It’s not the developer’s job to resolve an area’s flooding issues, the Manatee County Commission said as it approved a plan to build an apartment complex within a known floodplain.
Developer Carlos Beruff’s Medallion Home asked the Board of County Commissioners to rezone about 37 acres of land to allow a 315-unit complex in an area surrounded by single-family homes. The site is on the northeast corner of Whitfield Avenue and Lockwood Ridge Road.
Nearby residents argued that flooding concerns should prohibit the development, which would be built along Rattlesnake Slough, an area with a known history of flooding.
“There’s not enough for neighborhood compatibility, there’s not enough to give assurances to you to solve flooding threats for surrounding homeowners,” said Dan Lobeck, an attorney representing neighbors who were opposed to the project.
But the project planners argued that the developer isn’t required to fix local flooding problems. According to the county’s Land Development Code, the developer only has to prove that the development won’t negatively impact the area.
“Will it fix their problem? No, but I have to prove that it won’t make it any worse,” said Clint Cuffle, a project engineer who noted that a development in that part of town must meet county and state guidelines.
Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague agreed that it’s not the developer’s role to provide flood mitigation for an entire area.
“We cannot require developers to fix larger area-wide flooding problems,” he explained. “Those are things we have to deal with in the context of public improvements, not developer improvements.”
The Board of County Commissioners also gave the developer credit for modifying the apartment complex plan after meeting with concerned neighbors. The original plan was to build a five-story affordable housing complex, which would have allowed for 432 units.
After neighborhood meetings, the plan was modified to limit the building height to three- and four-story structures with 315 units total.
“I personally believe it’s the best option for us and the community,” said Barbara Robinson, president of the Palm Aire Council, citing Medallion Home’s willingness to adapt the plan.
But not every resident was impressed by the changes.
“This proposed zone change hands a 50 percent density bonus to Mr. Carlos Beruff without his providing any benefit to the public,” said Betty Wiechec, a resident who spoke in opposition to the project. “It will be a gift from Manatee County to Mr. Beruff that is likely to cost the public money for years to come.”
Citing property rights, stormwater plans and the developer’s compromise with residents, commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the rezone and general development plan for the complex. Commissioner Reggie Bellamy was absent for Thursday’s vote.
“I am going to support this motion because I do feel for the residents in the surrounding areas it will be a better project because so much work was done by you guys, the residents, not by us. We didn’t do it. You guys did it,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh told the crowd of citizens. “I thank you for that because I want the best community. I want the best apartment community, if it’s going to be one.”
“These are difficult lands to develop. It can be done, but it’s expensive. It costs a lot of money to develop lands like this,” said Commissioner Misty Servia. “The applicant owns this property and he has a right to develop it in accordance with the laws. That’s what we all need to remember.”