tampabay.com

Indian Rocks Beach mayor tired of deadlock: Let's talk

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published February 14, 2007


A dispute over the location of the border between Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach continues to cause political strife in these two beach communities.

Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence said he is ready to talk, but Indian Rocks Beach officials are refusing.

"There is a great deal more confusion about this than we ever thought there was," Lawrence said Tuesday as he called for the two municipalities to find an "equitable solution."

Caught in the middle of the dispute is the owner of a lot that might straddle the border. Parker Willis wants to redevelop his property, but has been stonewalled by Indian Rocks Beach, which says that the northern 7.3 feet of the lot is in its jurisdiction, and part of Whitehurst Avenue, a public right of way.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Bill Ockunzzi, who came under fire for his effort to resolve the dispute, is now the subject of an ethics investigation brought by a fellow commissioner, Jose Coppen.

The Indian Rocks Beach commission also has barred its city attorney from any contact with Indian Shores or any attorneys representing those parties.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Lawrence is asking for a discussion on the boundary.

"There is a lengthy history of different interpretations from both municipalities of where that line is actually drawn," Lawrence wrote in a recent letter to Indian Rocks Beach.

He cited surveys in the 1940s and 1950s that put Whitehurst Avenue well north of its present location.

On those surveys another right of way, 203rd Avenue, is directly south of Whitehurst and within Indian Shores territory.

According to that town's records, two vacations approved in 1986 involved part of 203rd Avenue, not Whitehurst.

"This is just one of the many examples I could cite that creates confusion and in my opinion necessitates an attempt at a mutual effort to clear up the issue with an agreement that is acceptable to both municipalities," Lawrence wrote.

As of Tuesday, Lawrence had yet to receive a reply.

He wants the two municipalities to jointly commission a title search on Whitehurst and 203rd avenues and the adjoining properties.

"This could be followed with a current survey clearly delineating a negotiated boundary," Lawrence said. "But if they don't want to talk, I guess it will be in the hands of the attorneys."

Meanwhile, Coppen is pressing officials in Indian Rocks Beach to issue a code violation for a fence Willis has erected on the northern edge of his lot.

Coppen maintains that the fence is on the Whitehurst Avenue right of way.

The State Attorney General's Office has said it has no authority to investigate Coppen's complaints that Ockunzzi has violated ethics rules by suggesting changes to a development agreement proposed by Willis' attorney.

"If you believe that the mayor of the city of Indian Rocks Beach has violated the law or is otherwise subject to this statute (a law governing suspension of officials from office), you should contact the governor's office to discuss this matter and seek additional guidance," Senior Assistant Attorney General Gerry Hammond wrote in a letter to Coppen.

A similar complaint against Ockunzzi that Coppen sent to the state Commission on Ethics is under formal review.