Former Fort Myers mayor knew of deed restrictions on Luminary Hotel land

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:
FILE: Luminary Hotel rendering (Graphic via Mainsail Development/FILE)
FILE: Luminary Hotel rendering (Graphic via Mainsail Development/FILE)

The prospect of a new hotel in downtown Fort Myers was exciting for many residents to hear back in 2014.

But four years later, no bricks have been laid, and the project is still in the works, held up over language in the original deed for the land to the City.

That deed, from 1936, says the property can never be sold or leased for business and can only be used for park or yacht basin purposes.

Fast forward to April 2018 – During a Fort Myers Special City Council meeting the council grilled former mayor Jim Humphrey on how this could have been missed?

During the meeting councilman Johnny Streets, Jr. asked Humphrey “How did we not see this issue with the deed, over the years we’ve been trying to get a hotel?” …How could we have missed that?”

Well, apparently, they didn’t miss it.

Humphrey said they knew about it in 2014 and possibly as far back as 2010. But no one was talking about it publicly, not even while a different developer for the site was showing hotel renderings.

But the issue was well-known according to Humphrey. The City even hired an outside law firm to look at that language in the deed. “When they looked at it, in all candor, they didn’t see it as an impediment the closing,” Humphrey said, “They were also seeing an 80-year old restriction, and under the statute there’s a statute of limitations.”

When WINK News had our outside legal expert look at this issue. She said the deed restriction is not limited by a number of years, it says “In perpetuity”. In other words – forever.

“They probably just made some assumptions. Well, the family hasn’t really, shall we say, been concerned thus far. And even if the family is concerned, maybe the family no longer has a right to complain, so I suspect they were hedging their bets.”

Cooley Law School professor Florise-Neville Ewell says allowing a city to disregard the original intentions of the family who gave them the land could have major implications on all of our property rights.

Ewell added, “We still acknowledge the future interests of people who have these rights, and so to completely undermine them is a problem.”

The matter is now playing out in court. The city filed suit against the descendants in May to try to clear the title.

The attorney for the descendants says he believes the court should honor the intent of the people who signed over the deed in 1936.

Neither former mayor Humphrey or the attorney provided any comment about how long they knew about the deed restriction.

Watch former Mayor Henderson’s full response in the April, 23, 2018 meeting below at 1:12:50.

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