The 5-year old battle between the town council and Estero Boulevard homeowners Eddie Rood and Kurt Kroemer has been a costly one to town taxpayers. And, the fight could wind up costing the town millions more to renourish the beach. Here’s why…
Rood and Kroemer own adjacent beach homes on Estero Boulevard. Between their homes and the Gulf of Mexico is the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area, which is protected by the state. When a neighbor of Rood and Kroemer found out he owned the property to the mean high tide water line he put up a fence and blocked off access to the beach Rood and Kroemer had from their homes. They applied to the town for a special permit to construct a long wooden walkover that would skirt the edge of the CWA and get them to the beach. The previous town council denied that request.
Since then Rood and Kroemer have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida. They believe they can show documentation that proves they own the land from their back door to the mean high tide water line. If they win that lawsuit the state would likely have to remove its signs designating that area a CWA. The state would also no longer be able to conduct bird studies because the property would become private to all the homeowners in that area.
The town has hundreds of thousands of legal fees invested in fighting Rood and Kroemer so far. It could get a lot worse.
If the state loses ownership of the Critical Wildlife Area that will also impact the beach project by millions of dollars. If that becomes private property the town taxpayers would have to foot a portion of the renourishment bill (up to $1.3 million). If the state owns the land, the state cover 100% of that bill.
Rood and Kroemer have said if the walkover was approved they never would have gone after the state to prove they own the land.
On Monday Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said there are several benefits to keeping that CWA intact. “If the lawsuit went away, it would solve a lot of problems. This has cost us a lot of money and it’s going to cost us a lot more.” Murphy is in favor of approving the walkover. Councilman Dan Allers is his only other vote at this time.
Following Murphy’s statement about the lawsuit, Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t go there Mr. Mayor.” She claimed Rood and Kroemer filed a retaliatory lawsuit when the walkover was denied.
Kroemer was watching the meting Monday when the Vice Mayor made that statement and called it a cheap shot. “I was really taken back when Vice Mayor Hosafros called our Quiet Title actions a retaliatory lawsuit. It tells me she has never spent the time to research or act on the information we have given council through the years. Our Quiet Title lawsuit is only about the preservation of our landowner riparian rights. Eddie and I have never had interest in proving the ownership of the CWA land. In fact, we spent 5 years keeping ownership issues away from the previous lawsuit the town filed to stop our beach walkover permits.”
Kroemer told us last night that he’s only interested in finding a way to get to the beach. “Proving who owns the land is secondary and is just a new path needed to go after the boardwalk permitting. The town stopped the negotiations. Eddie and I are open to accepting an offer that would provide us with the required permits to build a walkover and stop the litigation. Unfortunately, it was the council’s choice for us to prove ownership, as it will allow us to get the needed permits “by right.”
Even if a court determines the land is owned by the homeowners, Rood and Kroemer cannot build a walkover to the beach without a town permit. However, proof that they own the land tees up the next step in the process, filing a Bert Harris lawsuit against the town. That lawsuit would determine whether or not the town owes Rood and Kroemer the difference in value between a home that has beach access and one that doesn’t.
Rood and Kroemer must be prepared to go to trial with the state by June. A judge determines when that trial will take place. The trial is expected to take one day.