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Payment of $3-million ends long zoning battle

Treasure Island pays almost $2-million of the $2.8-million judgment for a fight waged since 1988.

By KATHY SAUNDERS
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 3, 2002


TREASURE ISLAND -- City attorney James Denhardt delivered a check for $2,848,914 to Provident Management Corp. on Monday, ending a 14-year legal battle over a city zoning decision.

It was time to cut their losses, city commissioners said in a hearing earlier in the day. The city paid almost $2-million of the judgment. Its insurance carrier, Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, handled the rest.

"It should have been settled a long time ago, one way or another," said Mayor Leon Atkinson. "The sooner I can forget this, the better."

None of the current commissioners or the mayor was in office when the case started.

In May 1988, fire Chief Charlie Fant delivered an order to Provident president Brenton Howie to cease renting units at the complex at 7500 Bayshore Drive. Provident was issuing short-term leases, and the city insisted that Land's End was being operated as a motel, against residential zoning codes in that neighborhood.

The city got a judge to stop the operations. The case was overturned on appeal, and another judge in 1994 ruled that the city owed $1.2-million in damages.

The Florida Supreme Court twice heard arguments about Treasure Island's liability.

The city never obtained a bond to cover possible damages, saying it was good for the money. Treasure Island later claimed it was protected by sovereign immunity and would owe a maximum of $100,000, the state cap on a city's liability in negligence cases.

But the Supreme Court decided last year that if the city was going to take property owners' rights, then it was responsible for the damages, which have been rising at 12 percent a year since the 1994 ruling, or $400 a day.

A few months ago, Provident lawyers returned to court to force Treasure Island to pay the judgment.

The city, in the meantime, had been negotiating with its insurance carrier to pay the damages. The insurer said it had no responsibility and would not participate in the discussions.

"It really did not leave the city with a lot of options in terms of settling," city attorney Denhardt said.

The Florida Municipal Insurance Trust ultimately agreed to contribute about one-third of the settlement -- $910,000 -- and said it would not seek reimbursement for its $1-million in legal costs. The city said it would not go to court to try to get the insurer to pay any more of the damages.

On the advice of City Manager Chuck Coward, commissioners decided Monday to take the city's share of the damages from the Causeway Bridge fund, which had accrued about $10-million toward a new bridge. Coward said the city could borrow more money for the $55-million bridge, expected to be built by 2005.

The only other options, Coward said, were to raise taxes or cut services.

"Those would seem to me to be inappropriate to the community," he said, adding that most of the city's residents weren't around when the Land's End saga began.

A city the size of Treasure Island, with 7,500 full-time residents, is lucky to have the money to cover such a judgment, Coward told commissioners.

Attorney Karl Brandes of Tampa's Holland & Knight said Monday that he was thrilled that his clients will finally see the money.

"They were just out there minding their business," he said of the management company. "I am really happy for them."

Provident president Howie said he wouldn't start counting the money until it was in the bank. "Obviously, we're very happy that it's finally resolved," he said.

Howie said Provident continues to manage property, although the company currently has no properties in Pinellas County.

Some commissioners said they want to see some of the transcripts from private negotiating sessions held by their predecessors. Coward said the transcripts should be available at City Hall this week.

By the numbers

2: The number of times the case went to the Florida Supreme Court. The height in feet of the stack of city documents in the case.

3: 2nd District Court of Appeal rulings in Treasure Island's favor.

14: The number of years the case has been going on.

$325,000: City's legal fees to defend the case.

$1-million: What the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust has spent defending the case.

$1.2-million: Initial judgment against the city in 1994.

$400: Interest accrued daily since 1994.

$910,000: Amount paid by the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust.

$1,938,914: Amount paid by the city on Monday.

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