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Property dispute escalates

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published February 4, 2007


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INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - A dispute over the location of the city's southern boundary erupted into a full blown political battle last week as one commissioner formally charged the city's mayor has violated state ethics rules.

A special meeting of the Indian Rocks Beach commission Monday (4 p.m. in the council chambers) is expected to address:

-Ethics complaints levied by Commissioner Jose Coppen against Mayor Bill Ockunzzi,

-Countercharges by Ockunzzi that Coppen has "misrepresented the facts" in a series of e-mails and Web postings and in letters to the state attorney general and the state Commission On Ethics,

-A request by Ockunzzi that the city pay for an attorney to represent him during the state's investigation of Coppen's ethics complaints, and

-An e-mail from a resident charging that Coppen is improperly claiming multiple homestead exemptions on his Gulf Boulevard home.

The political dust-up began several months ago when the commission rejected an agreement with the owner of a lot that apparently straddles the boundary between Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

That agreement would have allowed Parker Willis to construct a four-story, three-unit condominium on the south side of Whitehurst Avenue. The project, including a rear setback variance, had been approved earlier by Indian Shores.

Willis' plans designated a 7.3-foot area on the north side of the lot as a side setback and access point to garages via Whitehurst Avenue.

The problem is the 7.3-foot section could be within the city of Indian Rocks Beach - and on the Whitehurst Avenue right-of-way.

Over the years, Indian Rocks Beach officials claimed all of Whitehurst Avenue and at other times told Indian Shores that it was responsible for maintaining and providing police protection to the southern half of the road. Today, Indian Rocks Beach claims jurisdiction over all of Whitehurst Avenue.

Complicating the issue is the fact that in 1986 Indian Shores vacated what it thought was its part of Whitehurst Avenue and granted a 7.3-foot section and warranty deed to the previous owner of Willis' property.

Coppen, who lives two houses north of Whitehurst Avenue and Willis' proposed project, is vehemently opposed to giving away any rights to the disputed 7.3-foot section.

Following a November meeting when Ockunzzi offered a revised draft of a proposed agreement between the city and Willis, Coppen began distributing lengthy e-mails criticizing Ockunzzi for improperly "meddling" in something that should have been left to lawyers.

"The problem goes beyond the usual struggling of points of view and political bickering," Coppen wrote in identical letters to the state attorney general and the ethics commission, saying it was "improper, if not illegal" for Ockunzzi to draft a legal document. He also complained that Ockunzzi privately met and discussed the Willis property issue without the "consent or knowledge" of the commission.

"This is all politics. It's gotten out of hand," Ockunzzi said Thursday. He strongly defends his actions and insists he has done nothing wrong. "Mr. Coppen's claims and accusations are totally unfounded and totally opposite of what happened."

Meanwhile, Indian Shores has granted Willis a six-month extension to begin building on the lot, pending resolution of the dispute.

But, so far, Indian Rocks Beach is not willing to negotiate.

Fast Facts:

 

Timeline

Here is a brief history of a single lot at 20256 Gulf Blvd.

Early 1900s - Beach lots and streets plats filed with Hillsborough County.

Mid 1900s - City of Indian Rocks Beach and town of Indian Shores incorporate and designate their adjoining boundary at property line and/or southern boundary of Whitehurst Avenue.

1985 - Hurricane Elena destroys home on property.

1986 - Indian Shores vacates southern part of Whitehurst Avenue and grants warranty deed for 7.3-foot-wide swath to adjacent property owner who rebuilds home.

2000-2003 - Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach agree vacation was improper and unsuccessfully attempt to resolve jurisdiction over Whitehurst Avenue.

2006 - Parker Willis granted variance by Indian Shores to redevelop the property.

Nov. 2006 - Indian Rocks Beach rejects compromise agreement allowing redevelopment.

Jan. 2007 - Indian Shores grants six-month extension for proposed redevelopment.

Jan. 2007 - Commissioner Jose Coppen files ethics complaints against Mayor Bill Ockunzzi.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:34:00]


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