That was the word May 1 from the Treasure Island City Commission after a plea from members of the Sunset Beach Civic Association for the city to get involved legally in the question of beach ownership behind Caddy’s, 9000 W. Gulf Blvd.
At question is the ownership of nine lots where Caddy’s now sits and an adjacent parking area in relation to the 1968 City of Treasure Island mean high water line, which runs through the rear deck of Caddy’s.
In a letter to Kristy Andersen, president of the Sunset Beach Civic Association, Terry Wilkinson, bureau chief of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of State Lands, Bureau of Survey and Mapping, said the land in question is public and belongs to the state of Florida.
“Lands waterward of the 1968 city of Treasure Island mean high water line as recorded in Pinellas County Bulkhead Plat Book 2, Page 24, and outside of the subject lots are state-owned lands,” Wilkinson wrote.
Tony Amico, owner of Caddy’s, says that’s not true. After all, he has deeds stating otherwise, he said.
Amico contends the state’s Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund awarded him quit claim deeds for the lots on June 11, 2009 as settlement of a lawsuit between himself and the state over ownership of the beachfront property. Amico said the state offered the settlement to avoid setting a legal precedent with a court decision that would have been unfavorable to the state.
Meanwhile, residents of Sunset Beach want a legal determination of who is right – Amico or the Department of Environmental Protection.
“We’re interested in finding out the status of these lands because it’s divisive in Sunset Beach,” said Andersen. “We’re hoping you (City Commission) will consider this letter as a means of understanding this issue.”
Amico said the issue is quite clear to him.
“There’s only one group in the state that can give away state lands and that’s the Board of Trustees,” Amico said. “When the state gave up riparian rights from my place down to the water, they gave it up for public use.”
Additionally, Amico said he was awarded the benefit of beach nourishment each time it takes place at Sunset Beach.
“I’m a team player and have done a lot to accommodate the city and get done what they wanted to get done,” Amico said. “Now, I’m fighting for my land.”
City Attorney Maura Kiefer suggested the city bow out of the battle, noting Amico has record of owning the land in question, despite the DEP contention the state does.
“According to the Nov. 2, 2011 letter from attorney (David) Levin, this commission is not a court of confident jurisdiction,” she said. “The DEP letter is just an opinion. We have an opinion from Mr. Amico and a number of other people are against it being a private beach.”
Kiefer went on to say it is an issue between DEP and Amico.
“I completely agree,” said Commissioner Phil Collins. “We’re not judge and jury here. I can’t see getting involved in another lawsuit and spending thousands to settle it.”
Commissioner Butch Ellsworth felt otherwise.
“We need to step into the fray,” Ellsworth said. “We owe it to the public we represent.”
“Everybody’s got an opinion and it’s not a legal opinion,” said Commission Carol Coward. “I’m not willing to spend Treasure Island money and our limited resources on this.”
Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach residents, said he reluctantly agreed.
“I thought we had new information but we don’t,” Bildz said. “I don’t have the stomach for spending more money on a lawsuit although I believe (the lots in question) are state lands.”
City Public Works officials report the permit process is continuing for the construction of the Isle of Capri and Palms bridges.
Once complete the two projects will go out to bid by contractors. The award date is targeted for Sept. 19.
The beginning of design is expected around Nov. 1 and the start of construction about a month later.
Both bridges are expected to be complete by July 31, 2013.