BRADENTON -- Surrounded by members of various environmental groups, former county Commissioner Joe McClash briefed the crowd outside City Hall chambers this week on what he feels Bradenton's obligations are in the ongoing development saga of Harbor Sound.
The 40-acre site on the western shore of Perico Island is planned to be a four-home development for local developer Pat Neal's family.
McClash and several environmental groups have been fighting the development because it sits on land made up of mostly protected mangroves and submerged shallows of Anna Maria Sound. Environmental groups say the development will set a dangerous precedent on how to destroy sensitive conservation lands.
McClash makes regular appearances at Bradenton
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City Council meetings, saying the city should rescind its 2014 site plan approval. He reiterated his argument Wednesday night.
"I urge you to do what's right and follow your own rules," said McClash, who said the city failed to do a proper planned development project review, required by the city's comprehensive plan.
The issue for the city is whether it required such a review. Former development services and zoning manager Brady Woods, who left the city in late June, worked on the project. Woods decided a PDP wasn't necessary because part of the land is zoned R-1 residential, which allows for six homes per acre.
But a minimal amount of uplands is classified as R-1, and the city's future land use map designates the remainder of the 40 acres as conservation, including where some of the work will take place.
The site plan calls for filling in 3.46 acres of wetlands. City attorney Bill Lisch said Neal owns the submerged land.
"But that doesn't mean he can build on it," Lisch said. "From the city's standpoint, a site plan was issued knowing that Neal would have to get state and federal permits to do what he wanted to do."
Lisch said there is a multi-jurisdictional obstacle course to negotiate on Neal's part. But for the city's part, "I'm still working on it and don't really have an answer for the city council yet. I'm still going through all the files and we're talking about going back to 2000 when it was a major deal in court, and the files are thick."
Lisch said the city also is trying to contact Woods for more answers.
"We're scrambling and trying to figure out what the designation is," Lisch added. McClash "feels like it should have gone through a PDP and we're trying to figure that out."
Neal has owned the land that neighbors the 130-acre residential development of Harbor Isle since 1997. With an approved site plan, Neal began to pursue a water resource permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to begin construction of a seawall. Swiftmud initially said the permit would be issued, but a ruling from Judge Bram Canter in June saying that the permit should be denied, temporarily delayed the process.
Canter chastised the development proposal as something that occurred in the 1970s when Florida lost thousands of acres of sensitive wetlands before more stringent protections were put into place. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed, saying it would not issue the final permit needed to construct the family compound, but encouraged Neal to modify his plan, which he did.
Swiftmud issued the permit in late August, and Neal is proceeding with uplands construction work, promising to protect the wetlands until a Corps decision is rendered.
Neal did not return a call for comment Thursday.
McClash has presented a detailed argument to the city council time and again, but the council has remained largely silent with threats of litigation being made.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.