Dispute Centers on Man’s Plan to Build Home on Lake Hollingsworth

A convoluted and contentious mess continues to percolate over property on Lake Hollingsworth in one of the city’s most scenic and priciest neighborhoods.

A Lakeland man is wrangling with the city over whether he should be allowed to build a house on a vacant lot between Lake Hollingsworth Drive and the lake.

In May, Mark MacDonald sued the city in Circuit Court involving his property along the northwest shore of the like across from the base of Palmola Street.

In an interview and in a lengthy Nov. 2 City Commission discussion, property owner MacDonald repeatedly accused three city commissioners of lying and colluding against him.

He described a “lack of integrity, mistruths and lies” by commissioners and vowed if the three keep it up “a few names will be tarnished down the road.” He didn’t name who the three were.

But some of his ire was directed at Mayor Bill Mutz.

Commissioner Scott Franklin, in an interview, said it appeared certain Mutz was on the list. But he wasn’t sure who the other two were.

MacDonald filed a lawsuit against the city, and Mutz said he genuinely hopes the suit goes to trial. “Defamation of character is not a biggie on my list,” he said at the November meeting in response to MacDonald’s comments.

1110 Lake Hollingsworth Drive

The city sold the Lake Hollingsworth Drive property in 1945 and it subsequently was sold several times.

City officials in 1990 passed rules that forbid development between eight lakes and their surrounding lake roads, a restriction that includes Lake Hollingsworth.

That no-development rule excludes boathouses and docks. It was done with the notion that all of the public should be allowed to enjoy lake views.

Records are fuzzy but the property was deemed undevelopable, by deed restriction, because it contained a city storm drain. The drain hasn’t been used in decades — 60 years, according to MacDonald.

In 1990 the city renewed the deed restriction, good for another 30 years. It was due to expire in November.

MacDonald bought the 1110 Lake Hollingsworth Drive property in 2018. It sits adjacent to a large home owned by developer Bob Adams. It is one of seven homes that overlook the lakeshore in the vicinity. 

The city says all were built before the 1990 restrictions and some were renovated later.

One of the many disagreements is over the value of the property.

Property records list the value of the lot when MacDonald bought it at $100. City Attorney Palmer Davis reflects the view of the majority of commissioners, saying that price reflects that the property is undevelopable.

Commissioners Bil Read and Stephanie Madden supported MacDonald’s contention that the $100 valuation was irrelevant.

“I didn’t pay $100 for that land,” MacDonald said. “I paid hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Editor’s note: This paragraph was added on Dec. 12 in response to questions raised in Facebook comments: The Polk Property Appraiser’s record lists a warranty deed of $355,000 to Landry Real Estate Holdings LLC in October 2018 concurrent with a sale in the same amount and with the same buyer on the property across the street at the northwest corner of Palmola and Lake Hollingsworth Drive. Then it shows a corrective deed for $0 and a warranty deed on the lakefront property for $100 for Mark MacDonald, also in October 2018. The Palmola property was sold to another buyer in 2019, and the lakefront property remains owned by MacDonald.

The storm drain, one of the issues MacDonald has fought the city about, was removed.

That was very costly for MacDonald, Madden said. It was one of the reasons why she said she supported MacDonald in his effort to develop the lot.

In an interview, Madden said she felt as though MacDonald was naive and didn’t understand the passion for the lake held by the public. “I don’t think he realized what he was getting himself into,” she said.

The commission voted 5-2 to extend the deed restriction, which was due to expire, for another 30 years. Madden and Read dissented.

MacDonald said he wasn’t concerned about the vote or the city’s land-development regulations. He said his Circuit Court case is based on Florida’s Marketable Record Title Act, known as MRTA.

MRTA is on the books to help property owners fix inaccuracies and mistakes in property records.

MacDonald promised his lawyers will “educate” the city’s lawyers in court.

Memo on the city’s action to extend the deed restriction:

Mark MacDonalds’s lawsuit against the city:

Video: Discussion at the Nov. 2 City Commission meeting and appearance by Mark MacDonald:

City Commission Meeting 2020.11.02 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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