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Date of Issue: September 14, 2006

Gulffront project off to DCA for review, comment

State officials will get the next crack at a pair of duplexes that developers have been trying to build for the past six years in Bradenton Beach.

Bradenton Beach city commissioners last week agreed to the transmittal of the data, exhibits and meeting minutes of the Island Inc. and Beach Development Inc. proposed projects to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for that agency’s comments before making their own decision on whether or not to permit the duplexes.

The proposed duplexes, at 1402 and 1404 Gulf Drive on the Gulf of Mexico, require a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment before construction can begin.

City planning commissioners recommended the city commission deny the construction July 11.

It has been a "long and winding road" for the proposed development, as attorney Steve Thompson for the developers put it.

The project is located across the street from the Bermuda Bay condominium development. Developers first appeared before Bradenton Beach officials in 2000 to request rezoning of the property. They claimed at that time that a scrivener’s error had the property zoned as preservation within the city’s comprehensive plan. The comp plan also stated that the area consists of special soils that should preclude development of any structures.

Planning commissioners at the time recommended approval of the project to the city commission, which rejected the request. The developers took the matter to court, where a circuit court judge upheld the city’s denial. On appeal, though, the matter was reversed and the city was ordered to allow the original request, which was a small-scale comprehensive plan amendment.

However, when the change was forwarded to the DCA for final ratification, the agency determined the matter was not at all a small comp-plan amendment, but a large-scale amendment.

DCA officials ordered the whole process to begin again.

Last week, Thompson and other consultants offered a full-scale presentation as to the merits of the large-scale plan amendment for the property. He pointed out that similar properties in nearby areas along the beach had been granted building permits.

Land-use planner Jim Farr said that he believed the preservation designation on the city’s land-use map for the property was a "scrivener’s error" dating back to 1989, when the comp plan was approved. He also raised the question of inconsistency by the city in granting other project approvals yet denying the Island Inc.-Beach Development Inc. request to build.

Environmental consultant Jeff Churchill said that the proposed duplex site has "nothing unique" about it, either through topography, vegetation or for any water recharge zone.

Resident Tirso Garcia, who owns a unit at Bermuda Bay, said he was told when he bought his condominium that the property across the street - site of the proposed duplexes - was zoned conservation and would never been built upon "and I paid a premium for my property."

Resident Rick Skerrett also urged denial of the project, citing the area as a buffer from the Gulf to other properties east of Gulf Drive.

Resident John Kidd said the site should be retained as open space because it serves as a sea turtle nesting site.

Resident Tom Fellner, who lives in Bermuda Bay, also argued for denial of the development. "I would not have bought if I knew someone could have built in front of me," he said.

Some of the officers of the two corporations seeking to build on the beach are the same persons who developed Bermuda Bay.

City commissioners unanimously approved sending the package of documents regarding the project to DCA. A response from the state is expected to take at least two months. City commissioners will then hold more public hearings on the matter before making a decision.