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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 1 year ago

Colony case nears second anniversary

Trial scheduled for April in the proceedings that ultimately will decide how oceanfront acreage will be sold.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The civil-court case involving the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, its condominium association, its prospective redeveloper and the owner of dozens of units marks its second anniversary this month.

By April, though, the proceedings are scheduled to advance to a non-jury trial before Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll, which is expected to result in a ruling on how the once-iconic resort property – now a 17-acre vacant beachfront lot – can be sold and built upon.

Unicorp National Developments Inc., the prospective redeveloper that has proposed and gained town permission to build a 166-room luxury hotel with 78 adjoining luxury condominiums under the St. Regis brand banner, hopes for a decision paving the way for a private sale. Once in control of the property, CEO Chuck Whittall can pursue clearances from the town to begin construction.

Andy Adams, the owner of 74 of 244 units and now the sole opponent to the Unicorp development plan, is pushing for a public auction and a ruling approving a partitioned piece of property – allowing for multiple owners on individual parcels.

A non-jury trial is planned to begin April 4.

The 154-page complaint, filed in the 12th Circuit Court on Jan. 16, 2018 by Unicorp National Developments Inc. attorney Megan Costa Devault, seeks a judicial termination to the condominium association to facilitate the sale.  The lawsuit claims holdout owners (except Adams, they’ve all joined Unicorp on the “supporting parties’’ side) prevented a conventional end to the association by vote, prompting the legal action.

Since last summer, when Carroll ruled the termination of the condo association could proceed, both Adams’ legal team and the team representing Unicorp, the association and the remainder of the unit owners, have been moving toward the trial.

Monthly court sessions take place on Fridays in Courtroom 6A of the Sarasota County Courthouse, dealing with issues that arise.

Most recently, on Jan. 10, lawyers for both sides met for about 45 minutes. Among the topics:

  • No intermediate trial is to be held to determine if the land can be broken into more than one parcel. The so-called Phase Alpha trial (so named to avoid confusion with other labels attached to other phases of the case) had been discussed as a possibility for late January. Carroll, in court last week, said both sides had not come to an agreement on how that would proceed. In late 2019, the court and the two sides had discussed the possibility of a preliminary trial. “Sounded like you all were close but couldn’t get over the finish line, so it will stay as it is,’’ Carroll said. At a case-management hearing in November, Breakpointe LLC attorney Anthony Abate had said it would be difficult to prepare for such a proceeding.
  • Hunter made clear the court retains a “panoply” of options on how the property will ultimately be sold. In October, attorneys for Breakpointe LLC filed a motion for a summary judgment seeking a special magistrate to sell the property at a public auction, with minimum bids set by the court. Attorneys for Unicorp Colony Units LLC also filed a request for a summary judgment, seeking an order that the condominium parcel be sold as a whole and to appoint a special magistrate to evaluate a private sale and make a recommendation to the court on whether a private sale could be achieved or a public auction would generate more value for owners. Both requests were denied in December.
  • Attorneys said no claims, protected by lien or otherwise, have yet been filed against the Colony Beach & Tennis Club Association, though at least one is anticipated. A deadline of Feb. 21 has been set for lien-protected proof of claims and May 1 for others. Using a process based on probate, the two sides are “very, very close” to an agreement on the process for handling claims and how to pay them through a trustee after a sale goes through.
  • On Jan. 21, members of the condo association board are expected to vote on a voluntary dissolution of the organization, in advance of the judicial dissolution.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled on Feb. 21.

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