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Snell Isle neighbors keep out time share

Property owners celebrate the judge's decision barring the "transient'' use but worry about paying legal bills.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 7, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- A group of neighbors has won a lawsuit to keep a British life insurance company from doling out time shares at Stovall's Landing, which was a Snell Isle apartment complex, to its policyholders.

In a ruling last week, Judge Anthony Rondolino said that the policyholders are not owners of the property, which means their use of the property for one or two weeks would violate a city law passed earlier this year barring "transient accommodation use."

The neighbors who filed the lawsuit expressed relief that Stovall's Landing at 616 Monterey Blvd. NE would not become a time-share mecca for European tourists. Some renovation work had been done, but British tourists are not using it now.

"We're happy," said Richard Gahn, one of seven property owners who filed suit against Holiday Property Bond and HPB Management Ltd., the company that bought the property. "We have a big legal bill we have to figure out how to pay, and we're not certain what they're going to do with the property."

Gahn, a computer software developer, said it was unfortunate the neighbors had to amass such large legal bills on a question they believe the city had the answer to all along. He declined to say exactly how much the group's lawyer was charging but said it was in the "many tens of thousands of dollars."

"We all knew that from the beginning, and the city knew that, but the city refused to admit it and tell the British company they couldn't use the property that way," Gahn said.

The city had issued a letter to the former owner of Stovall's Landing, saying the British company would be allowed to use it for time shares if they purchased the property.

The 21-unit apartment complex was built in 1951 by George Stovall Sr. When all of Snell Isle was zoned for single-family housing, city officials "grandfathered in" the multifamily development.

Assistant City Attorney Al Galbraith said the city's zoning laws did not address a "transient accommodation use" until earlier this year when the city passed a law barring such use.

"There was an issue of whether this new ordinance would be applied retroactively to this property, and now the judge has ruled the way he has, the answer is yes, it will," Galbraith said.

Jay Fleece, one of the lawyers representing the owner of the complex, said the insurance company had not decided whether it would appeal or what it would do with the land.

"We're disappointed with the judge's ruling," Fleece said. "We disagree with it, and we'll be evaluating our options next week both as to further legal proceedings and the use of the property."

Gahn said the neighbors would be holding a neighborhood celebration soon. The group needs help with its legal fees. He said that more than 120 families had donated toward the group's legal fees but more is needed.

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