CLEARWATER — Ever since the days of castles and keeps, humankind has been building towers to live in, and guarded gatehouses to keep strangers at bay.
It's no different on Sand Key, the wealthiest slice of Clearwater. This thin strip of barrier island is known for its row of tall, sleek condominium towers that loom above a two-lane road. Most of them have guardhouses out front to keep intruders from filling up the parking lots.
Now a pair of neighboring beachfront towers are embroiled in a lawsuit over the gatehouse that they share.
For years, the South Beach Condominiums at 1460 and 1480 Gulf Blvd. split the cost of keeping their gatehouse staffed by a security guard around the clock. Each of the two buildings contains roughly 140 units, many of which are valued in the neighborhood of $400,000.
But hard times demand that even the well-to-do tighten their belts. Last year, the condo owners in the 1480 building decided that paying a guard for an overnight shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. was a bit of a luxury. They decided to trim expenses by installing a keypad entry system at the gatehouse and stopping their share of payments for a late-shift guard.
The problem was, the residents of 1460 Gulf Blvd. weren't too keen on that idea. They still wanted a night guard but didn't want to pay the whole cost by themselves. They demanded that the 1480 owners resume paying their share.
The residents of 1480 refused, and that's when the legal wrangling began.
"Attorney's letters have been going back and forth," said Gary Schaaf, lawyer for the condominium association at 1480 Gulf Blvd.
The condo owners at 1480 are suing their neighbors in the next building. In the lawsuit, filed in Pinellas Circuit Court, they allege that the condo owners at 1460 Gulf Boulevard have:
• demanded that the 1480 residents remove their keypad entry system;
• threatened to disable the keypad if it's not removed;
• threatened to order the guards not to allow residents of 1480 through the gatehouse after 7 p.m.
"Has anyone been kept out? Not yet," Schaaf said. "But they're threatening to do it."
This pair of condo high-rises was built in the early 1980s. The developer who created both buildings set it up so that they share a driveway in an easement located between the two towers.
According to the lawsuit, the residents of 1460 are claiming that the 1480 residents installed their keypad entry system at the northern edge of the driveway. They say that spot is on their property and it lies outside the easement area, so they have the right to block their neighbors from using it.
The residents of 1480 are seeking a court ruling.
So, who can come through the gate? It'll be up to a judge to decide.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.