By John Morton
Another settlement has been reached in the ongoing disputes between Siesta Beach Lots LLC and Sarasota County, and this one could open the door to the creation of a parking lot.
Businessman Mike Holderness owns lots 14, 15, 16 and 17 of the Mira Mar Beach Subdivision, and they’ve been the focal point of several lawsuits against county regarding Holderness’ access to those parcels, which are on the gulf side of Beach Road and which has been hindered by the county’s placement of bollards — a series of short posts set at intervals intended to delimit an area or to exclude vehicles.
The settlement, which occurred in April, eliminated a non-jury trial in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court that had been scheduled for May 8.
On May 9, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the May 1 recommendation of the county attorney, which read in part:
“Siesta Beach Lots LLC alleged that bollards installed in front of Beach Access No. 3, Beach Access No. 2, and at the intersection of Beach Road and Columbus Boulevard have blocked riparian access to the property, specifically referring to the right to launch a boat from its property.
“As a result of court-ordered mediation. there is a proposed settlement for the board’s consideration.
“The settlement agreement does not involve any money being paid to Siesta Beach Lots. Each side will bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees. The settlement agreement acknowledges Siesta Beach Lots has access to its property through the vacated portion of Beach Road, which is consistent with the right it already held under a public access agreement with the county. The settlement agreement states Siesta Beach Lots may apply for a right-of-way use permit for access through Beach Access No. 3.
“The settlement agreement also states that Siesta Beach Lots may apply for all necessary permits to construct a proposed commercial parking lot on Lot 14. The county has not committed to approval of such a proposal, but instead would apply its normal processes for such a proposal, which would include a coastal setback variance and a special exception for the use.
“Finally, the county agrees to continue to work cooperatively with the sheriff regarding trespass issues associated with private property along the beach, landward of the mean high-water line.”
Said Holderness, “I’m satisfied with the current settlement because it avoids litigation of the lawsuit for now, and I’m glad the county recognizes my platted access and property rights.
“My No. 1 concern remains public safety, but there is still progress to be made. I am encouraged that we were able to sit down and put this particular lawsuit in the rearview mirror. I remain optimistic that Sarasota County will apply best practices and continue to work with me to ensure a solution that’s best for the public and for private property rights. It does make good economic and environmental sense for us to find a resolution.
“That being shared, the current situation is clearly unsustainable, and a global resolution must happen soon. I’m available and remain open to discussions with Sarasota County any time asked.”
A global resolution settles all claims against one defendant in a single settlement, rather than individual ones.
Regarding Holderness’ interest in converting Lot 14 into a commercial parking lot, he said in part:
“After speaking with neighbors and valued members of the community, the greater need is parking for slow-moving vehicles. To be clear, the parking discussion does not pertain to the gulf-front lots and only to the most landward lot where the county recently denied its residential use.”
He said the parking lot “could allow public access while protecting my private property rights.”
Meanwhile, Holderness said he looks forward to working with the county “to find fair use for the gulf-front lots.”