Proposed Robinson Farms development still in litigation

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 1, 2014 

Bradenton case involves how many homes can be built on nearly 50 acres


MANATEE -- An administrative law judge is expected to rule this summer in a long-running spat between Robinson Farms Inc. and two residents challenging the density of a proposed subdivision in Northwest Bradenton.

For more than three years, the case has taken a Byzantine route through the Manatee County Commission several times, the courts and even a detour past the governor and the Florida Cabinet.

Last month, an attorney representing Robinson Farms and his counterpart representing residents Katie Pierola and Greg Geraldson presented evidence before state Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter in the case.

They sought a decision about whether 20 low-lying acres of the property should hold 20 or 38 homes.

The current dispute involves the same parties and property as the original, but its focus has changed over the years, according to Robinson Farms' attorney, Edward Vogler II.

"It's the same property, but a totally different question," he said Thursday about the case involving how many homes can be built on almost 50 acres between Ninth and 17th avenues northwest in Bradenton.

Attorneys representing each side will file a proposed recommended order, and then the judge will review them and his own notes and the entire record, and will

make a recommendation, usually within 30-45 days, said Vogler.

Manatee County is named as a respondent in the case.

Although the matter has always been about what density should be permitted under Manatee's Comprehensive Plan, which sets parameters for growth, attorneys originally argued about which version of county maps should guide development decisions.

"It's the second time this particular judge has ruled in the case," explained Tom Reese, an attorney who represents Pierola and Geraldson. "In the first one, he found the countywide map in compliance."

After the dispute took a detour past the governor and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the state Administration Commission, Vogler filed a lawsuit in circuit court.

But in December, it was dismissed in connection with a settlement offer that Pierola and Geraldson turned down.

"The Comp Plan says you can't increase density in the coastal evacuation area," said Reese at the time.

Density for the subdivision should remain at one home per acre, or about 49 homes altogether, because of the land's low-lying features, he maintained at the time.

Over the years, John Neal, Robinson Farms' developer, has gradually reduced the number of homes he hopes to build on the site.

In 2011, he wanted to build up to 150 homes, but in the most recent presentation and the settlement offer last year, the number had dropped to less than half that.

The settlement offer involved 68 homes on fewer than 50 acres, including 38 on a 20-acre parcel on the north end of the property and 30 on almost 30 of the remaining acres.

"It's 18 additional units, it's a different arrangement, completely revised," said Neal. "Nobody would notice the difference."

"We've spent a bunch of money, and it's sad, but my position has always been it's better to build in infill areas with existing facilities," Neal said. "It's what the Comp Plan urges us to do."

"Katie Pierola just doesn't want new homes in her back yard," he said.

Although Pierola said Friday she had been inactive in the case lately, the former Bradenton Beach mayor said she has no intention of backing off.

"It was so strange we had to go to another hearing," she said.

"I just don't understand it," she said. "I guess it's just John Neal: They just can't take 'no' for an answer."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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