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House-building bid ready for showdown

A frustrated property owner will have his say Tuesday.

Published February 25, 2007


INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - It is time to "draw a definitive line in the sand", a frustrated property owner plans to tell the City Commission on Tuesday.

At issue is the legal border between Indian Rocks Beach and its southern neighbor, Indian Shores.

Parker Willis, whose property straddles the border between the two towns, wants to build a new house but is caught in the middle of a dispute over just where that border lies.

The Indian Rocks Beach commission has allowed Willis 15 minutes during a 6 p.m. workshop to present a nearly 100-year history of what appears to be a shifting border.

That history is confusing and even suggests that Indian Rocks Beach may own all of Indian Shores' territory, Willis says.

The city's present charter, written when it incorporated in 1956, clearly states that it owns and holds "all property" including "uncollected taxes" "owned by the former City of Indian Rocks Beach, as existed from 1925 to 1927."

"If the Indian Rocks Beach Charter is the defining document, (the city) doesn't just own 7.3 feet of Lot 1 and all of Whitehurst, Indian Rocks Beach owns Indian Shores," Willis says.

He maintains that although the border appears to be clearly described in both cities' charters, it is based on a "moving target" of confusing descriptions dating back to 1911 when Whitehurst Street and surrounding lots were first platted by officials in Hillsborough County.

At that time, the beaches were part of that county and neither Indian Rocks Beach or Indian Shores existed as incorporated towns. Pinellas County was not formed until a year later, in 1912.

Whitehurst has been renamed several times over the years, and is now known as Whitehurst Avenue.

The width of the street/avenue apparently has also changed. In 1911 it was 60 feet wide, in 1996 it was 38.83 feet wide, and today may be as wide as 40 feet, according to Willis.

"Is the 20 feet missing on the north side, on the south side, or both? By charter, Indian Rocks Beach's southern boundary is tied to a moving target," Willis says.

Then there is the issue of just how wide Willis' property may be.

Doris Dede purchased the property in 1951, five years before Indian Rocks Beach was incorporated.

Her deed, as well as a subsequent 1984 deed, shows the property as 57.3-foot wide and includes the 7.3 strip of land now in dispute between Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

In 1985 Hurricane Elena so damaged the house on the property, that it was torn down and rebuilt.

During that process, Indian Shores said it erred in determining the property's northern boundary when it issued a building permit. It remedied that mistake by vacating more than 20 feet of what it called 203rd Avenue (which may or may not be the same as Whitehurst Avenue) and deeding 7.3 feet of that vacation to the then owner of Willis' property - restoring it to its 57.3-foot width.

"Did a single street have multiple names or were there two streets side by side?" questions Willis, who bought the property in 1989 and has paid property taxes on all 57.3 feet to Indian Shores for 18 years.

Further complicating the issue are property deeds dating back to at least 1951 that include the 7.3 feet deeded by Indian Shores in 1986.

"Legal title to any given foot of space in Indian Rocks Beach Subdivision is clouded at best and hopelessly confused at worst," said former city attorney Hugh Smith in a 1986 letter to the mayor.

The present Indian Rocks Beach commission, however, maintains its border is at the southern edge of the present Whitehurst Avenue and that Indian Shores erred when it deeded 7.3 feet of what it considers Indian Rocks Beach public right-of-way to the previous owner of Willis' property.

Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence, who was invited to join in Tuesday's workshop, will not be there. Instead, he wants more informal talks to search for a solution.

Willis just wants to be able to build a house on his lot.

Fast Facts:


A tale of two cities

Here is a history of the boundary between Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores as compiled by Parker Willis, owner of property straddling the two towns.

1911: Hillsborough County draws street and property lines, designating Whitehurst as 60 feet wide.

1925-1927: Indian Rocks Beach, including the present Indian Shores, incorporates but is later dissolved.

1949: Indian Shores incorporates as Indian Rocks Beach South Shore with a charter using a legal description for its northern boundary that is actually south of the boundary's present location.

1951, 1984 and 1989: Property deed shows land now under dispute as part of the Willis property.

1956: Indian Rocks Beach city charter designates the south line of Whitehurst as its southern boundary but also includes language that it owns all property owned by the former city from 1925-1927. That language still exists in today's charter.

1957: Indian Shores re-incorporates with a new charter now referencing the north line of the now-Willis property as its border with Indian Rocks Beach.

1958 to 2003: Variety of maps (subdivision, GIS, FEMA, U.S. Census and city maps) show Indian Rocks Beach's southern city limits at center of Whitehurst Avenue.

1973: Indian Shores changes to its present name, retaining the description of its northern border.

1996: Survey prepared for Indian Rocks Beach measures Whitehurst as 38.83 feet wide.

2002: Survey performed for Willis shows his lot is 57.3 feet wide.

2006 to present: Questions over which town has jurisdiction over the north 7.3 feet of Willis' property stalls efforts by Willis to have building plans approved.

[Last modified February 24, 2007, 20:40:01]

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