Bad timing on Long Bar Pointe developer lawsuit against Manatee County

August 3, 2013 

As they say, timing is everything -- especially in the court of public opinion during an epic campaign to gain official approval for a precedent-setting development that has widespread opposition.

Yet the developers of Long Bar Pointe filed a lawsuit against Manatee County last week, claiming an unlawful taking of property for the key road to the development that one of the project partners at one time promised to build and pay for. The impertinence in this civil action is baffling, to say the least.

On Tuesday, the Manatee County commission will hold a public meeting to discuss big plans from partners Larry Lieberman and Carlos Beruff on creating a destination resort with shopping and dining spots, a boat basin and thousands of home on Sarasota Bay. The developers need major changes in the county's comprehensive plan in order to proceed, but thousands in the community object to the project's destructive impact on the environment.

Then here comes a lawsuit -- which most certainly does not come out of the public relations playbook on how to win friends and influence people.

Lieberman -- as owner of SBC Developments, Long Bar Pointe's original developer -- sued the county over El Conquistador Parkway, claiming the county "took" his land without just compensation by missing a 2010 construction deadline set in an agreement between the two parties. But emails in 2009 show the county moving forward with construction, though ground was not broken until October 2011.

Yet more than six years ago, Lieberman had agreed to foot the entire bill for the construction of El Conquistador Parkway, winning praise from the county as well as approval for a residential project that he had first submitted in 2000 but whittled down by 2006. Lieberman put SBC on the hook for $12 million for road construction.

Fast forward a few years, and the county agrees to build the road when SBC cannot afford the project anymore.

Now a one-time magnanimous developer who had been poised to pay for road construction and deed land over to the county wants compensation for the land that holds the arterial which leads to his new and much larger project. Not being legal experts, we cannot comment on the lawsuit's merits. But on moral grounds, there's something terribly wrong with this picture.

From another standpoint, this looks like a case of intimidation -- coming only days before Manatee County commissioners are scheduled to vote on major comp plan amendments to established rules that would pave the way for the massive Long Bar Pointe project. The county already paved the way to this site, literally.

Despite the developers' denial that the lawsuit is a pressure tactic, we figure the court of public opinion disagrees.

The county attorney issued an opinion Thursday that the public hearing on map and text amendments will not be impacted by the lawsuit. We expect commissioners to weigh all the evidence presented Tuesday without a thought about the legal action.

Still, the timing is highly suspicious -- and reflects poorly on the developers.

Coming Sunday

Our editorial on this controversial issue plus commentaries by Carlos Beruff, president of Medallion Home, and Linda T. Jones, chair of the Manatee-Sarasota Group of the Sierra Club. And a package of reader letters.

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