Neal-owned Perico Island permit protest gains ground

Perico Island, Fla. – It’s two steps forward and one step back for development on Perico Island.

Three petitions have been accepted that ask to review a permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District for development on Perico Island. The petitions filed with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings DOAH challenge the permit issued for four single-family homes in August to developer Pat Neal.

The land on Perico Island owned through a trust by Neal and his family consists of 40 acres of waterfront property. Neal plans to build four homes on four of the acres.

The petitioners — former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and ManaSota-88 — assert the permit allows for insufficiently mitigated destruction of wetlands. The petitions, consolidated Oct. 31 request an administrative review of the Swiftmud permit.

McClash attended FISH’s Nov. 3 board meeting to speak to members about going forward. He said they could hire an attorney or he could, if they agreed, serve as the “qualified representative” on FISH’s behalf.

After brief discussion, FISH members agreed unanimously to have McClash represent the group. He was accepted Nov. 13 as the representative by DOAH.

McClash also urged FISH at its meeting to send a letter to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is currently considering a permit for the development. The letter wouldn’t be the first discouraging an Army Corps of Engineers permit at the proposed site.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife reviewed the pending Army Corps of Engineer’s permit and in June sent a letter recommending denial of the permit because of the sensitive wetland areas to be affected and the project being non-water dependent.

“I’ve had good conversations with the Swiftmud attorneys. This is fact-based and it’s better than letting it go through without challenging it,” McClash told FISH board members.

He said he enlisted a water-quality specialist to serve as an expert witness and solicited other possible expert witnesses from FISH.

John Stevely, a FISH board member and former agent for the Florida Sea Grant Extension Service, offered to help compile factual evidence for the case.

And factual evidence is key.

The land trust filed a motion to dismiss Nov. 3 citing a lack of factual evidence, proof of substantial interest or injury of fact.

The motion to dismiss asserts that the evidence supplied thus far isn’t sufficient to rise above “a speculative level.”

The motion states the only allegations establishing standing are that McClash owns property in the “undefined and unidentified ‘drainage district’, uses the ‘area adjacent to the area impacted’ for recreational activities, has been involved in the protection of wetlands and waters in the area, and that he would suffer an economic injury by alleged increased insurance costs.”

The motion claims that the “alleged injuries are remote, speculative and lack immediacy” and McClash “does not have standing merely because he uses the area for recreational activities.”

The land trust filed another motion to dismiss Nov. 19 challenging FISH’s standing.

McClash responded Nov. 6 to the challenge of his petition and said as the representative for FISH he is preparing a response to the challenge of its standing.

“I really feel they’re setting a stage for future mangrove destruction,” McClash said referring to planned developments in the area. “With the destruction of these mangroves, we might as well kiss Long Bar and Terra Ceia goodbye.”

The homes planned by Neal on Perico Island would be for his immediate family members, Neal said. The Bradenton City Council approved the site-plan for the project — now called Harbor Sound — in June.

Neal said in an earlier interview he has no plans to develop the remaining 36 acres of the Harbor Sound property after the four homes are built.

“Harbor Sound was always intended to be just four homes for our family,” he said.

A hearing has been set for 1 p.m. Feb. 16-20 at Swiftmud’s Tampa Service Office, 7601 U.S. 301 N., Tampa.

Perico Island has seen its share of development plans over the years.

Once farmland, the area was acquired in the late 1990s by Arvida Corp., which proposed an 886-unit condominium project with several 10- and 12-story structures. The land was annexed into the city of Bradenton and the project was approved by the city.

The approval was met with lawsuits alleging the site plan did not meet the requirements of the city’s comprehensive plan. Manatee County — which recently denied waterfront development on property owned by Long Bar Pointe —was one of the plaintiffs.

The development was whittled down to 668 units and Arvida changed its name to St. Joe Corp. By the mid-2000s, the developer lacked buyers for the $500,000 condominiums it planned to build. St. Joe had paid $2 million for the land.

Construction on a retaining wall and what will become a 23,000-square-foot beach club at Harbour Isle on Perico Island is underway. Construction began in early October and is expected to be completed next fall.
Construction on a retaining wall and what will become a 23,000-square-foot beach club at Harbour Isle on Perico Island is underway. Construction began in early October and is expected to be completed next fall.

The company sold the property in 2009 to Minto Communities LLC of Toronto and Fort Lauderdale for $8 million.

Minto submitted a site plan for Harbour Isle which included a series of “coach-home” complexes, and Bradenton approved the plan in 2010.

According to Brady Woods, Bradenton development services and zoning manager, Minto is approved to build four midrise buildings at 6-stories and two 10-story highrise buildings in Harbour Isle.

Minto Senoir Vice President William Bullock said the height allowances were in place when they bought the property and plans are still being dicussed. He added there is no time table for construction and the future plans are dependent on the real estate market.

The company began selling units in December 2010. Prices started around $225,000 when Harbour Isle opened its first community, Mangrove Walk, in 2011. Home prices now start at approximately $463,000.

This article was published in The Islander Nov. 26, 2014.