City Commission looks to buy a bottle club, redefine trespassing

Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota City commissioners will decide Monday afternoon, May 21, whether they want to buy two properties along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. One is a strip mall four-plex, containing a private bottle club. The other is the site of an abandoned residence and a 1944-era commercial building.

The strip mall at 1958 MLK Way is appraised at $160,000. It recently was the beneficiary of a government grant of nearly $140,00, with the funds used to beautify the façade. The residence and commercial building at 1864 MLK Way are appraised together at $55,000.

“These parcels are within a documented problematic high crime area, especially the 1958 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way property, which includes the Social Club, a private bottle club at the center of the criminal activity,” a city staff memo says. “[Public] ownership of these properties would enable control for potentially more economically viable usage in the future.”

City Commission agenda backup material for the May 21 meeting shows the two parcels on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

When the Newtown Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board met on April 5, it recommended by a 4-0 vote that the city negotiate the purchase of the two parcels with CRA money; three board members were absent from the meeting.

The owners of the bottle club – Frank Scarpino and Mark DeFraties – recently finished a Storefront Grant program project that included installation of new molding, trim, windows and doors, along with replacement of restroom fixtures, plumbing and flooring, plus new stone paneling, a repainting of the exterior and a new roof. The owners paid $1,900, took out a loan for $5,137.48 and received a grant from the Community Development Block Grant program for $78,401.53. The total for the work was $85,439.01.

Another business at 1958 MLK Way – formerly Rick’s Pizzeria – received a total of $64,624 for work: replacing a restroom; installation of a new roof; repainting; and new lights, molding, trim, windows and doors. The project cost Scarpino and DeFraties a $4,004.38 loan and $1,900 in “owner contribution.”

The rehab of the Rick’s Pizzeria structure and the Social Club consumed $137,121.65 in Community Development Block Grant monies from the Newtown Storefront organization. The city’s appraisal now indicates the property is worth $160,000. The appraisal for tax purposes is $123,400; last year, the property owners paid $2,625.91 in taxes. DeFraties and Scarpino purchased the property in 2003 for $140,000.

The appraisal by Bass & Associates of Sarasota says, “According to Jane Hindall, board member of the grant, the renovation to the subject is now complete and the grant renovation did not include any interior renovation or improvements to the plumbing or electrical systems.”

The parcel at 1864 Dr. MLK Way, which has a 70-year-old commercial building, includes “a dilapidated residential structure” the appraisers for the city could not enter to evaluate, according to agenda material. The appraisers noted in their report that “our value is based on our exterior inspection.” The property, owned by Beat Em All Inc. of Sarasota, is appraised for tax purposes at $68,000; the owner paid $1,452.77 last year in property tax.

Monday afternoon’s decision is a two-step process. The five city commissioners first will sit as the Community Redevelopment Agency governing board, accepting the recommendations of the Newtown advisory board. If the city commissioners, acting as the CRA governing board, approve the recommendation, then the matter of the purchase goes onto the commission’s consent agenda and is approved without discussion, unless one or more commissioners asks to remove it for discussion later in the meeting.

If the purchase is consummated, the money will come from the city’s economic development account.

Challenging the trespass ordinance

The city commissioners on Monday evening will hold a public hearing to consider modifications to the city’s trespassing ordinance. Federal appeals courts have ruled that verbal warnings are insufficient in trespassing cases and that people need to be able to contest a police officer’s judgment.

Because the ordinance deals strictly with trespassing on public property, judgment is necessary to differentiate between normal public usage and usage demanding expulsion from a public area. Of course, the driver in this issue is use of Five Points Park, the point of collision between very upscale Sarasotans and very downscale Sarasotans.

The proposed new ordinance says, “Trespass warnings shall be in writing and issued for a period not to exceed one year.” Once a warning has been issued against a person, and the person is found trespassing again, the person is subject to arrest.

Warnings can be appealed to a special magistrate at no cost. The appeal must be in writing, and it must be filed within seven days of issuance. The magistrate will hold a hearing seven days after receipt of an appeal. Individuals will receive notice of the hearing date, time and place by telephone, if they put their phone numbers on their appeals. If no number is included, then a notice will be put at the front desk of the police department or on a bulletin board in City Hall.

The hearing must be held within 30 days of the filing of the appeal. Both sides can call witnesses and present evidence. The burden of proof is on the city to provide “clear and convincing evidence that the trespass warning was properly issued ….”

The decision of the special magistrate is considered final, although the decision can be appealed through the regular court system.

1 thought on “City Commission looks to buy a bottle club, redefine trespassing”

  1. There is a disturbing “Welfare for the Rich” flavor to all of the City’s property transactions. Something doesn’t sell when the (connected) owner wants it to. We (taxpayers) then buy it high and later sell it low (to some other connected person) – benefiting some rich person with tax money each time.

    What is wrong with just letting the properties that are for sale stay on the private market until their owners finally figure out that they either have to sell at the market price or keep the property?

    With regard to trespass – do the rich and the poor actually deserve each other?

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