Holderness seeks to intervene in lawsuit over North Beach Road vacation and Cosentino’s Sarasota County Charter amendments

As owner of North Beach Road property, Holderness argues he is as entitled to be a party to three-year-old case as other landowners on vacated segment

A county graphic released in the fall of 2016 shows facets of the area surrounding the North Beach Road vacation site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Close to three-and-a-half years after Siesta resident Mike Cosentino filed his lawsuit over the County Commission’s vacation of 373 feet of North Beach Road, Michael Holderness — who also owns property on the road segment — filed a motion to intervene in the case.

In his Oct. 9 filing with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, Holderness pointed out that his company — Holderness Enterprises LLC — owns the parcel located at 99 Beach Road, while Siesta Beach Lots LLC owns a second parcel “immediately adjacent to and seaward of” that property. (The Florida Division of Corporations lists Holderness as the registered agent for Siesta Beach Lots. The company was established in August 2016, those state records also say.)

At the time of the May 11, 2016 County Commission hearing on the road vacation petition, the parcels in which Holderness has an interest were owned by J. Edward Ramsey and Christy S. Ramsey of Bristol, Ind. The Ramseys sold the land to Holderness in August 2016. (Holderness Enterprises paid $3 million for the property at 99 Beach Road, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office says.)

Noting that other owners of property on the vacated segment were allowed to intervene in the Cosentino case, Holderness argued in his Oct. 9 motion that he and his companies should have the same right. “Each of the intervenors have alleged that these proceedings have a direct and immediate impact on valuable property rights,” Holderness added.

Michael Holderness attends a Siesta Key Association meeting in October 2016. File photo

Further, Holderness contended in the motion that he and his companies “believe that they are indispensable parties to this proceeding because they stand to gain or lose invaluable property rights by virtue of any judgment entered in this proceeding.”

The motion added that he and his companies “were unaware of this proceeding until very recently.” The motion also indicated that Holderness does not know why he was not contacted by the other intervenors to participate in the case.

Holderness’ action came three weeks before a Circuit Court judge ruled that two County Charter amendments Cosentino wrote — which voters approved during the November 2018 General Election — were invalid because of their contravention of state law. (The Office of the County Attorney reported on that action to the County Commission during its regular meeting on Nov. 5. Deputy County Attorney Karl Senkow said that the office would file for a specific type of court action that would make the decision final. Nonetheless, Cosentino has vowed to appeal Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll’s ruling. As of Nov. 13, court records showed no appeal had been filed.)

Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh, who has been presiding over the case, had ruled earlier this year that the original Cosentino lawsuit and a second one involving the Charter amendments could be consolidated into one case.

Robert P. Watrous. Image from his law firm’s website

Holderness further argued in his motion that if one of the amendments — 3.9 — remained in effect, the county would be required to try to reacquire the vacated road segment, which would mean the county would have to attempt to gain title to property held by the intervenors.

Moreover, the motion continued, while the legal challenge to the validity of the Charter amendments continues, “Intervenors are unable to market or develop [their] properties because of the uncertainty over the vacated segment of Beach Road …”

Finally, Holderness also asked the court to delay a decision on a county motion seeking to have the court declare the Charter amendments invalid. The hearing on that summary judgment motion was held on Oct. 7.

Holderness is being represented in his action by Robert P. Watrous, a Sarasota attorney, the filing shows.

The view from the other side

Not only has Sarasota County objected to Holderness’ late efforts to join the litigation, but the other intervenors in the case have objected, as well.

In the county’s response, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce pointed out that the other two sets of intervenors in the case filed their motions in June 2016, shortly after Cosentino filed his lawsuit.

Moreover, Pearce pointed out, Holderness “waited until the actual hearing on the County’s motion for final summary judgment to make known his intent to file a motion to intervene and then filed his motion after the hearing [Pearce’s emphasis]. … Holderness should not be allowed to intervene in the twilight of this case.”

Pearce added, “Holderness also wrongly claims he is an indispensible party.” Citing a 2001 Florida Supreme Court ruling, Pearce wrote, “‘An indispensible party is one whose interest in the controversy makes it impossible to completely adjudicate the matter without affecting that party’s interest or the interests of another party in the action.’”

In other words, Pearce continued, “The Court does not need Holderness’ presence to decide whether the charter provisions conflict with state law or are vague.”

This is Sarasota County Charter Section 3.9, which was approved on Nov. 6, 2018. Image courtesy of the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller

This is the text of Charter Section 3.10, also approved by voters on Nov. 6, 2018. Image courtesy of the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller

Furthermore, Pearce wrote, a 2013 Florida Third Court of Appeal ruling said “an individual with an interest affected by a charter amendment is not an indispensible party in a legal challenge to the charter amendment.” Pearce added, “If such were true, then every property owner whose property abuts ‘any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista’ affected by the charter amendments would be an indispensable party in this case. That cannot be the law,” Pearce continued, “because it would lead to an absurd result.” He was quoting from Charter Section 3.10, one of Cosentino’s amendments.

Acknowledgment of the action

Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

With Judge McHugh having had to alter her schedule because of a family emergency, Judge Carroll presided over the county’s summary judgment hearing on Oct. 9.

In his Oct. 30 order on the Charter amendments, Carroll did point out that the court had not addressed the Holderness motion for intervention, so “it remains pending.”

Carroll noted, “After the summary judgment hearing but before this ruling issued, Michael Holderness, Holderness Enterprises, LLC, and Siesta Beach Lots, LLC (collectively, ‘Holderness’) have appeared on the scene.”

He also pointed out that all the other parties opposed the new motion to intervene.

Additionally, Carroll wrote that he agreed with the county that Holderness was not an indispensable party to the county’s legal challenge of the Charter amendments.

Carroll further pointed out that he agreed with the “proposition that an intervening party takes the case as the intervening party finds it,” citing a judicial precedent. “Here, addressing the intervention motion at this point adds nothing except disruption,” Carroll added.

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