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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

County, ManaSota-88 to again challenge Arvida-Perico

While Manatee county commissioners did vote June 22 to once again legally challenge the planned 686-unit Arvida condominium project on Perico Island, county opposition to the development may be waning.

Commissioners only passed the measure 5-2 after agreeing that the county should seek mediation with the City of Bradenton before any protracted legal battle.

The county along with the three Island cities and the environmental group ManaSota-88 filed suit against the development four years ago after Bradenton approved the project for 898 units. While that challenge is still in court, the revised site plan submitted by Arvida in April and approved by Bradenton in June appears to meet the city's comprehensive plan requirements for density. That had been the basis for the county's initial lawsuit.

Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague told commissioners that staff had identified a number of areas in the new site plan that could be the basis for a lawsuit.

But some commissioners, such as Amy Stein and Jonathan Bruce, thought the money for a new lawsuit might be better spent elsewhere, such as buying property for public preservation. Four years of legal challenges have gotten the county nowhere, except for Arvida to reduce the number of planned units, noted Bruce. Arvida still proposes at least five 10-story high-rise structures among the planned 13 buildings.

Commissioner Joe McClash said if everything were about money, then the commission should just put a big sign over Manatee County saying "for sale."

Commission Chairperson Jane von Hahmann, whose district includes Anna Maria Island and Cortez, wanted the county to continue its battle against the project.

"The development will have a significant impact on my district," and a wall of condominium buildings on Perico Island will not fit with the surrounding environment, she said.

Von Hahmann vowed to continue battling against the project. She also mentioned she does not believe the county is obligated to provide water to Arvida under the current service agreement between Bradenton and the county.

"There could be some lively discussion over that issue, but there are also other options to consider" that might halt the project, she added.

Commissioners only reluctantly approved the measure after McClash said the lawsuit could go to mediation first before the litigation became too costly.

The county has 30 days from the date that Bradenton approved the revised Arvida site plan to file legal challenges. Bradenton approved the new plan on June 10.

Glenn Compton of ManaSota-88 said his group intends to file a legal action separate from the county's, and has hired attorney Ralf Brooks, currently the Bradenton Beach city attorney, as its lead counsel.

"When negotiations start, we want to be able to sit at the bargaining table," he said.

But Compton sounded a dire note that his organization can continue to fight the project only as long as it is able to raise funds to retain legal counsel.

"We are the small organization fighting the big boys and it's obvious they have the money and legal people to continue this battle as long as they want. At some point, we may have to consider if a continued legal challenge is worth the financial cost," he noted.

Efforts to reach Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston for comment were unsuccessful, but he has indicated previously that enough is enough, and it's time for the county to stop fighting this issue.

The proposed 686 units would add a significant tax base to Bradenton.

Even an estimated average appraisal value of $500,000 per unit, based upon current Island condominium values, would amount to $343 million in property values the city would add to its tax rolls, or about $1.5 million per year in ad valorem taxes collected for the Bradenton city treasury just from condominium owners at the project. And that's just based on current approximate property values and present millage rates.

"It's about the money," for the City of Bradenton, said McClash, and "nobody should think otherwise."