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St. Pete Beach illegally took land, critic's suit says

ST. PETE BEACH — A Pass-a-Grille man who is a frequent critic of City Hall has sued the city, claiming it illegally took beachfront property belonging to him and residents of a nearby subdivision.

The lawsuit, filed by Chet Chmielewski and his wife and served on the city Tuesday, seeks a jury trial to determine "full and just monetary compensation and damages for the taking of their property." The parcels in question are in Don-Ce-Sar Place, a subdivision south of the Don CeSar Hotel.

The couple claim the city has condemned and taken the beachfront property illegally.

Commonly called Blocks M and N, the area was originally platted in 1925 and dedicated to the subdivision property owners. The plat restricts the property "for beach and bathing purposes" and prohibits tents, vehicles or structures "of any kind," according to the suit.

City Manager Mike Bonfield declined to comment on the pending litigation Thursday.

Chmielewski and his wife, who moved to their current home at 3214 El Centro St. in 1972, acquired title to part of Block M in 1975. The remainder of Blocks M and N are still deeded for the exclusive use of Don-Ce-Sar Place property owners.

At the same time, the city acquired several adjacent lots from the federal government — now the Don Vista community center — with the caveat that the city prohibit public beach access from the site.

In 2005, the city rejected the Chmielewskis' request to develop beachfront townhomes, challenging their title to the property.

The Chmielewskis then sued the city, securing a court judgment declaring that they did own a 50-foot-wide section of beach extending from their home to the Gulf of Mexico — and that the city's ownership of the Don Vista did not give the public any right to travel onto Blocks M and N.

The city agreed in a formal settlement.

Now the Chmielewskis say the city continues "to authorize and encourage the public" to access the beach through Blocks M and N from the Don Vista.

Such action, they say, constitutes a taking of their property for public use, and therefore, they should be compensated for that seizure.

"I will not let (officials) in City Hall steal my property and property rights and City Hall will not get away with stealing the property rights of the 600 property owners of Don-Ce-Sar Place," Chet Chmielewski wrote in an e-mail last week distributed to city commissioners.

A week earlier, City Clerk Theresa McMaster blocked a related e-mail from her distribution list because she said it contained profanity.

Chmielewski has long fought the city over use of the beach behind his home. In 1983, he threatened to distribute fliers advising his Pass-a-Grille neighbors to secede from the city.

In 1991, the city considered filing a lawsuit against Chmielewski to stop him from calling commissioners at their homes and private businesses with complaints.

Earlier this year, his insistence the city not use any part of the beach property forced the canceling of a tent on the beach and a boat mooring area planned for a Fourth of July charity event.

St. Pete Beach illegally took land, critic's suit says 11/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 5:08pm]
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