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Date of Issue: May 07, 2008

City seeks grant for park

The city of Bradenton Beach has applied for a grant to purchase two parcels consisting of two lots each on adjacent property - 1402 and 1404 and 1412 and 1414 Gulf Drive. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Bradenton Beach city commissioners hope to secure a state grant to achieve two goals - to put an end to already costly litigation and to create a new park on the Gulf of Mexico.

The city commission gathered April 29 for a work meeting to discuss a grant application to the Florida Communities Trust for the acquisition of beachfront parcels. The property addresses are 1402, 1404, 1412 and 1414 Gulf Drive.

The dispute over whether the land can be developed goes back years.

“This has been going on for a long time,” said city attorney Ralf Brookes, who summed up the circumstances of the case involving the city and Island Inc., and Beach Development Inc.

The developers sought to build on the land. The city commission eventually voted against development due to the sensitive nature of the waterfront property.

“Much of this area was eroded away,” Brookes said. “It’s a hazardous place to build.”

The dispute went to court, where the city won one round and the developers there won on appeal. While the matter remains before the courts, both sides went through a mediation session last year and want a resolution.

The mediation resulted in a finding that the city should buy the land, a suggestion the city previously proposed, but the developers rebuffed.

Now the problem is the city doesn’t have $2 million to spare to meet the asking price. “We agreed to put the litigation on hold for a year to pursue funding,” Brookes said.

A potential money source is a grant from Florida Communities Trust, a state land-acquisition grant program that provides funding to local governments and non-profit environmental groups to acquire community-based parks, open spaces and greenways.

About $66 million is available each funding cycle from the FCT’s Florida Forever program, unless the Legislature votes differently. Last year the FCT awarded more than $76 million in the Florida Forever program.

The city applied for a 2008 grant on May 1, two days after the commission meeting.

During that meeting, the commission agreed to indicate in the grant application that if the FCT awarded the grant, the city would contribute 30 percent toward the property purchase - about $600,000 if the $2 million is an accurate price. The money, said Brookes, could come from the city’s general reserve fund without jeopardizing the municipality’s finances.

Brookes said the matching offer is crucial to improving the city’s chances of winning the grant. A point system is used to judge grant applications and an offer to share costs earns points in the competitive process. Last year the state program received a record 118 applications from 94 agencies and selected 20 projects.

The property now contains dunes, in part due to several beach renourishment projects, and serves as a native habitat, attracting nesting sea turtles and possible gopher tortoises.

The city could establish the site as a park, possibly offering some amenities, such as a picnic shelter and a kiosk for an education center to promote sea turtle awareness, Brookes suggested.

“This is a great spot. There’s some really good stuff in there,” said Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, the organization that monitors nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings on the Island. “It’s really beautiful land.”

Brookes and Greg Hootman, a Sarasota attorney who frequently served the Florida League of Cities in representing the city in the legal dispute, said a possible $600,000 investment in a park seems a better deal than potentially paying damages to the developer.

Hootman noted that the legal dispute has already cost the FLC about $600,000 in fees. “If we lose, we have the potential of losing big,” he said.

“We may not prevail,” Brookes said. “It’s difficult to know. But if we were to lose … damages would be big.”

“It looks like we do this,” said Commissioner Janie Robertson, who seconded Vice Mayor John Chappie’s motion to proceed with the grant application.

Chappie, noting that the application was not an actual expenditure of city funds, said, “There’s no negative in continuing this route.”