By John Morton
Moments after Sarasota County commissioners put to bed a lawsuit from Siesta Key resident Mike Holderness regarding a dispute over land at Beach Access 3, board member Christian Ziegler expressed his desire to try and purchase beach property in the area in an effort to extend Siesta Beach in a northbound direction.
“It’s probably the most exciting thing the county has the potential to do, in my mind,” said Ziegler of the idea of not only possibly pursuing two lots that Holderness owns adjacent to Columbus Boulevard — also known as Beach Access 3 — but also some private lots to the south that Ziegler understands may be available.
Those Holderness lots, part of his Siesta Beach Lots entity, were actually the focal point of his dispute. He felt the county had abandoned the northern portion of the road, thus losing the easement rights. Therefore, those believing they are at a county access are actually on Holderness’ property, he said.
The county disagreed, and the two parties settled with Holderness waiving his claim, leaving things status quo.
In return, the county will not pursue a statutory defense that could have resulted in the road being dedicated to the county for full ownership.
The commissioners on Aug. 30 unanimously signed off on the agreement.
Still, chairman Alan Maio made it a point to inform the public that the county will indeed continue to maintain the road, that no money was paid to Holderness, and that Beach Access 3 remains open to the public.
Holderness declined comment, only saying “the county continues to post my property as a public beach.”
Holderness had previously hoped the county would place a lifeguard stand at the location as part of a compromise, but it passed on the idea, citing liability issues among other reasons.
Ziegler has discussed the need for the county to acquire beach property in previous meetings. He said on Aug. 30 that the county spends lots of money on property that people don’t necessarily use, and in contrast beach property would receive heavy use.
He called the possible acquisition “an incredible amenity” being within walking distance of the Village, he said it likely would not need a parking lot but rather just a couple of bathrooms.
“That’s a legacy,” Ziegler said. “When are you ever going to be able to acquire property that you can turn into public beach for the community?”
Maio liked the idea of “a little relief” off the pressure on the main public beach.
“I’m in agreement,” he said. “That would be something perfect.”
The commissioners asked the county administrator to approach both the county attorney and director of parks, recreation and natural resources to begin to explore the idea.
The dispute between Holderness and the county — one of two — was set to go to trial in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in July before the agreement was struck.
Siesta Beach Lots was seeking $4.8 million to settle the two lawsuits that Holderness filed in 2019 and 2020.
Siesta Beach Lots owns lots 14, 15, 16 and 17 of block 7 of the Mira Mar Beach subdivision.
Holderness wanted the county to pay $4.8 million for lot 14, where Holderness had been denied permission to build a house. In addition, Holderness was willing to provide lots 15 and 16 to the county “at no cost,” and trade lot 17 to the county in exchange for a small piece of property next to Fire Station 13, just south of the Siesta Key public beach.
Holderness also wanted the county to provide the lifeguard stand at block 7. He said he would pay for a second lifeguard stand at block 8.
A sticking point was the issue of the lifeguards. Said Holderness earlier this summer, “County staff have indicated a reluctance to provide a lifeguard station at this location due to the presence of rip tides along the shoreline and the potential liabilities associated with taking on such an operation.”