Manasota 88's lawsuit against Sarasota County over wetland impacts was expedited.
An environmental group’s lawsuit against Sarasota County is moving forward.
Manasota 88, a not-for-profit, and four individuals filed the suit Feb. 26, on the grounds that the county was being inconsistent with its comprehensive plan after it approved the development of University Station. The case will go to trial Aug. 22.
SJ Collins, the project developer, applied to the county last year to build a Whole Foods, Wawa and Zoe’s Kitchen on an 8-acre parcel at the corner of University Parkway and Honore Avenue. To do the project, the developer would have to pave over 4.4. acres of a wetland habitat.
Developments that are going to impact wetlands have to get a comprehensive plan amendment to go forward. The developer purchased 40 acres of land adjacent to the Rye Preserve in Manatee County to serve as off-site mitigation for the wetlands on the project site.
The developer’s project was approved in February, but the lawsuit will keep the project on hold until the litigation concludes. SJ Collins entered into the lawsuit with the county March 2, after which 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Rochelle Curley agreed to expedite the case.
Plaintiff attorney Ralf Brookes said he believes the environmentalists have a good case against the county, both because of previous cases involving the same property and the county’s own environmental staff recommending denial of the project.
“We have pretty strong grounds here,” he said. "We're not trying to delay this project…Our purpose is to uphold the comprehensive plan.”
Saving the wetland is the first priority, Manasota 88 President Glenn Compton said. The second is ManaSota 88’s desire to hold the county accountable for its actions.
“This is one that needed to be challenged because it’s blatantly against the comp plan,” he said. “You need to draw the line somewhere.”
SJ Collins declined to comment on pending litigation.