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Date of Issue: April 21, 2005

BIG OOPS! State officials say 'No' to beachfront development

Five years of approvals, denials, court approvals and court rejections apparently have all been for naught in Bradenton Beach regarding a controversial Gulffront development.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs has rejected a court-ordered project of two duplexes in the 1400 block of Gulf Drive because the application does not meet the city’s comprehensive plan requirements.

In other words, what the developers asked for in the first place was the wrong thing to request.

The project, by developers Island Inc. and Beach Development Inc., apparently will have to begin the process anew.

DCA planner D. Ray Eubanks wrote to the city that the court-mandated change "does not qualify as a small-scale amendment due to the medium-density residential land-use category exceeding 10 dwelling units per gross acre." Although the proposed project is less than the zoning category, land use planners base their opinions on what could be built, not what is proposed to be built.

"The letter from DCA appears to indicate that the proposed development does not meet state criteria for small-scale land use amendments and was, for that reason, rejected," said Greg Hootman, an attorney who represented the city through the resulting legal morass for the past five years.

On behalf of the city, he said he would "present the DCA letter to the court and ask for guidance, and the court will probably schedule a hearing on the matter."

Steve Thompson, an attorney representing the developers, disagreed.

"I believe the courts were pretty clear that the comp plan should be amended," he said. "The court’s intent was to have a comp plan amendment approved, then the rezoning, then the site plan. The DCA opinion is only for the comprehensive plan."

The two duplexes, proposed to be built across the street from the Bermuda Bay condominiums, have had a tumultuous history since the first presentation before the city.

First, a former building official issued a building permit for the project. However, after he left the city, the subsequent building official determined that the permit could not be issued unless a small-scale comprehensive plan amendment was approved by the city.

The crux of the issue was a land-use map adopted by the city commission in 1989 that called for that part of the beach to be preserved due to unusual soil composition. Developers brought forward expert witnesses who said the beach there was no different than the beaches up and down the Island and that the "conservation" designation was in error.

Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board heard the proposal and recommended approval of the project to the city commission. The city commission, though, denied the project in April 2000. Developers took the matter to court.

A circuit court judge upheld the city commission’s denial of the project. Developers appealed.

Appellate court judges last summer ruled that the city incorrectly denied the project and ordered its approval. In March, the city approved the project and sent the paperwork to DCA for its approval of the plan - which is now denied.