News Section: Local Government
County Defends Long Bar Pointe Application Fees
BRADENTON – Last week, The Bradenton Times' John Rehill reported that the recent application by developers for two proposed amendments to the Long Bar Pointe development only resulted in one fee, rather than two. This week, Manatee County’s Director of Building and Development Services, John Barnott, defended the decision in a memorandum to the Board of County Commissioners.
Prior to the article, which ran August 20, the county had not provided a basis as to the authority to waive the fee without board action, which was requested after a TBT review of public emails did not reveal any mention of the fees being waived or any indication as to why. A staff member had confirmed that Barnott had waived the fee and a spokesperson for the county told Rehill the day prior to publication that they had spoken with Barnott who was not certain of the basis at that time. That spokesperson said afterward that he was not made aware Rehill was working on deadline for the next day. On August 27, the county finally referred to a footnote in R 12-052, the resolution which authorizes the fees.
The county’s Building and Development Fee Schedule was adopted in February of last year. It sets the cost for large scale text or map amendments at $20,000. Long Bar Pointe developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman had, through their attorney Ed Vogler, initially tried to include all of their requests in a single application. However, county staff concluded that the project, as proposed, would require not only a Future Use Map amendment, but an amendment to the text of the entire countywide comp plan. Vogler, who's spent decades litigating land use matters, was insistent in emails with the county that he and his clients did not think the project should require a second application (or fee).
|Carlos Beruff addressing the board with partner Larry Lieberman in the background. photo by John Rehill|
The resolution setting the fee schedule provides that it will be imposed and can only be amended by a future resolution of the board. However, a footnote at the end of the resolution reads that in “Unique situations/Projects with limited review - fees may be adjusted by the appropriate Department Director.”
Barnott wrote that the review work had already been done before the decision that the project would require two amendment applications had been made, and that he decided that it would not be appropriate to charge two application fees to the applicant and therefore waived one. Barnott further wrote that no special consideration was given to the applicant and defended the single fee as correct and consistent with prior practice.
In a follow up request, asking for previous examples that would demonstrate the waiver was consistent with past practice, the county cited a company by the name of 301 Oxford, LLC, which in 2008 had submitted a map amendment with a new future land use designation for the parcel and said that Oxford paid for the map amendment, but not a text amendment.
It also cited a in 2009 instance where Schroeder-Manatee Ranch submitted two map amendments, while also requesting a new future land use designation (Mixed Use/Community) for the NW and NE quadrants. The county noted that SMR paid for two map amendments (but not the associated text amendment) and that later, both amendments were combined into one ordinance. That was, however, the instance in which the MU/C designation was created, meaning that a map change to MU/C necessitated text to describe the new FLUM category, a particularly "unique" application that could be combined into one approval vote, unlike Long Bar. Whether the Long Bar vote met the “unique” or “limited review” threshold of the vaguely written footnote seems questionable – and as we've noted previously, if it did, that might be part of the problem.
Many opponents of the project criticized the county’s handling of the application, noting that the staff presentation seemed to largely reiterate the applicant’s positions, while missing or misstating several key components regarding the project’s consistency with comp plan rules respecting mixed use designations (the application sought a change from RES-9 to mixed use on part of the map) habitats for endangered, protected or special concern species, and that it didn’t properly describe adjacent properties.
Further complicating the project was the involvement of Beruff. The politically-connected Medallion Homes developer, who also sits on the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars through various business interests supporting local politicians, particularly those on the county commission. He and/or Lieberman, his partner on the Long Bar project, had been generous supporters of six of the seven commissioners deciding the amendments, with District 2 commissioner Michael Gallen the only one who hadn't received donations from at least one of the two.
The map amendment passed (with a recommendation from staff) 4-3, with Gallen and Commissioners Robin DiSabatino and John Chappie dissenting. The text amendment failed unanimously and was not supported by staff, largely based on their contention that the applicant made no effort to make a case for the drastic overhaul beyond considerations related to its specific project.
editor's note: This article had origianlly reported the Long Bar Map Use vote as having been 5-2, rather than 4-3 and has been corrected.