By Dan Moffett
Developer William Swaim has opened a new front in his quest to conquer the submerged lands of Ocean Ridge.
After battling in court for six years with the town and Wellington Arms condo owners over property rights in the lagoon behind Town Hall, Swaim is focusing on the Sabal Island neighborhoods farther north now.
In January, some two dozen homeowners on North Ocean Boulevard, Sabal Island Drive and River Drive received letters from Swaim’s attorney, Michael Nullman of Palm Beach Gardens, informing them that their docks, boat lifts and boardwalks were “intruding” on canal property owned by McCormick Mile Investments and an affiliate, Coastal Energy Resources.
Swaim is listed as the corporate manager of MMI and Coastal Energy, according to records from the Florida Secretary of State. Both entities were formed late last year.
“At present, your Docking Facilities intrude upon MMI’s Canal,” the letters said. “Moreover, every time any of you, your guests, your invitees, your licensees, your successors or your assigns traverse the Canal en route and into the Intracoastal Waterway, each such occasion constitutes a trespass through MMI’s property.”
Nullman offered residents a deal, however. For a “non-negotiable” payment of $150,000 from each homeowner, MMI, Coastal Energy and Swaim would be willing to grant an easement for travel across the canal “in perpetuity.”
“We hope and trust that this matter can be resolved amicably,” the letters said.
The unexpected demand left residents incredulous.
“I think it’s a scam,” said Gilbert Panzer, who has owned his home on North Ocean Boulevard for 37 years. “It’s ridiculous. They can’t claim to control navigation on that waterway.”
“They’re claiming to own the entire canal,” said one homeowner who asked to be unnamed. “It’s absurd.”
At roughly the same time in January, town officials also received a letter from MMI, Coastal Energy and Swaim. It told them to cease and desist issuing permits for dock construction along the canal. The letter essentially put a freeze on waterfront permitting in the neighborhood — and real estate sales — as another round of legal conflict opened between the town and Swaim’s associates.
“We are still reviewing the matter,” Town Manager Tracey Stevens said of the impasse.
For Wellington Arms condo owners, the Sabal Island news is all too familiar. Six years ago, Swaim claimed ownership of submerged lots and demanded the condo residents remove their docks from the lagoon behind their buildings.
Earlier this year, Swaim and the condo group agreed to settle their dispute after dozens of court skirmishes and six-figure legal bills. The parties declined to disclose terms of the settlement.
Nullman said residents in the Sabal Island neighborhood have had little to say about Swaim’s offer to sell them easement rights.
“We have received surprisingly little communication back from the property owners in response to MMI’s correspondence,” Nullman said, “and zero substantive attacks on the merits of MMI’s position, because MMI’s position is legally sound. Nevertheless, MMI remains optimistic that this matter can be quickly and amicably resolved between all parties involved.”