It’s been more than a year since neighbors and environmentalists protested a high-rise development slated for the banks of Sarasota Bay and were met with a Manatee County decision on the fly.
The decision by the county commission on Aqua by the Bay is the subject of a court challenge — now up for a 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, hearing before 12th Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr.
The large-scale, mixed-use development by Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII is poised for 529 acres, southeast of Cortez and north of IMG Academy. The property now consists of pristine mangrove forests, marine nurseries and oyster beds.
The hearing comes at the request of Ed Vogler II, attorney for the developers, “to provide such additional information or support as may be helpful to aid in the disposition.”
The developers intervened shortly after Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes filed the due process petition in November 2017 on behalf of Suncoast Waterkeeper Inc., Capt. Kathe Fannon of Cortez, former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash and neighbors Katie Scarlett Tupin, Larry Grossman, Beverly Hill and Arlene Dukauskas.
Suncoast Waterkeeper is a 2,200-member nonprofit with a mission to protect waterways in Sarasota and Manatee counties through education and enforcement.
Brookes’ petition for writ of certiorari argues the BOCC failed to follow procedures, apply the correct law and comply with the county’s land-development code.
The petition asks the judge to invalidate the county approvals given to Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman and their companies at an October 2017 meeting after the Aqua plan was revised during a three-hour break.
In addition to the petition, Brookes filed more than 550 pages of exhibits, including excerpts of the land-development code and transcripts and notices about plan commission and land use meetings pertaining to the development.
The developer and county attorneys jointly responded with more than 11,000 pages to support the commissioners’ decision.
Commissioners voted 7-0 to approve the revised development plan, eliminating proposals for a 2-mile long lagoon and seawall criticized as threats to fish nurseries and the ecosystem, after several commissioners announced they wouldn’t vote for the plan as it stood.
The approvals still allow for a 191-acre rezone, as well as 2,384 multifamily units, 510 single-family lots and 78,000 square feet of commercial space, including 16 condo buildings up to 95-feet high — about nine-10 stories — and an unknown number of 35-foot to 75-foot buildings, three- to- eight stories.
In the suit, the petitioners say the plan, even as revised, does not comply with the LDC, without setbacks equal to the height of the buildings and other protections such as wetland impact studies, neighborhood workshops and consideration of archeological sites and waterfront vistas.
The suit was filed after the county refused to meet with Suncoast Waterkeeper representatives and McClash, who requested a meeting to prevent future plan switching and LDC issues.
McClash also has appealed a 260-acre wetland mitigation bank proposed by the developers as part of the 529-acre site. The bank would give the Beruff-Lieberman team the ability to sell credits at $100,000-$200,000 an acre and allow development elsewhere.
The appeal of an administrative law judge’s decision supporting a Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s “intent to issue” a mitigation bank permit is pending in the 1st District Court of Appeal.
The Dec. 6 case management hearing is scheduled in Smith’s courtroom at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.