TARPON SPRINGS — The Tarpon Springs developer who put up unauthorized "no parking" signs that caused police to issue 233 tickets wants to settle the matter.
Developer Mike Bronson has offered to reimburse the city up to $5,000 to refund the fees paid by people issued the citations, his attorney, Robert Shimberg, said Monday in an e-mailed statement to the St. Petersburg Times.
"Mike Bronson regrets the confusion that has ensued in connection with the 'No Parking' signs erected nearly three years ago around the Tarpon Turtle Restaurant, a property he owned at the time," Shimberg wrote.
"Unfortunately, restaurant patrons were clogging roadways, impacting the access of emergency vehicles and affecting the quality of life of the adjacent residential community."
Shimberg also said "it is not at all unusual for developers to place traffic control devices on property associated or impacted by the residential or business development with the authority of the city. Mr. Bronson steadfastly believes he was granted that authority" by the Tarpon Springs Police Department.
Shimberg said that Bronson is offering the reimbursement in "good faith" because he is a resident and business person, and because there "appears to be no existing paper trail" that he received permission for the signs.
At $20 a ticket, Bronson would pay $4,660. The city is working with the office of the Pinellas County Clerk of Circuit Court to see who paid the tickets and who didn't.
The citations were written near Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle restaurant during a two-year period beginning in April 2006. The illegal signs prompted a city investigation, which was released last week and said Bronson admitted to installing the signs.
While Commissioner Peter Dalacos is pleased with Bronson's offer to reimburse the city, he still wants Tarpon Springs to exercise all its options.
"I'm not willing to just have him say, 'Here's $5,000 and that's the end of it,' " Dalacos said. "It looks like the city can be bought off by a developer.
"I don't want to spend $10,000 on this either, but the thing is, it is important to set the tone and example that you can't just buy off or pay off after the fact. That's not how it works here in Tarpon. It's important for people to know that."
Dalacos had asked City Attorney James Yacavone to review the situation to see if the city had any recourse against Bronson. Dalacos wanted to know if Bronson could be held criminally and civilly liable for installing 22 signs along Lake Tarpon Avenue, Burton Place and Meyer Lane.
Yacavone determined that the penalty for the "noncriminal violation" would be minimal. He did believe that the city would have a claim against Bronson for the amount of money that is reimbursed.
"I believe that those persons who paid fines have a right to restitution of the amounts they paid and that the city would be required to reimburse the fines," Yacavone said.
Dalacos believes the city was used in a dispute between Bronson and current Tarpon Turtle owner Don Alvino.
Alvino and Bronson were business partners with Alvino initially leasing the Tarpon Turtle from Bronson with a five-month option to buy. In September 2006, Alvino exercised the option and purchased the restaurant for $3.4 million.
Alvino has said that Bronson used the fake signs to hurt his business. The city is conducting a traffic study to determine where "no parking" signs should be installed so that cars do not interfere with fire and rescue vehicle access.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.