BRADENTON -- The proposal to create a conservation district in the Point Pleasant neighborhood near downtown took a step toward approval this week. But battle lines in the neighborhood between some residents and the expanding Westminster Communities remain, leaving open the possibility of lawsuits.
A conservation district designation is designed to protect the character of a historic neighborhood by eliminating commercial and high-density residential development, and creating regulations that will allow new development to complement existing homes.
The Bradenton City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to move the proposal forward to a final public hearing Feb. 10 -- but not before getting an earful from those in the three-way battle between the majority of residents, a handful
who don't want to be included in the 14-acre district, and Westminster, which successfully asked to not be included in the district.
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Council members are struggling with how the district would work without including Westminster, which has recently purchased two historic properties for potential expansion. Since a planning commission meeting earlier this month, more residents have come forward to say they don't want to be included in the district.
Ryan Snyder, of the Snyder Law Group, owns property at 1800 Point Pleasant Drive and is on the prime northwest corner of the proposed district along the Manatee River. Synder built his dream home under form-based codes that neighbors now refer to as the "Monster house."
Snyder believes if the city can allow Westminster to opt out, the same option should be available to all residents. He purchased his property to build his home but was told, if so desired, he could tear it down and build a condominium of up to six stories.
"Based on those representations, I purchased this property," Snyder said. "If mine is included, those would no longer be permitted. I don't want to end up in litigation with the city, but I may have no option."
Attorney Patricia Petruff, who represents Westminster, said including Westminster properties, which are for institutional use, would make them nonconforming under the conservation district's development regulations and would devalue the land. Petruff said to include Westminster would likely draw a challenge under the Bert Harris Act, which gives a property owner the right to pursue legal action against a municipality for creating an undue burden on their property.
Neighbors are more concerned with plans Westminster has for its two newly acquired properties and its recent approaches to other homeowners about selling their properties. Westminster purchased the old home on the southwest corner of the peninsula, which has now been excluded from the district and is being used for parking. The home was quickly bulldozed after the city mistakenly issued a permit under an ordinance that requires old homes to be reviewed for historic significance before demolition can occur.
It also bought the property at 1727 First Ave. W., which was the home of former Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge. That closed in November for $950,000, and there currently are survey markers around the property.
"People think we are aggressively buying up land," said Petruff. "You don't put a deal together like the Graeme Edge property in a month," noting the purchases have been part of a long-term plan.
Resident Jane Plitt met with Westminster representatives in November to express the neighborhood's concerns.
"They just nodded their heads and all agreed that we should be good neighbors," said Plitt. "But then the land grab started."
Resident Richard Kibbey, also an attorney, said it's not a perfect ordinance as written, but it's a necessary start in enacting immediate protections.
"Our concern is if it is not passed now, it will be too late," said Kibbey. "In the last 45 days, Westminster has bought two homes, torn one down for a parking lot and has approached another homeowner. They are insatiable and have deeper pockets than anyone here. If this isn't passed, Westminster is going to say they have legal rights and everyone is going to be left wringing their hands."
Based on council members' comments, concerns remain about including all of Point Pleasant in the new district.
"What's done is done," said Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff. "Mistakes have been made. Sorry. I'm OK with taking those who want to be excluded out. We have to preserve what we can. ... We've heard from the citizens to help them protect the quality of their lifestyles."
City attorney Bill Lisch said the council cannot add properties in the proposal without starting fresh, but it could exclude properties. Those decisions will be made at the ordinance's second public hearing Feb. 10.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.