Long Bar Pointe developers file challenge of Manatee comprehensive plan

MANATEE -- The developers of a proposed mixed-use residential project at Long Bar Pointe are suing Manatee County again.

A suit filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court on Tuesday alleges that the county violated the constitutional rights of development company Cargor Partners VIII/Long Bar Pointe LLLP partners Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman by depriving them of the right to use underwater lands they own in conjunction with their Sarasota Bay property.

Beruff and Lieberman are in the early stages of developing Long Bar Pointe, a residential community and marina fronting Sarasota Bay off

El Conquistador Parkway. The legal claim is the second brought by the partners in the past three months. In August, the pair hired eminent domain attorney S. William Moore to serve the county with a Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act claim. Moore will handle the constitutional challenge as well.

Mitchell Palmer, Manatee County's attorney, received early warning last week from one of the developers' attorneys that the challenge was coming. Palmer said the focus of the challenge is language in the county's comprehensive plan that addresses restrictions on development where sea grass is present. Long Bar Pointe's 463-acre property includes seabed acreage.

"It's referencing the original 1989 comp plan language that prohibits the destruction of sea grass along county's shoreline," Palmer said.

Moore said he aims to gain his clients full use of their land or to bring monetary compensation from the county for loss of use.

"Our aim is to have those provisions altered or removed so as to permit the use of the bayfront for the type of water-enhanced development the clients intend," he said. "If the use of the bayfront is not restored, our clients should be paid by the county for the full value of that loss."

The complaint filed by Moore's office states that the county's restrictions on construction and development work in submerged lands constitute a violation of due process and are a de facto taking of property rights.

Beruff, president of Tallevast-based Medallion Home, and Lieberman of the Barrington Group in Sarasota, are seeking permission to build at least 3,520 homes in a multi-family configuration, 100,000 square feet of commercial space and a 260-slip marina. Their plans have also included a hotel, conference center, office space and single family homes.

The project was dealt a blow last year when the Manatee County Board of Commissioners accepted only one of two comp plan amendments proposed by the developers. In doing so, the board also placed restrictions on the project, making acceptance of the proposed amendment contingent on deleting a 300-slip marina from plans for Long Bar Pointe.

Had they both been written into the comp plan, the amendments would have created new policies under which the comp plan could encourage water-related uses in conjunction with mixed-use development projects, and would have changed the zoning of the project property.

Current comp plan language prohibits new boat ramps and non-water dependent development in areas with shallow or environmentally sensitive sea bottoms.

Project opponents have stated in public meetings, including a 13-hour hearing in August 2013, that the development would destroy sea grass and mangrove habitats in an area prone to storm flooding.

The circuit court complaint cites a portion of comp plan policy that restricts or limits the ability of a property owner to dredge and fill sea floor land, to build artificial waterways and to build boat ramps in certain shoreline habitats.

Calls made to Lieberman concerning the legal challenge were not returned. Beruff refused to comment on the lawsuit.

The partners and their attorneys have been relatively quiet in recent months where legal action against the county is concerned. Palmer said the claimants had offered to take the Harris suit to mediation, but have not scheduled a meeting.

Palmer said the wording being challenged is not unusual in Florida counties.

"Most coastal counties do have comp plan language of varying types that serve to protect some of those natural features," he said.

Late last year, Beruff and Lieberman withdrew their proposed comp plan amendment. The county planning commission approved the construction of 200 homes at Long Bar Pointe in January.

County property records show that Cargor Partners VIII/Long Bar Pointe and affiliated company Long Bar Pointe LLLP own 523 acres at the Long Bar Pointe site. Beruff is a manager of both companies, according to state records. The acreage was purchased in June 2012 in two transactions totaling $12.3 million, county records show. A company affiliated with Lieberman was the seller.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.