Just six months into his second term, Manatee County Planning Commissioner Al Horrigan Jr. announced his resignation in a letter last week, saying he was "wasting his time."
In a three-page letter sent to County Commission Chairwoman Priscilla Whisenant Trace, Horrigan said that in his four-and-a-half years in the position, "I have observed first hand Manatee County government's strong tendency toward confirmation bias, and that it has been efficiently co-opted by the development and home building industry."
While "displeased, dissatisfied and disappointed," he noted that he was not "anti-development," having had a real estate and development career in Utah and California.
"If given my 35 years of public service, I am unable to convince the Manatee County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners of the wisdom in collecting 100 percent of impact fees and acquire a right of way to mitigate the impacts of a significant new development, I have sadly concluded I am wasting my time," he wrote.
Planning commissioners in Manatee County — typically with engineering, development, planning or environmental science experience — are appointed to four-year terms by county commissioners. They are tasked solely with making recommendations on land-use projects and codes.
In his letter dated May 10, he pointed to two elected officials who had "come down on the responsible and prudent side of a development issue" with their recent votes to approve a 600-home development near Evers Reservoir: Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Robin DiSabatino.
Both voted against the proposal, saying they were concerned about the amount of traffic the development could generate on Honore Avenue. The city of Bradenton, which agreed to sell the 200 acres to developer Taylor Morrison if the county approved the proposal, has long been against making Natalie Way a thoroughfare. City Administrator Carl Callahan said it was because of an agreement between the city and county, and to prevent the potential for spills into Ward Lake, which serves as the city's source of drinking water.
Horrigan suggested commissioners squandered the "perfect opportunity" to request a north-south right of way on Natalie Way before they approved the project by a vote of 5-2 on May 3. He had also been a proponent for a bridge that would connect Honore Avenue to State Road 70 as another traffic alternative.
But the difference between the two? Baugh voted to cap impact fees at 90 percent of what a consultant had recommended, while DiSabatino wanted them to move to 100 percent, which could equate to a difference of $2 million a year.
Baugh said capping the fees, which are paid by developers to fund projects related to growth, would help keep the prices of homes down and "make sure the residents of Manatee County are employed."
DiSabatino, on the other hand, noted that by collecting higher impact fees on the newly approved 600-home development, "of course you'd find the capital improvement projects quicker."
The "confirmation bias" Horrigan referred to, he said, was seen in March when commissioners voted 4-2 to cap the impact fees before the public had a chance to speak.
In his letter, Horrigan said the decision to cap impact fees would "haunt" commissioners, especially when they learned that the county has a plan to widen Honore Avenue but has no funding in its five-year capital improvement project list.
By phone on Monday, Horrigan told the Bradenton Herald he had been thinking about leaving for at least a year, but decided to apply for reappointment.
Disabatino said Horrigan had been "very disenchanted" when former Planning Commissioner Matt Bower, who was often the sole dissenting votes for several projects like the Mosaic mine expansion, was not reappointed last November.
"Once he was gone, there was no hope of getting anything done," Horrigan said, adding that he felt "outnumbered." He was heard, he said, but ignored.
Other scathing remarks in his letter pointed out two planning commissioners' connections to the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, which he feels is "a clear bias toward approving whatever project comes before them." Chairman Bill Conerly, with Kimley-Horn & Associates, is on the board of directors, but has recused himself from decisions he is directly linked to. Mike Rahn is also listed as a life director.
Horrigan also suggested that the county's "growth policy can only be described as: Build at unsustainable levels until the system fails."
"Being complicit in a process where the wheels come off the bus is not what I am willing to allow my public service legacy to be," he wrote.