BRADENTON -- Environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper has filed suit against the city of Bradenton in hopes of stopping developer Pat Neal from building a four-home subdivision on the shore of Perico Island.
The group is also weighing in on another high-profile shoreline development project at Long Bar Pointe by filing to intervene in a property-takings case levied by the project's developers.
The suit against the city of Bradenton is the second the group has filed in its attempts to stop the project. Named Harbor Sound, the 3.46-acre development is planned to be built on uplands and about an acre of filled shoreline wetlands. Neal, who controls the property through a trust, obtained a state permit to do work in the wetlands. He has yet to receive a required federal permit for the work.
Its new filing with the 12th District Court in Manatee County contends that the city issued a site improvement plan in violation of its comprehensive land use plan. Justin Bloom, an attorney with Suncoast Waterkeeper, said the improvement plan permits construction work closer to wetlands than the
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comp plan allows.
"We think that action was not consistent with the city's comprehensive plan," Bloom said.
The court filing also establishes Suncoast Waterkeeper as an "aggrieved or adversely affected party" based on the fact that about 50 of its members live in Manatee County and enjoy activities in the area around Neal's property.
Earlier this month, Bradenton City Attorney Bill Lisch defended the city's issuance of the permit in 2014. He said permit opponents failed to appeal the decision within a prescribed 30-day period.
In September, a coalition of local environmental groups filed an appeal of a water resource permit issued for Harbor Sound by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud. Swiftmud's governing board approved the permit on Aug. 26 after an administrative law judge recommended it be denied.
Neal, who plans to build a family compound consisting of four roughly 10,000-square-foot homes at Harbor Sound, said the appeal, filed in the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dayton Beach, was designed to inconvenience his litigation team and "frustrate and delay our process."
Groups support county stance
Harbor Sound opponents have said part of the reason for their opposition is to prevent the project from becoming a legal precedent for other shoreline developments that seek to remove shoreline habitat and mangroves to make room for construction. One such project, they say, is Aqua by the Bay, a proposed Long Bar Pointe housing subdivision being developed by homebuilder Carlos Beruff and business partner Larry Lieberman.
On Thursday, Suncoast Waterkeeper and the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage filed with the 12th Circuit to intervene on behalf of Manatee County in a property takings case Beruff and Lieberman filed in 2014. The developers are asking the court to condemn underwater lands they own at the 522-acre subdivision site and to force the county to pay them millions of dollars for allegedly impinging on their right to build a marina and other structures in those lands.
The Board of Manatee County Commissioners voted in August 2013 to uphold tenants of its comprehensive land use plan that prohibit development in underwater lands. The attorneys representing the developers and the county will meet in a hearing concerning the issue on Dec. 2.
Bloom said his organization wishes to join the litigation to help uphold the restrictions the county's comp plan places on shoreline development.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.