Kroemer, Rood sue state over land ownership
Property owners take fight to the state after Fort Myers Beach Council's rejection of their latest offer
Kurt Kroemer and Ed Rood, under their limited liability companies Squeeze Me Inn LLC and Texas Hold’ Em LLC, have sued the state in order to gain quiet title to property which they hope will allow them to create a 298-foot boardwalk over a lagoon, marshland and vegetation to connect their properties on Estero Boulevard to the beach.
The suit, filed in Lee County’s 20th Judicial Circuit Court, names the state’s Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund as the defendant. The Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands serves as staff to the fund.
The complaint blames accretion and the area’s shifting waters and sandbars for blocking direct access to the beach by the property owners.
Rood’s quietclaim deed at 8150 Estero Boulevard dates back to 2012 while Kroemer acquired his property at 8170 Estero Boulevard in 2013.
The suit was filed by the law firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker which has been representing the two property owners throughout their dispute with the town over the construction of what they have previously labeled a dune walkover.
Kroemer and Rood have been at odds with the Town of Fort Myers Beach for years over the proposed walkover. The town has opposed the walkover due to its proximity adjacent to the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area (LEICWA).
In a prepared statement, Kroemer and Rood said “we and our legal council are confident that we own this land formed behind our beachfront homes. We are sorry it has come to this. We love the CWA (critical wildlife area) and it is important to us also, after all, it is our backyard.”
The lawsuit does not focus on the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area. The implication is that the critical wildlife area could be at risk if Kroemer and Rood were able to win a decision from the state to turn state sovereign land into the hands of the property owners for their boardwalk.
Julie Wraithmell, president of the Florida Audubon Society, believes that will be a tough hurdle for Kroemer and Rood to overcome. The Florida Audubon Society has joined the town in previous legal battles over the boardwalk.
“The state (Department of Environmental Protection) takes this very seriously,” she said.
Wraithmell said Kroemer, Rood and their legal representation will have to explain how they previously applied for a sovereign submerged lands use permit from the state and now are claiming that the land isn’t sovereign state land but their own private property.
“Clearly, they didn’t think it was their land when they applied for the permit,” Wraithmell said.
Wraithmell said the latest lawsuit “is finally laying bare that they would like to use the public’s resources as their private property.”
Rood said he and Kroemer “didn’t want to pursue this” but felt they had no alternative.
“We just want beach access,” Rood said. “The Town is jeopardizing the very thing they sought to protect just to stop a project that helps an entire neighborhood,” said Rood and Kroemer in their statement.
Wraithmell said the town has made clear through the entire process that the critical wildlife area is critical to the welfare of the town. She said the Florida Audubon Society will “definitely engage” the state in its review.
Town of Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy said that Kroemer and Rood “feel like they’ve been backed into a corner.”
Without any satisfaction from the town, he said, they have turned to the state where they think the state will have a “tough time” defending ownership of the land the duo are seeking to claim for their own.
“They don’t want to own that property,” Murphy said. “All they are interested in is going out to that beach.”
Councilmember Jim Atterholt said he didn’t wish to litigate the matter outside of court where he believes the town will have a chance to give its stance on the matter.
“I have been encouraging people to walk along the beach” in the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area and to consider whether a “large bridge over a body of water would enhance the critical wildlife area,” Atterholt said. “Once people see it they are not going to be impressed by the environmental advantages of the dune walkover.”
The creation of the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the 1990’s names the section of Little Estero Island as sovereign state land. At the time of the critical wildlife area’s creation, there were 149 bird species identified as having staged or over-wintered on the island.
Atterholt said he believes it is “very difficult to envision any benefits to the public interest” by building a bridge over a body of water “in a protected area.”
Kroemer and Rood previously pulled out of a Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution mediation process and filed a notice of claim with the town over what they claim is a devaluation of their property by not being able to build the walkover. They offered to pay the town $105,000 if it granted a special permit for the walkover, which the town council rejected.
A message left with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands was not returned.