Agreement to be presented to County Commission on Aug. 30
On the brink of a non-jury trial over ownership of part of Beach Access 3 on Siesta Key, island resident Michael Holderness and county attorneys told a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge on July 11 that they had reached a settlement in the case, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
A Court Appearance Record issued on July 11 said that the parties planned to submit their proposal to the Sarasota County Commission for its consideration on Aug. 30, which is the date of the board’s first regular meeting following its summer break.
As a result, Circuit Judge Stephen M. Walker has scheduled a 15-minute hearing on Sept. 1, to get an update on the status of the lawsuit.
In response to a public records request, the News Leader received a copy of the proposed settlement.
Formally, the complaint against the county, which was filed in 2019, listed Siesta Beach Lots LLC as the plaintiff. Holderness is the principal of that company.
The draft agreement explains that the focus of the lawsuit was the ownership of, “as well as rights and obligations to,” the northern 40 feet of the right of way for Columbus Boulevard, which is next to Lots 14 and 15 in Block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision, which Siesta Beach Lots owns.
Holderness contended that the county abandoned any right it might or might not have had to that portion of the right of way, the settlement draft continues. The county disputed that assertion.
“[T]he County has taken the position in the Lawsuit that it is vested with all rights and title … to the entire right-of-way for Columbus Boulevard that is located adjacent to [Lots 14 and 15],” by virtue of the language in Section 95.361(2) of the Florida Statutes,” the draft says.
Chapter 95 of state law pertains to road dedication. The section referenced in the settlement reads as follows:
“In those instances where a road has been constructed by a nongovernmental entity, or where the road was not constructed by the entity currently maintaining or repairing it, or where it cannot be determined who constructed the road, and when such road has been regularly maintained or repaired for the immediate past 7 years by a county, a municipality, or the Department of Transportation, whether jointly or severally, such road shall be deemed to be dedicated to the public to the extent of the width that actually has been maintained or repaired for the prescribed period, whether or not the road has been formally established as a public highway. … The dedication shall vest all rights, title, easement, and appurtenances in and to the road in:
“(a) The county, if it is a county road;
“(b) The municipality, if it is a municipal street or road; or
“(c) The state, if it is a road in the State Highway System or State Park Road System,whether or not there is a record of conveyance, dedication, or appropriation to the public use.”
In a July 5 Statement of the Case filed with the Circuit Court, in advance of the expected trial, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce wrote, “The County has delineated that portion of Columbus Boulevard seaward of Beach Road as Beach Access #3.” That access, he explained, provides a pedestrian path to the Gulf of Mexico.
In an April 15 memo to the County Commission, County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht wrote that the Mira Mar Beach plat shows that Beach Access 3 is the extension of Columbus Boulevard to the Gulf of Mexico.
However, Siesta Beach Lots alleged that the county had not accepted the dedication of the roads in the Mira Mar Beach subdivision in a timely fashion.
The Mira Mar Beach plat dates to July 14, 1925, Siesta Beach Lots noted in its lawsuit. That plat “depicts Columbus Boulevard, and shows it running to the southeast” of Holderness’ Lots 14 and 15 in the plat.
Moreover, Siesta Beach Lots pointed out that the paved portion of Columbus Boulevard stops at the intersection of Beach Road and Columbus Boulevard, “approximately at the northeast corner of Lot 14,” the complaint said. “The area of Columbus Boulevard which is not paved, and which exists to the southwest of Beach Road is only passable by foot,” the complaint added.
Siesta Beach Lots also contended that county staff had not maintained the relevant portion of Beach Access 3 as required to claim the property, referencing the above section of state law.
In March, Judge Walker refused to rule in favor of the county on all of the points that it had argued. Walker found that questions remained as to whether the county had abandoned Access 3 and whether it had maintained the entire width of that access for seven years. Therefore, the non-jury trial was set for early July.
Further details of the draft settlement
The draft settlement says Holderness agrees to waive his claim that the county abandoned any common law dedication of the portion of Columbus Boulevard that the county had accepted.
Further, both parties acknowledge the provisions of Section 95.361(2) of the Florida Statutes in regard to regular maintenance of a road, the draft notes.
“However,” the settlement continues, “the parties acknowledge that the issue of regular maintenance required [under that portion of state law] has not been resolved through this lawsuit. Accordingly, the County neither admits nor denies the existence of statutory dedication [of that segment of Columbus Boulevard].”
Moreover, the draft notes that, “[t]o amicably resolve this lawsuit, the County will not seek to establish a maintained right-of-way map,” as provided for in another section of Chapter 95 of the Florida Statutes.
The county also will not seek a formal declaration that the Columbus Boulevard segment is under county ownership, “except as may be necessary to rebut any claims made in any existing or future lawsuit,” the settlement draft adds.
However, the draft points out, both parties acknowledge the county’s rights to Columbus Boulevard as those granted via the Mira Mar Beach plat dedication.
Both Holderness and the county also agreed to handle the expenses that each incurred in litigating the lawsuit.
Additionally, the draft points out, “This Settlement Agreement was executed after arm’s length negotiations between the Parties and their respective council and reflects the conclusion of the Parties that this Settlement Agreement is in the best interest of the Parties.”
At one point this year, in negotiating with the county, Holderness asked that the county pay $4.8 million for undeveloped parcels he owns seaward of North Beach Road, along with a county promise to place a lifeguard stand on one of those lots.
Further, he wanted to construct a tiki hut on two other parcels he owns that are seaward of Beach Road, slightly south of the other property.
During the July 11 court event, attorney Daniel C. Guarnieri of the Berlin Patten Ebling firm in Sarasota represented Holderness. Both Deputy County Attorney Bora Kayan and Assistant County Attorney Pearce also were present.