008

Gee gains partial victory in lawsuit against Anna Maria

Who walks here?
This beach access sign in the 500 block of South Bay Boulevard in Anna Maria is at the center of an 18-month-long controversy involving the city and residents who live on opposite sides of the path. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Laura Gee has won a victory in her legal action against Anna Maria over the issuance of a number of variances to her neighbors, the Olesen family.

Gee, of 502 S. Bay Blvd., sued the city in December 2007 after it granted multiple variances to the Olesens as part of a court-ordered settlement of a lawsuit between the city and the Olesens.

Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Logan ruled in favor of Gee - and against the city - regarding the variance that allowed the Olesens to place air-conditioning equipment “along the side of the property nearest Laura Gee’s property,” city attorney Jim Dye told Mayor Fran Barford.

Logan’s reason, said Dye, is that “competent, substantial evidence was not presented to the city commission as to the hardship” faced by the Olesen family. The evidence presented did not show that the Olesens were suffering a hardship that was not of their own making, “or not economically based,” Dye continued.

This means that the variance the city issued to the Olesens is “invalid,” Dye said, and the air-conditioning equipment is “illegally placed.”

Dye said the Olesens have several options to remedy the problem, including appeal to the Second District Court of Appeal, file for a new variance and “make a better argument than was presented the first time through” or “move the air-conditioning equipment to a place where it does not violate the city’s codes.”

Additionally, the city can ask for a rehearing or file an appeal of the order, although Dye recommended against considering those options.

The city should “defer” to the Olesens to “see how they wish to proceed,” he said.

The Olesens have 30 days to make a decision, after which the city can take enforcement steps against the air- conditioning equipment placement, said Dye, even though the city approved the variance placing the equipment in its present location.


Olesens object

Dye also informed the mayor that the Olesens “object” to the city placing a sign on “their” side of the beach path designating a beach access and have “authorized their attorneys to go to court over their view that they control half of the path.”

The city has granted the Olesens a variance to build within the beach access, but has never acknowledged the Olesens own any of the 10-foot-wide path.

Dye held a shade meeting with the city commission July 24 to discuss the pending matter.


Who’s on first?

Interestingly, ownership of the beach access path is the reason all the lawsuits have been filed against the city, both by the Olesens and Laura Gee.

The matter began in April 2007 when then-building official Kevin Donohue ordered a halt to the Olesens’ remodeling project because he believed it was encroaching on a city-owned 10-foot-wide right of way on the north end of the Olesens’ property. The path lies between the Olesen house and Gee’s home.

Although the Olesens produced letters from city officials in the early 1980s indicating those officials believed the Olesens owned the easement, Dye was not able to find where the city had ever legally vacated the easement to the Olesens.

The Olesens sued the city, Donohue was dismissed in a cost-cutting measure, the city agreed to mediation and eventually the variances were granted by the city commission as part of a court-ordered settlement.

Gee counter-sued, claiming the air-conditioning equipment is in a location that interferes with her ability to sleep, among other issues she had with the variances.