MANATEE -- A private landowner's request to the city of Bradenton to annex 9.5 acres of undeveloped property has become the centerpiece of controversy between city and county officials over whether an accord developed in 2002 is still valid.
The "Accord" came about during a tumultuous time between the cities and Manatee County during discussions about creating a charter county, which essentially would have given more governing authority to the county commission. At the time, the county wanted more control on how the cities in Manatee handled development. The accord was designed to bring all municipalities together as a joint planning commission to review annexation requests and ensure all were informed.
In its 13 years of existence, the accord has helped annexations move forward smoothly -- until now.
In October, the joint planning commission met regarding the annexation request for 1016 64th St. Court E. It was passed by all members except for Manatee Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac, who said she would have to take the request back to the commission because it lacked information about what would be built on the property.
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The undeveloped land, valued at $385,000, is adjacent to about 50 acres the city annexed in 2008. Saul Lapidus, the listed owner of the property just south of State Road 64, requested the residential-zoned property be annexed into Bradenton with the intention of having it rezoned to commercial. Allison-Gause Inc. is the listed agent for Lapidus.
At the time, Andy Allison said there are no immediate plans for the property; city development services and zoning manager Chris Gratz said the city would likely find commercial use compatible because of the proximity to State Road 64 and Interstate 75.
The accord requires that an increase in density created by an annexation be approved by the county commission, but state statutes give annexation authority to the cities. The county sent a letter of objection to the city, which responded it could proceed with the annexation without county approval.
Assistant County attorney Bill Clague agreed, saying during Tuesday's commission meeting the language in the accord "is not specific to what you can and cannot do as a recourse. We've been opining in the 12 years that I have been here, and my opinion is that we could take legal action in an attempt to stop it. But in all likelihood, you would lose."
The county's objection became contentious at an earlier city council meeting where Councilman Gene Gallo, chair of the planning commission, said the county's objections were invalid. Gallo addressed the county commission Tuesday reiterating his point.
"These concerns should not be concerns," said Gallo.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the important issue is the late notice of JPC meetings and the lack of information available to share with the board prior to a JPC meeting.
"We need more notice than what we are getting," said Baugh. "We need to look at the accord and see if it needs to be updated."
Baugh acknowledged the city could proceed with the annexation without the county's approval, but it would be a violation of the non-binding accord. She said the city could likely move forward, "but you need to read the book 'How to win friends and influence people.' "
Commissioner Larry Bustle was the lone dissenting vote in sending a letter of objection to the city earlier this month. He acknowledged the accord should be revisited, "but the city fully addressed the county objections."
Bustle moved to resend a letter of no objection, but it died for a lack of second.
"The accord says more density requires this board's approval, and it has not given that approval," Benac said. "I can't support that motion."
Benac said the biggest problem is the county not knowing what the landowner plans for the property.
"I will push hard for the landowner to tell us what he intends to do with the land when he submits the formal application," said Gallo.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.