Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg landowners sue over Pinellas Trail

ST. PETERSBURG — Cyclists and joggers glide by merrily on the Pinellas Trail, sucking in the fresh air.

Vito Farese grumbles.

His company, City Wide Mini-Storage, borders the trail extension that runs through St. Petersburg's industrial area into downtown. It was once a sleepy railroad track that Farese could drive over to navigate around the back of his warehouse.

Now, caged by a trailside wall, his customers must squeeze big trucks through pint-sized slots.

Frustration, and nothing to show for it.

"The trails operation devalued my business and my property," said Farese. "The thing about it is, it's a large building that takes up the whole block, so I have no access to the building with large trucks."

But what could he do?

Enter lawyer Thor Hearne. With some work, he said, there was money to be had.

Farese joined a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming it unfairly designated his land for the trail. So too did Seldon Whispell and his wife, Viola, who own Whispell's Foreign Cars on Third Avenue S.

The door is open for more.

"We've had others who have also contacted us," said Hearne, the suit's lead attorney. "There are about 100 different individuals and roughly 30 pieces of property. I anticipate having many of them."

The 1.85-mile stretch of the Pinellas Trail, north of Interstate 275 from 34th Street to just east of 16th Street, was an old CSX railway line. The railroad, dating to the early 1900s, had an easement to operate on the land owned by civilians.

With little business on the line, CSX abandoned the easement in June 2004. Under the federal Trails Act, the government then issued an order allowing the county to buy the space for a trail.

The trail extension sprouted up last year, celebrated by the community and the mayor.

But landowners argue that they should have regained control once the railroad gave up the easement. They don't want to close the trail. But they do want financial compensation, which they're seeking through the U.S. Federal Court of Claims.

Hearne, based in St. Louis and Washington, D.C., said the process is not uncommon. But it's expensive and can drag on.

"When the government comes in and does something like build a highway, they come and directly condemn your property and pay you up front," he said. "Here, they take your property, and if you want to be paid, you have to come to court and file a claim."

He's handling similar cases in Arizona, Michigan, Kansas and Missouri. Such cases often end in settlements, he said. More and more often, people are coming on board.

"Almost all of the landowners I talked to were aware of the fact that they should have owned the land," Hearne said. "What they didn't know was there was this procedure established to be compensated in the federal court."

So how much are we talking?

Every case is different, and appraisers on both sides determine the dollar signs based on many factors. One battle over another 2-mile stretch left landowners splitting a hefty figure.

$8 million.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.

St. Petersburg landowners sue over Pinellas Trail 05/24/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 24, 2009 9:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]