Fellsmere family, city negotiating purchase of empty city-owned lot

FELLSMERE – More negotiating needs to be done before the Fellsmere City Council and a Fellsmere family are ready to sign papers on a city-owned piece of property, council decided Thursday evening.

Lina and Heriberto Gamez want to purchase the empty lot, which sits on the southwest corner of Massachusetts and Willow and is adjacent to their own property.

Under city code, the Fellsmere City Council is allowed to negotiate a sale of city-owned land when that land is deemed unneeded for public use.

“It is a unique situation,” City Manager Jason Nunemaker told the council, explaining that the Gamez family came to the city, seeking to buy the property after it had come to their attention they were violating city code by parking vehicles on the property.

If the city were to sell the property, the Gamezes would have a series of conditions to meet, including providing pedestrian and drainage easements, unifying the title – tying both properties together, and limiting the use of the empty lot.

These are “fairly significant encumbrances on the property,” Nunemaker said.

One such condition would keep the Gamezes – or subsequent owners – from building a home on the now-empty lot.

“They weren’t aware that they wouldn’t be able to build there in the future,” Noelia Gamez, their niece, said on their behalf, adding they were thinking they might be able to have a small mobile home later.

“We wouldn’t be doing our duty if we allowed that,” Fellsmere Mayor Susan Adams said of allowing a resident to buy public property and build a home, which could then be turned around and sold – one of the concerns council raised during the discussion.

Community Development Director Mark Mathes reminded the council that it has discussed in the past about allowing accessory buildings that have a residential component – like a mother-in-law suite – on properties that meet requirements.

Such use has not yet been approved by council.

Gamez told the council that her aunt and uncle have been thinking about the offered price on the property and questioned if they really wanted to pay $10,000 – the original offer – to park their vehicles next door.

They had been willing to pay more for the property if they were able to do something to improve the site.

Councilwoman Sara Savage pointed out that they would probably pay more than $10,000 to park their commercial vehicles in a commercial parking lot.

The Gamezes and the city had negotiated the price down to $8,000, but City Attorney Warren Dill requested the council consider having the city’s legal expenses covered if a purchase goes through. He estimated those costs at about $750.

Council members agreed.

“I’m a little concerned about the precedent it sets,” Mayor Adams said of negotiating a sale of public property to an adjacent property owner.

She said she was concerned the move might encourage “squatting” by other residents who live next to vacant land – be it city- or privately-owned.

Councilman Fernando Herrera told the council the Gamezes thought the property beside them was theirs when they began parking vehicles on it.

“He has maintained it all these years,” Herrera said of Heriberto Gamez.

The Fellsmere City Council directed staff to continue negotiating with the Gamez family and bring it back at a later date.

If the council is ok with the proposed negotiation, then the council would have to hold a public hearing to get public input before approving the sale.

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