The land beneath the Matanzas River is the property of the City of St. Augustine, according to a statement given to Historic City News by City Attorney Ronald W. Brown.
That said, today the City Planning and Zoning Board heard from a family member of an applicant together with three public speakers regarding a request for a permit to construct a dock, 270 feet in length, on the bayfront east of the Bayfront Inn located at 138 Avenida Menendez.
Although Conservation Overlay Zone development falls within the purview of the Planning and Zoning Board, issues of property ownership do not.
“You can take no action to resolve the issue of whether or not the Whetstones have riparian ownership rights to build into the bay; east of their property,” Brown instructed the Board before Whetstone family member Bruce A. Maguire commented on the application.
Board member John Valdes raised the pregnant point, “Then why is this before us?”
Maguire told the Board that the Whetstones firmly believes that they do hold the right to obtain a construction permit; stating that he has a deed of correction that was recorded in February that clarifies the point.
At issue, in part, are claims going back to a lawsuit filed in St. Johns County in 1992 — when the adjacent property owners of the Santa Maria Restaurant, built a floating dock to the east and south of the restaurant.
The Usina family, operators of the sightseeing cruise, began to tie their vessel, the Victory II, to the floating dock which extended south of the Santa Maria Restaurant to the point that it infringed the view of guests staying in the Whetstone motel.
The Whetstones sued the restaurant owners, the sightseeing cruise operators, and added the City of St. Augustine as defendants in the 1992 lawsuit; civil case 92-754. Four years later, Brown explained that a settlement agreement was reached which eventually led to the removal of the floating dock.
Director of the Planning and Building Department, Mark Knight, said that today’s applicants paid a $330 fee — a portion of which covers the cost of notifying neighboring property owners of the request, date and time of the public hearing.
A total of three residents spoke before the Board. Marine Street resident Frederick White, Bridge Street resident Marilyn Bailey and Marine Street resident Patricia Dobosz — all objected to the project.
When Chairman Grant Misterly closed the public hearing, the Board asked for guidance on how to proceed. Maguire told Historic City News that staff had already informed him that the decision to “table” the application had been made. Maguire said that the Whetstones and their attorney were prepared for a delay to a future meeting.
As the discussion amongst Board members advanced, concerns were expressed that if the Board decided to “table” the application, the neighbors would not receive additional notice of the dates of future meetings. Of additional concern, an application could be tabled only three times then it is considered “denied” and it was not clear if the applicant and City Attorney could reach an agreement on the applicant’s ownership of riparian rights.
Valdes told the Board that the decision on this application will have “a huge effect on the fabric of our bayfront”. He said that it was essential to re-notice the adjoining property owners if there are going to be additional hearings on the application.
Again, Valdes expressed concern that the application was before them prematurely; characterizing the Whetsones as “rolling the dice” and pointing out that others in the past have filed an initial application before the Board, expecting it to be tabled, then returning, without fanfare, only to slip the application through the approval process without public objection.
Valdes advanced the idea of denying the application – without prejudice – which would leave the door open for the applicants to re-apply in the future. If they did, they would have to pay the $330 again and notice would be delivered again.
Maguire objected. With or without prejudice, Maguire questioned the Board’s reasoning for denying the application under any circumstances. “Just because you don’t have all the facts, why would your first inclination be to deny?”
Later, Maguire told Historic City News that if the Board were to do anything, they should have voted to approve — subject to proof of ownership of the riparian rights. “The City decided to table this application, not us,” Maguire said. “Why should we be penalized because they don’t have all their facts?”
The Board agreed to table rather than to deny the application — but, the hearing is to be on the certain date of September 6, 2011. The board felt that would give the public enough advance notice and the applicant enough time to establish ownership of the riparian rights.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer