Issue 4 Wisteria Cartoon cropped

Wisteria, the last desert island in Key West harbor, will not be developed any time soon. A three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a 1951 letter from the U.S. Navy to the State of Florida was more than enough to meet the requirements to establish the U.S. claim of ownership and to start the twelve-year statute of limitation running under the Quiet Title Act.

F.E.B. Corporation’s owner, Roger Bernstein, has recently spent considerable time and money lobbying the County government to allow more extensive development of offshore islands.

Stay tuned for a full analysis in the upcoming Friday edition.

Here’s the ruling.

Click here for our previous coverage.


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  1. Thank you, Naja and Arnaud, But for you two;s l-o-n-g struggle to preserve Wisteria Island, and Naja’s infernal, dogged digging into “ancient history,” which relics she passed along to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as I recall, which, as I also recall, they didn’t want to do anything with, but then they changed their minds and asserted a claim to Wisteria on behalf of the United State of America, who knows what Wisteria island now would look like? Perhaps Sunset Key, given the Bernstein family, had partnered with the Walsh family, which had developed Sunset Key and the Westin Hotel, all guided by Jim Hendrick, to develop Wisteria.

    Before you had found all of the relics, Naja, I had proposed to the Bernsteins, through a friend of mine who was in their camp, that they offer to give Wisteria to Key West as a public park in perpetuity, in exchange for the city giving the Bernstein and the Walshes a 99-year lease on maybe 3 acres of Truman Waterfront near Admiral Cut, which the Walshes claim to own, on which they could build a 5-star hotel, which the Walshes had a number off on the Eastern U,S. seaboard, 1 percent of the gross annual revenues of which the city would receive right off the top, in addition to being gifted Wisteria.

    Local attorney Michael Halpern told me it was a brilliant idea. Actually, the idea just came to me out of the blue, sort of like a dream that came out of the blue, in which I was told to tell Naja to keep digging for Wisteria relics, there was more to find, and she did find them, and here we are. Will the county commissioners (gang of three), Heather Carruthers, David Rice and George Neugent now back off trying to help the Bernsteins turn Wisteria Island into Sunset Key Deux? Maybe somebody should write a book or make a movie about Wisteria.

  2. Glad to see it ended this way. So now if I am understanding this correctly it is Federal land and not part of Florida. Now comes the next court cases as Key West had no right to annex this island and thereby no right to tax it. Not a lawyer but think KW might be repaying them taxes.

    And the best part is now that it is federal land I believe we have the nudist beach many have long wanted. This is the same as Boca Chica

    All we need now is a ferry boat and done deal.

    Once again Key West screwed up big time. LOL

    1. Wisteria Island is located in Florida, no matter who owns it. The US contends that it is federally owned. This has nothing to do with exclusive jurisdiction vs. concurrent jurisdiction. Wisteria has never been annexed by the City of Key West. There was an annexation attempt back in 2007 however after some funny business with three City Commissioners having been “winded and dined” on Sunset Key just 5 days before the final City Commission vote on annexation there was a Citizen revolt and FEB Corp / Bernstein withdrew the annexation application. The island is located in unincorporated Monroe County. FEB/Bernstein has recently been trying very hard to have County regulations that protect offshore islands weakened. The Blue Paper brought the Navy’s 1951 claim to light in 2011, but anyone who had purchased the island, had they done their due diligence, would have known of this cloud on the title. The appraised value of the island is very low and, as a result, property taxes have not been high and have been drastically reduced in recent years.

      1. Sometimes rich don’t win

        WISTERIA is safe. The last thing we want to see is another Sunset key. Rather enjoy seeing the island just the way it is.

        OK , so it is in Monroe county and if not mistaken so is Boca Chica.
        So now where does it stand as far as nudity being it is on federal ground ?

  3. A banner day for the Keys. No better example of why investigative journalism still matters and what it can be accomplished by caring, resolute individuals. Proof that David and Goliath is more than a fairy tale. Upon reading the news, I had a strong inclination to stand up and cheer.

  4. Sometimes rich don’t win

    WISTERIA is safe. The last thing we want to see is another Sunset key. Rather enjoy seeing the island just the way it is.

    But Florida might have to repay the amount they sold it for LOL and only to the first buyer if he sues.

    This brightened my day, thanks.

  5. A little more Wisteria history, on which I am certain Naja and Arnaud are far more knowledgeable … Some years ago, when the Key West City Commission was looking at annexing Wisteria so the Bernstein’s could develop it using the city’s services, such as parking, drinking water, sewerage collection and treatment, fire and police, the citizens rallied and put on the ballot a referendum for an amendment to the city’s Charter, stating that, in the future, any acquisition or annexation of land by the city had to be approved by the voters in a referendum. The referendum passed overwhelmingly. The Bernstein’s then turned their effort toward lobbying the Monroe County Government to approve their development on Wisteria Island, which application for development County Grown Management accepted and started processing, even though the County had no clue, nor did it ask the City, how it felt about Wisteria being developed. For just as before, what the Bernsteins and Walshes wanted to do on Wisteria would require about the same access to the City’s services, which would have been provided if the city had annexed Wisteria. Looked to me and lots of other people that, if the County approved the Bernsteins’ development plan, then pressure would mount against the City and, yep, the city would have gone along with the development, and the Bernsteins would have a achieved a de facto annexation, an end run around the amended part of the City Charter, which required voter approval of annexation of land. Naja, I, and others, made no headway with County Growth Management, about halting processing the Bernsteins’ application, until it was known where Key West stood on Wisteria being developed. Finally, at a county commission meeting in Marathon, when only commissioners Sylvia Murphy, Kim Wigington and Heather Carruthers were in attendance, Sylvia told County Growth Management she wasn’t going to do anything about Wisteria Island until the City told the County where it stood on Wisteria. Sylvia told Growth Management to poll the City. That led to Wisteria being put on a city commission meeting agenda, perhaps it was a special meeting, just for this topic. Sylvia attended. She was asked to speak to the dais. She spoke. The mayor and city commissioners all said they did not want the city to participate in the development of Wisteria Island. Naja, I and several other members of The Resistance, and Sylvia, adjourned to a restaurant across the street from Old City Hall, and celebrated. The next day there was a county commission meeting in Key West. On the agenda was the Bernstein’s Wisteria development application. Before the county commission meeting began, the Bernsteins withdrew the development application item, which pulled it from the meeting agenda. At that point in time, it was still ass-u-me-ed the Bernsteins owned Wisteria, even though there already were questions being raised about who actually did own it? Naja kept digging, she found the historical relics, which eventually were accepted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which laid claim to Wisteria on behalf of the U.S. Government. Then, the Bernstein’s sued the U.S. Government under the Quite Title Act, the outcome of which, so far, became known yesterday. All the while, the Bernsteins, in sneaky ways, were trying to get Monroe County to make changes to its Comprehensive Plan which, of course, would allow the Bernsteins to develop Wisteria Island. Naja and Arnaud and Last Stand stayed on top of that, fighting the Bernsteins every inch of the way in County Government meetings. That was still very much in play until yesterday, and who knows what the Bernsteins will attempt next? Or how Monroe County will receive it? When I called Sylvia yesterday afternoon and told her of the !1th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, she said she was delighted to hear it

  6. Here is the lead into Tim O’Hara’s Wisteria article in today’s Key West Citizen, pretty much parroting the lead into Naja and Arnaud’s breaking news article:

    “There will be no posh resort or high-priced homes built on Wisteria Island anytime soon, or possibly ever, because a federal appeals court has sided with a judge’s decision that an ownership lawsuit should be dismissed.”

    O’Hara did a good job reporting the legal aspects, however, and shamefully, he gave Naja and Arnaud and the blue paper zero credit for Wisteria Island even being in federal court. But for Naja and Arnaud, O’Hara would have had nothing to write about Wisteria in today’s Citizen.

  7. Had he got his way then we likely would have more homeless people.

    Would be nice to know exactly how close to sunset key could a sail boat similar to the ones on Wisteria be able to anchor. Just exactly what does sunset key own. They built a dock that I will assume is actually on federal, Monroe county public beach. Can they legally stop anyone from using it ?
    Did some researching on the nudist issue and seems Boca Chica actually is not a legal nudist beach. However it seems that Monroe County does not care to patrol it so it is used as such. That leaves the next question as to will Monroe County sheriffs department patrol Wisteria island as that would be far more costly to patrol. And KWPD has no right to patrol it.

    I hope Bernstein is having a bad day. He has now spent thousands to try and develop something he does not even own. Will he be smart and give up or is he another developer that keeps trying.

    Would be nice to see an article covering the water fronts of all of the city of Key West. Many piers are at question here as to the rights of the public to use free. Perhaps a person could anchor 100 feet off of Sunset Key and be nothing to stop them.

    Am sure this is just the beginning of what is to soon come. Am sick of the filthy rich pushing others away.

    1. The beach on Sunset Key is supposed to be open to the public. The development agreement negotiated by the City, which gave the developers over a 100 extra building rights, required that 900 linear feet of public beach be set aside in perpetuity for the use of the general public. [Also 20,000 square feet of “artist space” and some acreage of “parks” that were to be open to the public. The City, not surprisingly, allowed the developers to turn “free” public beach into public beach “for a reasonable fee”. Last time we checked their “reasonable fee” was $40 per person. Additionally, we have seen advertising of the “public beach” as ‘exclusively for the guests’ of transient rentals on Sunset Key. The City fathers are aware of this situation and have been for years… As far as anchoring goes – typically it is only the Coast Guard that can designate a no anchoring zone and it must be mapped on nautical charts as such. There is some legislation by the State – a pilot program – that also designated no anchorage area in the vicinity of managed mooring field[s].

  8. Thanks , you really do a great job. And no I am not surprised that another corrupt act took place. Wonder who and how much cash money that trick cost. Key West needs exposed to the feds for a serious investigation. The charges would likely make a book and take years to investigate. And likely KW knows who to bribe to leave them alone.

    Book title should be “THE MOST CORRUPT CITY IN THE USA”

  9. I’m missing something in my muddled mind….seems the ruling was for the stat of limitations no? had nothing to do with the actual ownership which will be decided in the future me thinks after more legal wrangling! the judge left that door open it seems. wjm

    1. The dispute has not been resolved. However, the big deal here is that the US government has something called “sovereign immunity” which means it can’t be sued unless it agrees to it [ie. “waives it’s sovereign immunity]. The Quiet Title Act is such a waiver but it was limited in time. [Actually the Quiet Title Act did not even exist until 1972.] Perhaps there are other ways. One way would be to try to force the US to sue FEB – by “encroaching” [building] on the island. But FEB/Bernstein would need a County permit to do so and the County will not process development applications because of the huge cloud on the title. And… in any case, there is overwhelming evidence that the US would win on the merits if the case was ever heard. We know — we went to the National Archives and found the evidence ourselves…

  10. Just think what would have happened had he spent millions on buildings and then not only give them to the feds for free but could be fined for building them. Maybe even criminal charges. And yes sometimes people build on the wrong lot and the owner does not have to sell them the lot.

    And had it got this far then when he tried to sell a unit a title company might have caught it. Bernstein is not all that smart. He tried hard but lost. You never buy property with clouded deed.

    My hopes is now maybe the island can be used for better purposes and serve the residents and tourist. But chances are high nothing will ever happen to it. Just maybe that fire last year was set for a reason. Start connecting the dots.

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