Long Bar Pointe developers suing county over El Conquistador Parkway

Developers seeking compensation for land used for El Conquistador Parkway

Herald Staff WritersAugust 1, 2013 

MANATEE -- Developers and opponents to Long Bar Pointe's proposed changes to the comprehensive plan agree on one thing: A public hearing set for Tuesday should go on despite a new lawsuit the developers filed against Manatee County concerning El Conquistador Parkway, which runs through the proposed development.

But that may not be up to them. The county's attorney is reviewing the lawsuit to decide whether it will have an impact on the meeting.

"We don't know yet, we're still analyzing how this pending lawsuit may affect the proceedings next week," Manatee County Attorney Mickey Palmer said.

The developers of Long Bar Pointe, Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, are suing Manatee County over the road's construction, saying it was an unlawful taking of land. The suit, filed July 25, seeks a jury trial in Circuit Court and asks for awards of damages and compensation.

"This current lawsuit has nothing to do, zero to do, with the Comp Plan amendment; it has to do with impact fee credits and financial matters that arose out of a 2009 deed," said Ed Vogler, an attorney for the Long Bar Pointe developers.

Two vocal opponents of the plan -- who served on the county commission during the El Conquistador Parkway debate -- also say this lawsuit should not affect the upcoming hearing, which requests amendments to the comprehensive plan to allow a mixed-use waterfront resort on Long Bar Pointe.

"The hearing should still take place because the hearing has nothing to do with the specifics of the suit," said former county commissioner Joe McClash, a vocal opponent of the development. Jane von Hahmann, another former commissioner who served on the board during the road debate, agreed.

The commission's hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.

The lawsuit focuses on requirements of the developers to set aside land for the construction of El Conquistador Parkway, arguing that the requirements took away constitutional land rights, according to the complaint, and that the developers did not receive proper compensation for the land.

Calls to Lieberman and to Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker were not returned Wednesday.

The lawsuit was filed by a condemnation specialist attorney S. William Moore. Vogler said the case was filed because statute of limitations expired Wednesday for the claim.

Vogler said the lawsuit is not intended as a pressure tactic to force the county's approvals in the run-up to next week's meeting.

"We would prefer not to have had to file this," Vogler said.

The complaint claims an agreement with the original developers, SBC Developments -- also owned by Lieberman -- stated that if the road was built after Jan. 1, 2010, the developers would be relieved of a special fee for the road. The plaintiffs state that the county did not provide written notice on or before Jan. 1, 2010, that the road would be constructed. The county went ahead with construction for the road after SBC did not have the money to build the road, according to the lawsuit.

"They are essentially suggesting that the original land development agreement for a portion of this property was unlawful," said Manatee County Attorney Mickey Palmer, adding that he was puzzled about the lawsuit.

The first two lanes of the El Conquistador Parkway extension were built from Oct. 31, 2011 to July 2012, but the decision to build was made earlier. An email chain between Ron Schulhofer, director of public works, and Lieberman discussing the development between Sept. 18-Sept. 25, 2009, was considered the written notice, according to the complaint.

"It's hard to believe Lieberman would deny getting proper notice when he was pushing to build the road as soon as possible," McClash said.

Manatee Fruit Co. sued the county in 2008 over the same road, saying it should not be beholden to the development agreement between the county and SBC Developments, because Manatee Fruit would be tied to traffic capacity limits for the neighboring Long Bar Pointe that wasn't developed yet, according to court records.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2011, according to court records.

The development agreement said that SBC would not receive any monetary compensation, impact fee credits or other consideration as part of its obligation to pay for the land dedication, design, permitting and construction of the road, according to the lawsuit.

The first phase of Long Bar Pointe was approved for 258 homes.

The developers are requesting that the commission approve changes to county planning policy to allow sea grass dredging and mangrove removal to allow for an upland marina/boat basin to be constructed as part of a waterfront resort with hotel, housing and offices on Long Bar Pointe.

The developers also filed a preliminary site plan for an additional 200 homes on 69 acres as part of the overall plan, according to county documents. Staff is still reviewing the request.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Sara Kennedy, government reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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