Commissioners need more time to digest all the resubmitted information.
After nearly five hours of public testimony March 7, Manatee County commissioners have yet to decide if they will reaffirm a settlement to end a seven-year legal battle with the developer of Tara.
Manatee County and Lake Lincoln, a subsidiary of Naples-based Power Corp., have been in litigation since 2012, at which time Lake Lincoln alleged Manatee County had taken its property rights and denied it use of its roughly 10-acre property at the northwest corner of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70. The lawsuit stemmed from a 2010 land-use decision in which commissioners said that corner parcel could only be used for wetlands or open space.
Commissioners approved a settlement agreement to allow up to 19,500 square feet of commercial development on the property in June 2017, but 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Lon Arend kicked the settlement back for reconsideration after the Tara Golf and Country Club, Tara Master Association and Fairway Gardens II at Tara Condominium Association opposed the settlement. They argued the settlement was not in the public’s best interest and violated county development codes.
Those entities have proposed an alternative agreement, which would allow construction of residential or residential-support uses, require more traffic analysis, and provide a multimodal path to the property from the rest of the Tara community.
Lake Lincoln representatives said they only seek a commercial use for the property, although in 2010 they had agreed to use the site for residential or residential support uses.
Commissioner Betsy Benac asked what changed, and Lake Lincoln’s land-use attorney Patricia Petruff said the developer was trying to make the corner match the area with commercial nodes at intersections and plenty of commercial businesses along State Road 70.
“We were trying to make the zoning match the correct use,” Petruff said. “What has changed is the whole character of this area.”
Commissioners postponed their decision to 1:30 p.m. April 4 at Petruff’s request after residents of Tara and their attorney, Robert Lincoln, provided documentation challenging the settlement’s compatibility with the county’s comprehensive plan.
Tara Golf and Country Club resident Cathy Woolley presented a binder of information, which included a 1996 memo to Manatee County’s former Planning Director Carol Clarke from Lake Lincoln. It states: “Due to environmental constraints, it is not practical to develop the land west of Tara Boulevard as originally proposed. This proposed change will result in no additional regional impact. By relocating some or al of these uses, the developer will avoid wetland impacts and will minimize commercial intrusion into the residential portion of the project. There will be no discernible impact on traffic flows since the original plan proposed that all non-residential uses utilize Tara Boulevard for access.”
Woolley told commissioners: “Do not be intimidated by the developer. That was never listed as a phase, never platted, never zoned commercial. We have confidence in the county’s attorneys’ office (to litigate). Sometimes money can’t be the issue. You must defend the decisions. We want you to stand up for our community.”
Resident Joyce Leone showed a drawing she was provided by the developer when she purchased her home. It depicts two ponds with fountains, one at the parcel in question and another farther south on Tara Boulevard.
“I’m not so naive that a developer is going to make good on every promise,” Leone said. “But how many bites can you get at the apple? Our history should not include (this settlement). We have a complete breach of a promise.”
Petruff said she could not properly rebut residents’ claims without first examining documents to ensure they were being used in context, and she asked for the continuance. Commissioners also agreed they needed more time to review the new information.
“I feel like I got a lot of luggage today, and I’m not sure I can unpack it,” Chairman Steve Jonsson said.
Manatee County Assistant Attorney Bill Clague said at the board’s April 4 meeting, it will have three options: re-approve the settlement agreement; deny the settlement, which likely would trigger an evidentiary hearing; or terminate the settlement agreement with Lake Lincoln and accept the agreement proposed by Tara’s interveners.
Clague said his office still recommends settling the case because it guarantees the lowest cost and risk to the county.