Residents clash about formation of special taxing district to form a preserve.
River Club resident Ken Harriman likes the idea of having a nature preserve with access to the Braden River near his home.
But he doesn’t like how it would be funded.
Manatee County commissioners on March 6 will consider the creation of a Municipal Services Taxing Unit, a special taxing district established, in this case, to fund the $3 million purchase of 32 acres at the western end of Clubhouse Drive and save it from development. Under the deal, Manatee County would acquire the land and turn it into what is called the future Braden River Preserve. Property owners in the district would be taxed to pay for the land, over 30 years.
But the majority of homeowners in River Club agree with Harriman, president of the River Club Homeowners Association. At River Club’s annual homeowners association meeting Feb. 6, more than 300 homes were represented. Of those, about two-thirds opposed the MSTU, while the remaining third supported it. HOA board member Larry Levin said those figures are consistent with what Manatee County saw on its polling of residents about the MSTU.
Poll results showed of the 898 properties officially in River Club, 306 voted in favor of the MSTU (34%), 369
voted against (41%) and 223 did not vote (25%), which counts as a “no.” Of the remaining 542 non-River Club parcels, which include 488 in Braden Woods, 356 voted in support (65.7%) of the MSTU.
“River Club makes up the majority of the people affected,” Levin said. “The board is reflecting what the majority of the people want.”
The HOA board officially is opposing the creation of the MSTU and sent a letter to Manatee County stating its objections and its intent to litigate the matter, if necessary.
“… [I]t is clear that the county has adopted a fatally flawed process, and that the (commission) is entertaining acting in an imprudent manner that is contrary to county precedent, Florida law and the will of a majority of the homeowners who would be subject to the MSTU,” River Club’s attorney Eric Appleton wrote in a letter to Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague. “My client, therefore, demands that the county immediately cease all efforts to consider the MSTU, and that the BOCC respect the will of its constituents.”
County commissioners will hold a public hearing March 6 on whether to establish the MSTU. Manatee County in November sent a poll about the MSTU to property owners affected to solicit public opinion. The poll fell short of the 50% needed for staff to recommend moving forward.
However, representatives of Friends of Keep Woods, a group formed to protect the land in question, supplied substitute polls for individuals who said they did not receive ballots or had thrown theirs away. Adding those 66 ballots brought the total over the 50% threshold in favor of the tax, and Commissioner Vanessa Baugh had the item added to the board’s Jan. 23 agenda.
River Club HOA representatives said the county should have followed its established protocol.
“I don’t know anybody who is against the park itself,” Harriman said. “That’s not the issue. I’m hoping the county, given the information we’ve conveyed to them, will acknowledge under the process they defined, the poll did not pass, and they should not go through with the MSTU.”
In Appleton’s Feb. 19 letter to the county, he spells out the HOA’s primary objections to the MSTU and says although more than 62% of homes in the proposed MSTU are in River Club, the community would cover 70% of the cost.
The letter asserts the boundaries of the proposed MSTU are “quite arbitrary and make little sense,” because some nearby properties — many of which are closer than those at the southern end of River Club — have been excluded. Additionally, Manatee County already has an MSTU for unincorporated areas of the county. That MSTU could be
used to fund the purchase and spread the cost across all property owners in unincorporated areas. The preserve will be open to all Manatee County residents and access will not be limited to those households paying for it.
Baugh said the MSTU issue is important and should be discussed publicly.
“The Board of County Commissioners did not have to do a ballot at all, but we wanted to know where the majority of residents were on this subject,” Baugh said. “The bottom line is we want the majority of residents to have or not have a park, depending on where the majority of residents are. Everyone should have a say on this important decision.
“It wasn’t just me,” she said about supporting a public hearing on the topic. “Six other commissioners voted to have a public hearing. The board felt we should look at this in more depth and see if we should do the MSTU or not.”
December 2015: Residents learn of proposed development and begin to organize opposition.
October 2016: The Manatee County Planning Commission recommends denial of the project to build luxury homes. Commissioners support the project design, but said elimination of a planned roadway that would divide the parcel should be done through a comprehensive plan amendment.
November 2016: Neal Communities said it will scrap plans to develop the parcel.
December 2016: Myarra Property Joint Venture purchases property.
June 2017: The property owner applies to remove the road from the county’s comprehensive plan. The Planning Commission recommends denial.
May 2017: Citizens group Friends of Keep Woods is formed and announces partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast with an interest in making the parcel a preserve.
August 2017: Manatee County Commission supports removing roadway from county maps and moves the request to the state for approval. County staff recommends Municipal Services Taxing Unit district as a possible means for funding land purchase.
October 2017: County Commission directs staff to craft the MSTU ordinance and conduct poll of affected property owners.
January 2018: Commission votes to move forward with public hearing on MSTU.
March 6, 2018: Hearing scheduled