APRIL FOOLS' DAY — The Lakewood Ranch name may be in jeopardy.
Lakewood Ranch officials learned late Monday the community may be forced to stop using its name because of a provision contained in the original land grant for the property.
Historical researcher Liam Godbold in the Division of Land Management found a territorial note that lands in what is known today as Manatee County are prohibited from creating new settlements after the year 1905 without making “territorial payments” to the king of Spain or his heirs and assigns.
Officials from the Spanish government did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Under Florida’s Marketable Titles Act, most title errors or other provisions in titles to property are considered void after about 60 years have passed. However, the document in question clearly specifies that future settlements in Manatee County must pay, Godbold said.
“If Lakewood Ranch does become a city, there’s no way around this,” said Godbold, who already has sent notification to officials of the Spanish government. “The settlement fee would be about $5 billion, from what I can tell.”
SMR CEO and President Rex Jensen said he was not overly concerned with the news because it will impact residents more than SMR as an entity.
“It’s not my problem,” Jensen said. “It’s the residents’ problem. If we have to change the name, we will. We’ll just move on rather than being in litigation forever.
“The only thing to worry about is that the Spanish government has been much more aggressive lately in asserting ownership of salvaged treasure and may be choosing to assert claims based on historic documents,” he said. “Our attorneys are studying the issue, and I’d like to await their review before making further comment. I have, however, taken the precaution of changing our corporate stationery back to a Bradenton address — just in case there is any liability.”
The current city of Bradenton formed in 1943, as the result of the Florida Legislature approving the merger of the cities of Manatee, which originally formed in 1888, and of Bradentown, which incorporated in 1903. The governor of Florida signed the charter for the city of Palmetto in 1897.
Godbold said, according to his research, all three cities — Manatee, Bradentown and Palmetto — paid a similar fee at the time of their formation, although the value of the land was significantly less at the time. The fees paid by Manatee and Bradentown, he said, satisfied the payment for the city of Bradenton.
Although Lakewood Ranch has not yet incorporated, proponents of the idea are pushing forward with surveys of the community and plan to conduct a straw poll of residents later this year. If the majority of Lakewood Ranch residents support the idea, the group will take its proposed city charter and other required documentation to the Legislature for approval sometime in 2012.
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall Interim Executive Director Stephen Zeilinsk said he had not yet been notified of the news, but would bring up the subject at the each of the Lakewood Ranch Community Development Districts’ upcoming board meetings once he had more information.
Godbold said he anticipated working with appropriate parties to set up several town hall-style meetings on the issue in the near future, once the division hears back from Spanish government officials.