Attorney told the News Leader in August that he was working to complete that legal process
On Sept. 16, Sarasota County staff notified the property owners who successfully petitioned for the county’s vacation of a portion of North Beach Road that they had 10 days within which to execute the easements their attorney proffered during the board’s May 11 public hearing on the matter.
That was part of a staff report issued to the commission on Sept. 19, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
“Neither the access easements nor the utility easements across the area to be vacated have been completely provided as required by the Board Resolution,” the memo says, noting that the street vacation is predicated upon them. Those were to be conveyed and recorded at no cost to the county, the memo adds.
On May 11, Dennis and Wendy Madden, William and Sheila Caflish, and Edward and Christy Ramsey won agreement from the board for the vacation of the 357-foot segment of North Beach Road, which has a southern terminus at the Columbus Boulevard intersection. Only Commissioner Christine Robinson opposed the action, citing a policy in Section 1.1.13 of the county’s Comprehensive Plan that she said prohibited it.
Attorney Charles Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, acting as the representative of the three couples, told the board they had agreed to maintain non-vehicular public access at all times on the stretch of North Beach Road. That would be reflected in a 60-foot easement across the road that would be recorded with the resolution regarding the board’s formal action. Then, at the request of Commissioner Charles Hines, Bailey won agreement from the couples to proffer an additional 5-foot-wide public easement across a parcel west of the road to the Gulf of Mexico.
Since then, Christy Ramsey sold the house at 99 Beach Road to Holderness Enterprises LLC for $3 million. The Sept. 19 staff memo references the fact that the notice about the easements went to the new owner of that property.
During an Aug. 24 telephone interview with the News Leader, Bailey said, “We are in the process of getting [the easements] recorded.” The delay, he added, is “not unusual” for that type of legal process. The News Leader was unable to reach Bailey this week for additional comment.
The Sept. 19 staff memo to the commission says that the proposed language for the 60-foot easement “allows the county to maintain the area to accommodate access by the general public … The easement precludes restoring roadway improvements or replacing roadway improvements with other hardened surface.”
Commission request for staff action
During the Aug. 23 County Commission meeting, Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo had pointed out, “Public access is very important to us,” referring to his colleagues and himself. “I think a good idea might be to direct staff, sooner rather than later,” he said, to put together a plan for signage making clear that that section of the road “is now available to the public.”
He added, “It’s one thing to say that [those rights are] there on a property record. It’s another thing for people to instinctively know that it’s OK to be in a place.”
Moreover, Caragiulo said, providing clear signage “would perhaps go a long way to quell some of the misinformation that’s out there.”
As Bailey had pointed out to the board earlier on Aug. 23, many members of the public believe that the vacation will lead to the private property owners forbidding public access to the area.
Caragiulo continued, “Obviously, we are very resistant to hardening the area,” because of county regulations discouraging such action in a coastal environment.
“I would like the board to direct administration to come back with an action plan,” Caragiulo added.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Chair Al Maio, who represents Siesta Key as part of his district.
“If there’s an ability to make that [public access] crystal clear [in the final resolution],” Commissioner Robinson said, she would be in favor of that. When she sought clarification that the resolution of the board’s May 11 action had not been finalized at that point, staff confirmed that that was the case.
County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh responded that he would look at the proffered easement language and report back to the board. “A shell path may be different than some other type of hardening,” DeMarsh said. “There may be some things that could be approved.”
“Let us know what we can and can’t do with our easement rights,” Hines told DeMarsh.
Hines “made very solid points in that [May 11] hearing,” Caragiulo said of the easements: “These two perpendicular pieces are granting access to the public.” Those rights “should be conspicuous,” he reiterated his earlier point. “I get the sense from the petitioners that they’re completely in agreement.”
The Sept. 19 staff memo notes that the “Road Closed” signs at the intersection of Beach Road and Columbus Boulevard and others along the 357-foot segment “have apparently been in place since the 1990’s as Beach Road had regularly experienced washouts and stability issues, including as recently as 2012.”
It continues, “Separately from the street vacation/public easement action, ‘public access’ signs are being installed at the intersection of Beach Road/Columbus Blvd. in conjunction with the existing signs. Public Works [Department staff] is also performing roadway maintenance at the intersection.”
Furthermore, the memo says that staff has been advised by the Maddens’ representative “that [the couple is] developing a plan to improve the easement area. Any plans submitted would be addressed after the conditions of the vacation have been met.”