County Commission Says No New Seawalls

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
BRADENTON — At a land use meeting Thursday, Manatee County Commissioners resisted an effort by developers to add language to a required comp plan amendment that would have opened the door to using fill and/or seawalls to expand coastal development.

In November of last year, the board voted 6-1 (Commissioner James Satcher dissenting) to approve the transmittal of a comprehensive land-use plan amendment to come into compliance with the state's "Peril of Flood" statute. The vote passed only after an amendment was added to remove policies related to the allowance of fill material and/or the construction of seawalls as development techniques that Commissioner Carol Whitmore said staff had indicated they had been pressured to include.

Once transmitted to the state's land planning agency for its 60-day state-coordinated review, various agencies were able to offer comments and/or objections. The only agency to weigh in was the Department of Economic Opportunity, which issued two objections and one comment that staff characterized as "non-substantial."

The objection related to the establishment of both new and redevelopment in the policy, which lead to the county modifying the language to include "redevelopment."

The county also added a paragraph-long policy (Policy which reads: "Consider new development and redevelopment that employ site development techniques that reduce flood losses and claims made under flood insurance policies, and withstand inundation, minimizing flood damage to structures through flood-proofing techniques and strategies."

This worried environmental groups who feared that the language was a vaguely-worded concession to land-use attorney Ed Vogler who, representing developers Carlos Beruff, Pat Neal, and "other interested and affected landowners and developers" had urged the county in an email to modify the amendment to allow for the addition of fill and/or seawalls "to coastal real property in an effort to elevate the topography of the real property and result in the removal of coastal real property from flood zone designations established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

Staff did not add Vogler's proposed language, nor did any commissioner ask them to on Thursday. The language of Policy was also modified from the way it had been worded in the agenda to use language directly from the state statute in order to enhance the likelihood that changes would not be significant enough to require further state review.

With direction from the board that was initiated by Commissioner George Kruse, staff had previously made the following change to the preceding element of the amendment (new language in red, removed language struck through).

Policy Minimize the location of development and redevelopment within areas of the CEA CHHA which have sustained recurring hurricane-related damage by providing strategies for the acquisition of repetitive loss and suitable environmentally sensitive properties and techniques to reduce risks of property loss due to disaster events.

Kruse said that the insertion of this language and the fact that commissioners had voted to remove the fill/seawall elements from the previous draft should indicate to citizens that the board wants to protect coastal resources.

Commissioner Misty Servia, a former planner with the county, assured those in attendance that the county does not allow new seawalls to be built (only existing seawalls can be replaced) and hasn't for 30 years. Servia said she was confident that the policy, as adopted, would do nothing to change that.

Many members of the public showed up to give comments, most of whom were concerned that either Vogler's suggestions would be added at the last moment or that the additional language was, as one citizen put it, a "Trojan horse" for the construction of new seawalls. Those who offered public comments were mostly relieved by the course the board charted, although some expressed concerns that too many vagaries still existed.

Vogler himself gave comment, arguing that it was not a "developer-driven" initiative but one that affected thousands of individual property owners and maintained that the statute directed the county to describe the acceptable engineering solutions available in Manatee County. 

"Reciting the statute doesn't implement the statute," said Vogler. 

The amendment, as proposed by staff, passed unanimously.

Reader Comments
APR 24, 2022  •  Give the staff credit too. They did NOT include the offending wording, despite "pressure." (And we know what THAT means, though lobbying staff should be totally off limits.)
Ruth Lawler
APR 22, 2022  •  The devil is in the details. Due to the somewhat vague wording of what can or can not be allowed under comp plan addition of, it is possible that some of the suggested development techniques cited in Mr. Vogler's letter could potentially slip through the Planning approval process in new developments. The Florida Statute for Coastal Management is very clear: protect the mangroves and natural shoreline. The Statute is very clear in protecting and NOT allowing adding new seawalls or repair or reconstruction of existing seawalls except as permitted by federal and state regulations. The Statute further specifies that new development be a minimum of 50 feet back from the shoreline. Please know that many concerned citizens are now aware of Vogler's and the developers intent, as this was in Vogler's March 16th letter to the Commission, and he reiterated the potential for use of "revetments (sloped seawalls) in future new development. The citizens are alert and will remain vigilant.
APR 22, 2022  •  Sad we had to fear that the commission might have passed this—thankful that they refrained. Now it is time for voters to get behind the campaign to give Florida voters a chance to assure that elected officials cannot allow pollution by putting the proposal for the right to clean and healthy water and waterways before all state voters so they may decide whether it should become an amendment to the state constitution. In the next few days, the campaign will have petitions to download, date, and sign, and then directions about how to submit them — at — Florida voters can make this happen, do your part to get it before the voters.
APR 22, 2022  •  Wow, way to go Commisioners. As history suggests anyone who builds on the beach takes an inherant risk that someday their property will be gone. You can’t change this.
APR 22, 2022  •  Even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn in the forest.