Mediation fails in Key Club battle

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Millions of dollars in legal costs to both parties later, the ongoing battle over the approval by the Town of Longboat Key of the $400 million Islandside redevelopment plan failed in mediation last week as all parties conceded that no progress had been made and no mediation agreement possible at this juncture.

And so the court challenges continue, with the Town and the The Longboat Key Club hoping that the Second District Court of Appeal will reverse all or some of a previous ruling that effectively quashed, or found unlawful, the ordinance that allowed the approval of the development order and granted the Islandside Property Owners Coalition a Writ of Certiari upholding its challenge.

Town Attorney David Persson wrote to Town Commissioners after the failed mediation,

“Mayor Brown and I attended a confidential mediation in an attempt to arrive at a settlement regarding the above matters. Regretfully, mediation was unsuccessful. Since the rules of mediation require confidentiality, I am unable to discuss with you want occurred during the mediation. If you would like to discuss anything else, please contact me at your convenience.”

The mediation took place before retired Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer, who was perceived as unbiased and was respected on all sides of the issue.

It was the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Roberts who quashed the ordinance last December. The Town and Key Club then appealed Roberts’ ruling to the Second District Court of Appeal, where oral arguments were heard on June 5 and a ruling is expected any day.

Many have speculated that the longer the time-frame for a ruling, the more likely the Second District Court of Appeal is not simply going to uphold Judge Roberts’ ruling.

There are seven counts being appealed in the ruling and IPOC President Bob White said, “My own speculation is there are seven counts and if they are looking at each one individually and if there are arguments among the courts on overturning one and not the others it will take some time. And then an opinion would have to be written explaining that decision. Conventional wisdom is the longer it takes for the decision, the more likely there are differing opinions,” added White.

Key Club Attorney John Patterson said that percentage-wise if a case is not affirmed within a month of oral arguments, then an opinion will be written and most opinions written are reversals, not affirmations.

“No matter how you spin it, percentage-wise after a month, reversal is more likely. I anticipate if they reverse the ruling, they will reverse over everything,” said Patterson.

There was no ruling as of a Friday, July 20, and traditionally rulings are filed on Fridays.

White said that irrespective of the circuit and appellate courts’ rulings, there are still problems with the ordinance on the zoning code changes, which means the development order could not go forward under those changes, according to White. White also maintains a public referendum to add the tourism units to Islandside is required.

Asked if the IPOC backers are losing interest in the fight, White said the contrary is true.

“The actions of the Town Commission have reinforced our resolve rather it being diminished. The cost of fighting this is miniscule compared to the cost of allowing this to go through and its effect on lifestyle and property values,” said White.

White said in the last number of weeks, IPOC has offered options and suggestions and in several cases made public alternatives to the approved plan and offered private alternatives and there has been no receptiveness.

“They (The Key Club representatives) have rejected every suggested alternative proposed,” White said.

Patterson said apart from at mediation, he is not aware of any formal or written proposal made that would state what would be acceptable to IPOC. Patterson also reiterated that he was bound to not comment on any of the issues or elements discussed in the mediation hearing.

Patterson said still pending is IPOC’s declaratory action that will go before Judge Hayworth in September, which will answer the issues of the referendum and the zoning ordinances being amended. These issues will likely be tried in September, said Patterson, and if IPOC wants to appeal that, they will appeal that.

But if Judge Roberts’ ruling is reversed, Patterson said the project could move forward no matter what the outcome in the declaratory action.

Patterson said that because IPOC dropped the Key Club from the declaratory challenge litigation, whatever the outcome, it would not affect the development order at Islandside, only future development orders. The action is directed solely at the Town said Patterson.

“The end is getting near. This is not a bottomless pit. There is a finite end and it is getting near. The issues are on the table and getting refined and nothing that cannot be addressed through a Town Code modification if that is what the Commission wishes to do. And they have done that,” said Patterson.

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