Holderness seeking $4.8 million from Sarasota County for property located seaward of North Beach Road to settle two lawsuits he filed against county

Proposal includes conveyance to county of other beach parcels ‘at no cost,’ and county agreement to station lifeguard on part of shoreline near Accesses 2 and 3 on Siesta Key

This aerial map shows Lots 15, 16 and 17 in Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision. Lot 15 is outlined in purple. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

Over the past couple of years, Siesta Key property owner and manager Michael Holderness has failed to win County Commission approval for construction of a new house fully seaward of North Beach Road. A Special Magistrate agreed this spring that the facts supported the board’s decision, after Holderness contested it under a provision of state law.

It turned out in that case that Holderness had contrived to keep a certain aspect of his sale of the house that stood at the intersection of Columbus Boulevard and North Beach Road — the address is 99 Beach Road — under wraps as he worked to win the necessary Coastal Setback Variance for the new home.

When Holderness sold that 99 Beach Road property in March 2021, he obtained the buyer’s agreement that nothing but a tiki hut could be constructed on the site where he wanted to build the house. However, he also won the buyer’s agreement that the document making that assertion would not be recorded with the Sarasota County Clerk of Court until one year after the March 2021 sale was concluded.

Now Holderness is trying a different tactic, as outlined in documents The Sarasota News Leader received through public records requests.

In an April 15 memo to the county commissioners, County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht wrote that on March 22, his office received an offer from the attorney for Holderness’ company, Siesta Beach Lots, seeking $4.8 million to settle two lawsuits that Holderness has filed against the county — in 2019 and 2020.

Elbrecht pointed out in the memo that Siesta Beach Lots owns Lots 14, 15, 16 and 17 of Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision; all of them are seaward of North Beach Road and abut Beach Access 3 to the north.

The county would pay $4.8 million for Lot 14, where Holderness wanted to construct the house. Then, Holderness would convey Lots 15 and 16 to the county “at no cost.” Further, he would exchange Lot 17 “for a small parcel” adjacent to Fire Station 13 on Siesta Key, which is immediately south of Siesta Public Beach Park.

This graphic shows the parcel next to Fire Station 13, with County Attorney Rick Elbrecht’s comments in the April 15 memo. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Elbrecht noted in his memo, “[T]here are some concerns that Siesta Beach Lots may not be the true owner of Lot 17 because it may have been submerged for a tidal epoch of 18.6 years. If such were the case,” Elbrecht added, “then owner of the area formerly known as Lot 17 may be the upland property owner from which those lands accreted.”

The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office shows that JB Development of Sarasota LLC, whose address is in Ada, Mich., owns the upland property, which is part of 89 Beach Road. The manager of that company is Denny Madden, the records note.

The March 22 settlement offer from Holderness’ attorney, Daniel Guarnieri of the Sarasota firm Berlin Patten Ebling, says that the parcel next to the fire station is in private use as a parking lot, and it is approximately 31 feet by 136 feet, while Lot 17 is about 55 feet by 183 feet. The parking lot is next to a parcel “out of which my client’s business operates,” Guarnieri pointed out in an email to county staff.

Moreover, Holderness is calling for the county to provide one lifeguard stand in Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision. He is seeking a second lifeguard stand in Block 8, for which he would pay, Elbrecht’s memo noted.

In April 2020, Holderness erected fencing along the Siesta Beach Lots property seaward of North Beach Road, running perpendicular to the shoreline. Eventually, it was removed, as it violated a county environmental policy. File photo

During the June 2 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, as members discussed the Memorial Day shooting near Beach Access 2, Holderness talked about “the owners” having offered the county the area of the beach where the incident occurred “at zero cost.” He then indicated that the county was not interested because it did not want the prospect of shouldering liability in regard to incidents that might occur on the property.

Holderness also pointed out that his requirement for that transaction was for the county to station a lifeguard on part of the land; the county did not want to take on that expense, he said.

Further, Holderness repeated allegations that he has made numerous times during SKA meetings — that the county’s beach signage encourages people to think that even private beach parcels are open to the public. As Holderness put it: County staff members are “inviting these lawless flash mobs out to private property,” where no county regulations are in effect for Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies to enforce.

This aerial map shows Lot 17, outlined in purple, in Block 8 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst

Finally, the settlement offer calls for the county to allow Holderness to construct a tiki bar on Lots 16 and 17 in Block 8, which is south of Block 7.

Elbrecht’s memo also reminded the commissioners of a proposal that Commissioner Christian Ziegler made earlier this year. Ziegler suggested that the county explore the purchase of beach property on the northern part of Siesta Key. During that discussion, Ziegler offered comments that indicated that part of Holderness’ land seaward of North Beach Road was an area Ziegler wanted county staff to consider, as the News Leader has reported.

The necessity of new appraisals

Elbrecht explained in his memo that “the settlement offer lacks the necessary appraisal reports to be seriously considered …” However, he added, the opportunity exists for the county to make a counter offer after it receives those reports.

County Communications staff told the News Leader in early June that the Office of the County Attorney still was awaiting those appraisals.

In an April 4 email to Holderness’ attorney, Guarnieri, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce — who has been handling both of the lawsuits filed by Siesta Beach Lots —pointed out that the Florida Statutes require “two valid appraisal reports” for any property valued at more than $500,000, if a local government is considering purchasing the parcel. “From what County staff have been telling me,” Pearce added, “they would need six to eight weeks to obtain the necessary appraisal reports,” and those would have to be for each of the lots, not just Lot 14.

Attorney Daniel Guarnieri. Image from the Berlin Patten Ebling website

In his March 22 offer of the settlement, Guarnieri wrote that the $4.8-million figure “is derived from an appraisal which was conducted by Robert Fletcher of Bass Fletcher & Associates, Inc.” The appraisal was issued on Feb. 25, Guarnieri added.

Because the timeline of receipt of the appraisals would be close to the July trial date for one of Holderness’ lawsuits, Pearce continued, Holderness might want to seek a continuance of that proceeding. That would give county staff “additional time to obtain appraisal reports and consider options,” Pearce pointed out.

Guarnieri wrote back on April 4, saying he would check with Holderness and let Pearce know the results of that discussion. The News Leader found no further mention of the potential of a delay of the trial as it reviewed the emails it received in its public records request. The date of the last email in that batch was June 7.

In a May 23 email exchange with Guarnieri, Pearce wrote that staff still was working on the appraisals. Moreover, he told Guarnieri that Holderness had contacted the county commissioners the previous weekend; Chair Alan Maio had forwarded the communication to Pearce.

In that email to the commissioners, Holderness asked whether Pearce had provided them his offer for the property in Block 7 of the Mira Mar subdivision. “If so,” Holderness added, “please forward to me what was presented.”

Pearce sent Guarnieri a copy of Elbrecht’s April 15 memo.

The background on first Holderness lawsuit

In his April 15 memo, Elbrecht explained that, on Sept. 24, 2019, Holderness filed the first of the two lawsuits against the county that are at the heart of the settlement offer. Holderness asked the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to declare that Siesta Beach Lots LLC “owns the northern half of Columbus Boulevard/Beach Access #3 adjacent to its property.”

The Mira Mar Beach plat shows that Beach Access 3 is the extension of Columbus Boulevard to the Gulf of Mexico, Elbrecht added.

The house that Michael Holderness wanted to build seaward of North Beach Road would have been adjacent to Beach Access 3 on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Siesta Beach Lots claimed that the County had not timely accepted dedication of the roads in the subdivision,” Elbrecht continued. “It also has claimed that the County abandoned Beach Access #3. The County has argued that there was a common law dedication of [Beach Access 3] to the public,” Elbrecht added, “and the County has argued that it now owns fee title to Beach Access #3 because it has maintained the area for more than seven years.”

The latter statement references an issue that came up during a hearing when Siesta resident Mike Cosentino was fighting the county over its vacation of a portion of North Beach Road in 2016. Cosentino claimed that the continued degradation of the affected section of the road over decades was evidence that the county had not conducted the maintenance that it contended that it undertaken.

(That case finally ended last year with the Second District Court of Appeal ruling that the county had not violated its regulations in vacating the 373-foot-long segment.)

County photos included in a 2013 report issued by Taylor Engineering of Jacksonville show the condition of North Beach Road in October 2005. In requesting the road vacation 11 years later, the attorney for the property owners talked of how the road had been closed to traffic since 1993 because of repeated storm damage. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the April memo, Elbrecht noted that the county had won a partial summary judgment on the issue of the common law dedication. “However,” he continued, “the Court found that questions of fact remained as to whether the County abandoned Beach Access #3 and whether the County has maintained the entire width of Beach Access #3 for seven years.”

On March 25, Assistant County Attorney Pearce filed a motion asking Circuit Judge Stephen Walker to reconsider that decision and, instead, rule for the county on the abandonment issue. On May 24, Walker denied that motion.

On Oct. 27, 2021, Walker scheduled a jury trial in the case to begin on July 11, court records show.

As a result, the parties have filed notices regarding the witnesses they plan to call and the exhibits they plan to use during the trial, as well as notices regarding depositions.

The most recent filings the News Leader found on the docket prior to the publication of this issue showed that, on June 24, Pearce plans to depose Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), as well as a long-time Siesta Key property owner in the area of Beach Road, Andy Cooper.

The second Holderness lawsuit

In his April memo, Elbrecht also explained the second case that Siesta Beach Lots filed against the county. In that one, he wrote, “Siesta Beach Lots claims it is entitled to a common law way of necessity and a statutory way of necessity to access its properties. Specifically,” Elbrecht continued, “Siesta Beach Lots claims the County has blocked vehicular access to its property through the installation of bollards across Beach Access #2, Beach Access #3, and the intersection of Columbus Boulevard and the vacated area of Beach Road.”

The bollards were installed to keep vehicles off the vacated segment of North Beach Road. The attorney for the three sets of property owners who won the vacation in May 2016 — Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota — pointed out during the hearing that, even though that portion of the road had been closed to vehicles because of repeated storm damage since 1993, persons continued to try to drive on it.

Bollards installed at the intersection of North Beach Road and Columbus Boulevard are designed to keep out motor vehicle traffic. Pedestrians and bicyclists are welcome on the stretch. File photo

Bailey added during the hearing that the property owners wanted to ensure continued public access for pedestrians, and individuals on low-speed conveyances, who wished to use the road to reach the public beach in that area.

In his memo, Elbrecht reported that the county also had filed for summary judgment in that case, but a hearing had yet to be conducted.

Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh had scheduled a 30-minute hearing for April 18 on the county’s summary judgment motion in that case, court records show. However, on Feb. 25, the event was cancelled.

The last records in the docket for that complaint — dating to late March — show the county responding to Siesta Beach Lots’ requests for materials relevant to the lawsuit.

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