By DOTTY NIST
A Walton County circuit judge has ruled in favor of defendants Walton County and the Sandestin Owners Association in the matter of two lawsuits involving the Driftwood Estates subdivision.
On Jan. 30, Judge W. Howard LaPorte granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in both cases, resulting in neither case proceeding to trial, barring appeal by the plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs Greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners’ Association, Inc., and
Samuel Alan Osborne, an individual homeowner, filed the first lawsuit in Feb. 2007, alleging that Walton County’s 1988 abandonment of part of a road formerly known as Driftwood Drive was invalid. This section of the right-of-way formerly connected Driftwood Estates with the Sandestin property and provided a second access in and out of the subdivision. A wall now stands on the abandoned section.
“(T)he court finds that the County has complied with all of the provisions of section 336.10, Florida Statutes, as they existed at that time, and that the road was properly abandoned by the County,” Judge LaPorte ruled, noting that public records indicate that included in that procedure were public hearings, statements by citizens for and against the abandonment, approval of a resolution abandoning the road section, an agreement with developer Sandestin Bay Estates, Inc., indemnifying the county for any actions resulting from the abandonment, and published notice of the abandonment affording affected persons with the right to challenge the abandonment resolution.
“(A)nyone with a legally cognizable interest in the Driftwood Estates right-of-way had a means to challenge the abandonment at the time it occurred through a petition for certiorari. No challenge was made to the action of the County within the time required,” LaPorte also stated.
The judge also determined that none of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit owned property in Driftwood Estates at the time the abandonment resolution was adopted over 20 years ago, and that therefore they do not have “standing” to challenge the validity of the 1988 action.
The second lawsuit was filed in April 2007 by six individual Driftwood Estates homeowners. In this lawsuit the same claim was made that the abandonment had been invalid, and the judge’s response was the same as for the first suit. The individual homeowners also alleged that an agreement entered into by the county and Sandestin Bay Estates, to which they claim they were third party beneficiaries, had been breached.
Part of the agreement involving the abandonment had been a provision for Sandestin Bay Estates to provide access to properties according to legal requirements.
Judge LaPorte did not deny the existence of such an obligation but stated, “That access is an obligation of the developer and not the County under the agreement. Therefore, any action to enforce those rights to the extent third party beneficiary rights actually exist, must be brought against the developer and not the County.”
In Oct. 2007, a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by the Driftwood homeowner’s association and Osborne had also been denied by Judge LaPorte. The writ would have compelled the Walton County Board of County Commissioners to hold a public hearing to determine whether Florida Statutes were followed in the 1988 abandonment action by their predecessors.
That denial of the writ of mandamus has been appealed by the petitioners in the District Court of Appeal for Florida’s First District in Tallahassee. Oral arguments in that case took place last week on Feb. 10, and the matter is pending.