City of St. Petersburg tries to defend man being sued by state over private dock

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Along Brightwaters Boulevard, across from palm trees and elaborate houses, sit private docks on Coffee Pot Bayou.

Rick Ware bought one to have water access for his fishing boat.

"We use it every weekend," Ware said. "We keep the boat here and even when we're not boating you can sit out here and look at Bird Island in the evening and have a beer. It's fantastic."

But since last summer, Ware said, his piece of paradise has cost him a lot of money in lawyer fees. He bought the lot in 2008 and eventually added a 500-square-foot addition. He had city and county permission to build. But when the state found out about the addition, he said, it claimed he built on state land and filed suit against Ware in July.

"I'm still paying taxes and I still have a deed," Ware said. "So as far as the property appraiser and the taxpayer is concerned, I own this."

In a Pinellas County courtroom Tuesday morning, the city moved to get involved.

Lawyers for St. Petersburg claim the suit against Ware could set a precedent for all Coffee Pot Bayou law. The city owns 12. It's concerned a ruling in favor of the state would affect its lots and taxable property.

A large portion of the argument can be traced back to when Florida first became a state.

If boats could pass through in a waterway in 1845, it was considered navigable and therefore state property.

Ware was under the impression he built on private land.

The state said even if the court sides with it, Ware can keep his dock.

"With respect to Mr. Ware, he's not going to lose his dock," State Attorney John Glogau said. "Nobody is going to lose their ability to use their docks."

A judge could decide next week if the City of St. Petersburg will be able to join Ware in defense of the lawsuit.

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