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Date of Issue: April 27, 2006

Gulffront project back again, tabled until June

Call it déjà vu all over again, but this time on a "large" scale.

Developers of two proposed Gulffront duplex units at 1402 and 1404 Gulf Drive, Island Inc. and Beach Development Inc., located across the street from the Bermuda Bay condominium development, 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, which also stated that the area also consists of special soils that should preclude development of any structures.

City officials eventually denied 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 Florida Department of Community Affairs, the agency in charge of comp plans in the state, it determined the matter was not at all a small comp-plan amendment, but a large-scale amendment.

And the whole matter began again.

Last week, members of the city’s planning and zoning board heard the request again. The lengthy proceedings included expert witnesses on both the city’s and project developer’s sides, arguing their respective cases, and planners eventually continued deliberation of the issue until June 13.

"We believe the designation of the property as preservation was in error," said attorney Stephen Thompson, representing the developers. "The preservation designation results in a taking of the property. There is development north and south of the property."

Jim Farr, a land-use planner representing the developers, said that prior to the drafting of the current city comprehensive plan in 1989, the site was designated for multi-family use. He explained that a previous building official and city planning consultant had agreed that the preservation zoning was a scrivener’s error and had even issued a building permit for the project, only to have a subsequent building official overturn it.

"There is nothing in that area that sets it apart from any other property," Farr said.

Jeff Churchill, an environmental consultant representing the developers, concurred. He said that the preservation-category designation should only be applied if there were special water-recharge needs, some unique characteristics to the site, or if the soils there held some significant environmental importance.

None of those qualities applies to the property, Churchill said.

Building Official Ed Mc Adam offered a lengthy staff report which recommended denial of the application.

"Visits to the site reveal a meandering coastal protection system consisting of a wide coastal dune immediately adjacent to the "The vegetative coastal dune ... clearly depicts not only the ‘frontal defense against the forces of nature’ but accurately depicts an established separation of the preservation category at Gulf Drive."

The property, he said, "... clearly reflects the land-use category as an area on and westerly of the present dune system as being environmentally important and which should be ‘preserved.’"

Sam Casella, a planning consultant with extensive coastal background hired by the city, presented an exhaustive report on the issue. Perhaps most telling in his 25-page report was the statement made by Gerald Smelt, the principal planner with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council who, in 1989, helped draft the city’s comp plan.

"Mr. Smelt told me that he does not agree with those who say that the extent of the preservation category ... was mistakenly depicted ... due to a scrivener’s error," Casella said. "He said the preservation designation reflected the city’s desire to preserve undeveloped land seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line. He denied any intent of basing the preservation category solely on the soils map."

Casella summed up his report with the statement: "It is recommended that the application be denied at this time."

Several nearby residents spoke to the issue, objecting to the proposed development on grounds that the existing dune system protects their property from wind and wave damage. There were also concerns voiced about losing Gulffront views if the project were to be approved.

Planning Board Chair Bob Dale, who not only served on the planning board when the matter was presented in 2000, but was also a board member in 1989 when the current comp plan was drafted, requested staff to attempt to locate aerial photographs of the area prior to 1989.

Those pictures will be presented to the board when the matter comes forward again at 5 p.m. June 13.