Groups plan to sue over Aqua by the Bay decision

By Hannah Morse

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October 31, 2017 4:09 PM


beruff1 In: Environmentalists Will Sue Manatee Commissioners | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Local environmentalist groups decided Tuesday to file a lawsuit against Manatee County in response to the county commission’s unanimous approval of Aqua by the Bay.

The 529-acre development by Medallion Home will boast 2,384 multi-family and 510 single-family homes as well as 78,000 square feet of commercial space. But its location, along a stretch El Conquistador Parkway that abuts pristine mangroves on Sarasota Bay, and the plan for up to 16 buildings at 95 feet high each, were some of the major concerns these groups had.

The groups are seeking judicial review of the decision, a request that has to be filed to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court by Monday at the latest, because they believe the land development code was violated, said the groups’ attorney Ralf Brookes.

“We find many flaws with the county’s handling of that whole application,” said Andy Mele, with Suncoast Waterkeeper.

According to Mele, these include “wild fluctuations with the staff recommendations,” the abilities of the staff and “clear violations of due process” related to public comment.

  During the final hearing on the proposal Oct. 3, the applicant Long Bar Pointe LLLP — an offshoot of Medallion Home — changed the general development plan to remove an estuary enhancement area, which would essentially be a dredged lagoon between the mangroves and the uplands that was to serve as wetlands mitigation. The changes were made during an extended lunch break, and public comment was reopened only for the changes.

Brookes said there wasn’t enough time between the redistribution of the plan and the eventual 7-0 decision by the commission to look over the changes made.

This was the second time that changes had been made to the general development plan mid-hearing. During an Aug. 16 hearing, Medallion Home developer Carlos Beruff told commissioners he would scrap plans for four buildings over 95 feet high, and come back for special approvals. This abrupt switch required the meeting to be readvertised.

The environmentalist groups, led by Suncoast Waterkeeper, are asking that the application be sent back to the county commission for review.

“They knew they were going to get sued one way or another,” Mele said.

Assistant County Attorney Sarah Schenk had made that known during the final hearing earlier this month, saying “I don’t care what you do, approve or deny,” but that she wanted to make sure the proceedings were right because she believed the county would face legal action either way.

Beruff and County Attorney Mickey Palmer were not immediately available for comment.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse