Settlement imminent over Manatee island's 27th Street lawsuit

nwilliams@bradenton.comJanuary 25, 2013 

BRADENTON BEACH -- Bradenton Beach officials will meet today at City Hall to discuss possibly settling a yearlong legal dispute with the city of Holmes Beach and Sandpiper Resort.

Since May of 2012, the cities of Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, and Sandpiper Resort, a 55-and-older retirement community in Bradenton Beach, have been involved in litigation regarding the construction of a 734-foot white picket fence at 27th Street along the cities' boundary and Sandpiper's northern property line.

The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m.

A lawsuit filed by thecity of Holmes Beachclaims the fence blockspublic access to the beach, documents show.

Sandpiper residents, however, defend the construction of the fence, saying they needed a fence to ward off trespassers on their private property.

In the lawsuit, Holmes Beach attorneys argue Bradenton Beach granted quit claim in December 2009. Bradenton Beach annexed 27th Street but Manatee County held rights to area as an easement of trust for the benefit and use of the general public. Bradenton Beach was never given the title to the 27th Street right of way.

Holmes Beach residents use 27th Street for pedestrian and bike access to the beach and a convenience store on Gulf of Mexico Drive. Holmes Beach requested Sandpiper quit-claim the northern 30 feet of 27th Street to Bradenton Beach to resolve the matter. Sandpiper denied the request.

The ongoing lawsuit has cost the cities and resort more than $40,000 total in litigation fees.

Blalock Walters attorney Chuck Johnson represents Bradenton Beach in the lawsuit. He said a resolution will entail the public use of 27th Street and easement of drainage to benefit Holmes Beach, in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit.

Doug LeSevre, president of the Sandpiper Co-Op, said residents of the 160-unit resort have always maintained 27th Street, once believed to be public right of way.

"We're not trying to stop them going to the beach," he said. "We put the fence up because there was uniform sense of divide there. Let's just make it one uniform."

The fence was built on July 11, 2011, and cost residents of Sandpiper $7,500, LeSevre said. He said the right of way was an issue for Sandpiper residents "because people living on right of way couldn't improve their home."

"We don't mind sharing with our neighbors, but we're liable (for our private property)," he said. "They won't sue the city, they'll sue us."

After the initial lawsuit by Holmes Beach, attorneys for Sandpiper and Bradenton Beach have filed for dismissal of the case. Holmes Beach then re-filed the lawsuit. Sandpiper has since filed a counter-claim, arguing the city of Holmes Beach is using city funds to bring litigation on behalf of private parties.

A court date has been set for Jan. 31 in Manatee regarding Sandpiper's motion to dismiss. The motion suggests the plaintiff does not have enough information to respond to the suit. Holmes Beach has filed a counter motion, suggesting the opposite.

Despite the judicial process, the parties are hopeful a settlement can be reached without a mediator.

"We're all hoping to settle," said Jim Dye, attorney for the city of Holmes Beach.

"The parties have being trying to figure out ways to discuss this thing," said Chuck Webb, an attorney for Sandpiper.

LeSevre said there hasn't been any hostility between Sandpiper and Holmes Beach residents.

"People here have friends in Holmes Beach," he said.

The litigation fees have been an issue for Sandpiper, LeServe said. The residents have paid over $15,000 in fees.

"This is a 55-and-over community with people on fixed income," he said. "It cost $100 per person to fight this."

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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