ISLAMORADA -- The village and Coconut Cove Resort owner Paul Bates are in talks to end a legal standoff that has been dragging on for more than a decade.
"There's a window of opportunity for both parties," Mayor Ken Philipson said last week.
Bates and Philipson were joined by attorneys at a mediation session on March 25. Bates said he is looking for a global settlement that would end the three ongoing cases he is fighting against the village.
The two parties have also fought a slew of other lawsuits and regulatory actions since 2001, which had cost the village $670,000 in legal fees by the end of 2012. In addition, the village's insurance carrier, the Florida League of Cities, has spent $672,000 on Bates case litigation.
Last week's mediation session didn't lead to a deal, but another one is to be scheduled after Philipson reports back to the Village Council at a closed-door legal strategy session Wednesday, April 3.
"We're still talking," Bates said. "Neither party pointed the middle finger skyward."
The suits relate to Bates' claim that he is entitled to between 67 and 84 development rights at his Windley Key resort as a result of decisions made by Monroe County prior to the village's incorporation in 1998.
The village has ruled differently and that original disagreement has snowballed, spawning numerous other lawsuits in which Bates has claimed that the village has used its permitting, planning, code enforcement and fire prevention processes to selectively target him for speaking out against the town.
So far, his efforts have been largely unsuccessful. In 2007, the one federal case Bates filed ended when a three-justice 11th Circuit of Appeals panel in Atlanta upheld the trial court's decision that there was no evidence the village had treated Bates unfairly or retaliated against him for speaking out.
The village has, however, cited Bates for a variety of code violations at Coconut Cove. Most notably, the village has targeted the 11-room bed-and-breakfast that Bates operates as part of the resort, saying it is subject to fire codes that apply to hotels and motels.
In 2005, the village passed an ordinance that made bed-and-breakfasts illegal in all zoning districts, a move that had the most impact upon Bates, since no other bed-and-breakfasts operate in Islamorada.
More recently, in August 2011, the village ordered Bates to vacate the bed-and-breakfast due to fire code violations. Then, in a November 2012 response to village query, the state fire marshal agreed that the building is subject to the hotel/motel fire code. The village has taken no action since, though Fire Chief William Wagner III said at the time that the decision would enable his department to move forward with enforcing the order to vacate.
The current discussions between Bates and the village aren't a first. In 2011 the sides came close to agreement before the deal imploded, with each blaming the other for the breakdown.
Both Bates and Philipson shied away last week from discussing details of the latest talks, citing the ongoing mediation. But Bates did say he'd be willing to accept less than 67 units provided that the bed-and-breakfast is allowed to remain and that he has specific assurances that the village will treat his property no differently than any other in town.
"They are going to have to give me a warm and fuzzy feeling that I will be treated fairly in the future," Bates said.
He added that no agreement has been reached on how many vested hotel unit rights he would receive.
Philipson said the village and Bates have found some common ground thus far.
"I have to assure him that there are no double standards," he said. "What's fair for one must be fair for all."