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Robinson Farms hearing centered on new map data

BRADENTON -- Arguments during a legal challenge of the proposed Robinson Farms development Monday centered around new map data for coastal high hazard areas developed by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Manatee County Planning Director John Osborne testified that, after he saw the council’s draft maps showing most of the Robinson Farms development to be in “Coastal High Hazard Areas,” he changed his mind about allowing comprehensive plan changes for the project.

But developer John Neal testified that he has been informed that the planning council’s data, which had not been adopted into Manatee County’s comprehensive plan, is not meant for growth management, and is meant solely for hurricane preparedness.

Some neighbors of the proposed Northwest Bradenton development are seeking a ruling that the plan amendment is not in compliance with state law. They claim they are concerned about increased flooding on Ninth Avenue Northwest, among other things, and hope to halt the development.

Neal, representing Neal Signature Homes, is asking that the plan amendment will be upheld, and he can begin work on the development.

The case pits neighbors Katie Pierola and Greg Geraldson against the county and the state Department of Community Affairs; Robinson Farms, Inc., and Bochi Properties, LLC.

Osborne said the planning council’s maps prompted him to write county commissioners that he would change his previous recommendation approving an amendment to the county comprehensive plan that would allow the project to go forward, and recommend denial instead, he testified during the hearing Monday at the county center.

The commission and its state growth management overseer, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, still eventually approved the plan change for the project between Ninth Avenue Northwest and 17th Avenue Northwest.

Under the current county comprehensive plan map, only 21 of the 49 acres included in the Robinson Farms property are considered “high hazard.” The petitioners’ attorney, Thomas W. Reese, contends that the best information about hurricane storm surges depicts 44.32 acres of the 49-acre Robinson Farms property as being in coastal high hazard areas.

Edward Vogler II, an attorney representing Neal, argued that the new regional planning council map had not yet been adopted by the county as part of its comprehensive plan last fall when the issue came before commissioners; and, Vogler said, it still is not part of the county plan as it stands today.

He noted that the property is within the “urban core” of the area, near amenities like sewer and water lines, which Osborne agreed is more efficient for taxpayers.

When he asked Osborne if such map lines were approximate or rigid, Osborne replied, “I’d say they’re rigid,” adding that one’s property is either in or out.

But Elizabeth Benac, a planner representing the firm of Wilson/Miller, testified that maps drawn on a large scale, like those of the regional planning agency, could only approximate specific features of a property. She said more specific information could be obtained locally.

A decision is expected within 45 days or possibly longer, Judge D.R. Alexander said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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