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Beruff Requests SWFWMD Permit Modification for Aqua by the Bay


BRADENTON — Aqua by the Bay developer Carlos Beruff and an affiliated development entity, Cargor Partners, have submitted an application to the Southwest Florida Water Management District seeking a major modification to a previously issued permit for the large scale development site along Sarasota Bay and El Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton.

According to former county commissioner and TBT Publisher, Joe McClash, the documents submitted with the permit modification request contain details that add to the concerns of the former commissioner, who is currently challenging the county commission’s recent wetland protections text amendment in the state's administrative court.

Showing an excerpt on the overhead during Tuesday’s BOCC meeting, McClash read aloud from one of the documents submitted by Beruff and partners with the permit application relating to the proposed construction of a gabion wall at the Aqua by the Bay site.

“As shown on the construction plans, the proposed gabion wall is being proposed in the uplands but is being proposed immediately landward of the wetland line in many cases. Therefore, the 25-foot average buffer is not being proposed,” the SWFWMD application document read.

The SWFWMD permit application is dated Dec. 13, roughly two months after county commissioners approved changes to the county's wetland buffer requirements. 

On Oct. 5, 2023, Manatee County Commissioners voted 6-1 to strip the county’s wetland buffer requirements—which were more stringent than the state’s minimum requirements—and divert regulation to the state. Notably, when the measure was approved by the board, despite significant outcry from the community, several commissioners assured the public that the state’s 15-foot minimum and 25-foot average wetland buffers would be “enough” to protect sensitive local wetland areas.

Commissioner George Kruse was the only commissioner to vote against the measure. 

Addressing the commission Tuesday, McClash encouraged commissioners to review the permit modification application and to speak with staff who are able to provide comments to SWFWMD on the proposed modifications.

“My suggestion,” said McClash, “is that you maybe have your staff make some comments that are reflective of what you thought SWFWMD would permit. There’s still time for that, this is an application.”

Showing additional pages from the application packet, McClash explained to commissioners what one of the included drawings illustrated of the developer’s proposal.

“The buffer is not there. The proposed gabion wall is right on the wetlands, the uplands side of it. This is just common sense that you need to have a buffer,” McClash emphasized.

McClash then showed commissioners an illustration of a 50-foot buffer as was approved in 2014 with the Aqua by the Bay development plan, under the county’s requirements at that time.

Pulling from his 22 years of experience as a county commissioner, McClash requested commissioners consider holding a work session meeting on the topic of wetland protections and development near sensitive environmental areas.

“What I am asking this board to do is to call in the stakeholders, let us have an opportunity to present,” adding that the Tampa Bay, Sarasota, and Charlotte Estuary Programs could also offer valuable guidance and presentation.

“We are the only county probably in the whole country that has three estuary programs,” McClash added, stressing the unique opportunity for commissioners to hear nonpolitical scientific perspectives of the environmental issues at play.

“All I am asking is that you respectfully allow the stakeholders to be part of the decision-making process…it’s what we used to do, it’s what made this county the greatest county at one time,” McClash concluded.

The former commissioner also encouraged the commission, again, to reconsider its previous action to revert local wetland protections to state oversite. McClash explained that while the policy decision is undergoing a challenge through the Department of Administrative Hearings, the policy changes remain “on hold” providing commissioners the opportunity to revisit its previous vote.

McClash was not the only citizen to address the board about the SWFWMD permit modification application submitted for Aqua by the Bay; citizen Ken Piper also raised concern during citizen comments.

Following citizen comments, Commissioner Kruse responded to what was shared about the  SWFWMD application and McClash and Piper's pleas to the commission to revisit its previous vote.

Kruse reminded his colleagues that when the hearings were held to vote on approving the comp plan text amendment scaling back local wetland buffer requirements, the consultant hired by the county to present the item told commissioners that adopting the measure would still ensure wetland buffers of 25-foot average.

“We made a decision on this board,” explained Kruse, “based upon information provided to us, and it’s just simply not true, and this is proof of concept that it was not true.”

Kruse added that it was his belief that the policy to divert county wetland protection requirements to the state was approved based upon the commission being provided “misinformation.”

“We were told there would be a minimum buffer, this is proof right here—the very first application proposing to use that vote (to defer regulations to the state) does not propose any buffer, zero,” Kruse said.

Kruse further added that he believes the commission did not approve a minimum required buffer, but rather approved that the state could “approve whatever it wants, however it wants” for buffers near wetlands impacted by development in Manatee County.

Kruse added, “SWFWMD are not scientists, SWFWMD are appointed people on a board who are making these decisions.” 

Beruff himself was appointed to the SWFWMD board in 2009 and served until he resigned in 2015. His resignation followed his participation in a controversial vote of the board to approve the issuance of a permit for a Perico Island development site owned by local developer, Patrick Neal, of Neal Communities.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the “expert consultant” hired by Manatee County to present the comp plan text amendment for wetland protections adopted by commissioners in October, had also previously served on SWFWMD. In addition, as previously reported by TBT, the same consultant, Daniel DeLisi, also appeared as an “expert witness” in at least one civil suit brought by Beruff against Manatee County's wetland buffer requirements.

Most recently in 2020, North River Land LLC and Cargor Partners—business entities of Beruff and Aqua by the Bay—filed a lawsuit attempting to challenge the county’s comp plan section The policy includes the requirements of 50-foot buffers adjacent to all environmentally sensitive non-isolated wetlands.

Like previous legal challenges brought by Beruff against the county's wetland regulations, the court ruled on the side of the county. Beruff appealed the ruling and on Feb. 3, 2023, an appellate court judge affirmed the prior court’s ruling, upholding the county’s constitutional right to adopt and enforce wetland regulations more stringent than those required by the state.

As if the history between Manatee County, Beruff, Aqua by the Bay, legal challenges, and a seemingly related consultant were not enough to raise eyebrows about Beruff’s recent permit application with SWFWMD following so closely on the heels of the county commission’s decision to roll back the very wetland buffer requirements the developer had spent years unsuccessfully challenging in the courts, there is also the matter of the BIA White Paper.

The white paper is a draft document of proposed revisions to the county’s land development code which was delivered to the county by Sarasota Manatee BIA President Jon Mast. The white paper was drafted by a local land use attorney who has regularly represented Beruff and Patrick Neal on development applications before the county commission. You can read more about the BIA White Paper here and here.

Later it was learned that at the same time Mast and David Ballard (Commissioner Amanda Ballard's husband who previously worked for the BIA) attended a meeting with county development services staff and passed off the white paper which contained suggested language changes to the county's land development code—to include language diverting local wetland regulations to state minimum requirements—two commissioners are alleged to have set up a meeting with the acting county administrator at the time (Lee Washington) to discuss hiring Mast as a deputy county administrator. 

Newly appointed Commission Chairman Mike Rahn and former county commissioner Vanessa Baugh are both subjects of an ongoing investigation by the state attorney's office after the Manatee County Sheriff found through its own investigation that sunshine violations likely occurred when the two commissioners met with the former acting administrator. The details of the meeting were chronicled in a whistleblower complaint authored by Washington. 

In the document, Washington alleged that the two commissioners advised him that hiring Mast as a deputy would "help the county move forward with the land development code, comprehensive plan, and other duties the county is trying to get accomplished." 

Despite McClash and Kruse’s suggestions during Tuesday’s meeting that the board reconsider its previous vote amending its comp plan and stripping back local control of regulation over county wetlands, no assurances were offered by any of the commissioners who approved the measure. Rahn told McClash that he would take his suggestion for a work session meeting on the subject “under advisement” and that he would “get with the county administrator” about it.

To view SWFWMD ERP Permit Application number 884703 and its supporting documents as submitted by Cargor Partners VII - Long Bar Pointe, LLLP, otherwise known as Aqua by the Bay, click here and then select the “documents” tab.

McClash was a guest on theTBT  Podcast last month where he discussed his decision to challenge the commission's vote on wetland buffer requirements, and the recent SWFWMD application submitted by Beruff for his Aqua by the Bay development. Click here to replay the Dec. 20 episode. 

To replay the citizen comments on this topic from Tuesday’s BOCC meeting, and hear commissioner response, click the video below.



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  • WTF

    Carlos Beruff has zero-0 respect for our community as a whole and certainly is an environmental disaster. Only our local HERO George Kruse brought up concerns to the other Board members, their response… crickets and it wasn’t even after lunch!

    So disgusted with the rest of the Board in how they responded to this outrageous action by Akward on the Bay.

    We need to keep the only sane Commissioner on the BOCC

    Info here https://commissionerkruse.substack.com/p/george-kruse-files-for-re-election?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

    “A system is corrupt when it is strictly profit-driven, not driven to serve the best interests of its people.”

    ― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

    Who is Mr. Gadfly?

    Wednesday, January 10 Report this

  • WTF

    They should of taken the best practices from around the state like Orange county that has increased the buffer to 100 feet. Instead they listed to a hired carpetbagger from the side of the state. Orange County commissioners received an update on proposed changes to the county’s Wetland Conservation Areas Ordinance during a work session Tuesday.

    The proposed changes are the result of approximately two years of work, according to Environmental Programs Administrator Tim Hull, who presented the latest information to commissioners Tuesday.

    Wetlands help to enhance water quality and keep surface waters, like rivers, flowing strong; they also help absorb floodwaters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    But in the last 200 years, Florida lost more than 9 million acres of wetlands — meaning it lost more wetlands, in acres, than any other state, according to a report published in 1990 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Still, Florida remains the state with the most wetlands, according to the agency.


    Wednesday, January 10 Report this

  • Dianna

    Thank you, Joe McClash and Ken Piper, for attending and calling them out on the lies during public comment. Thanks, Glen Gladfly for the Orange County information. Wonder why this information wasn’t presented by “staff” and the consultant who were looking out for the citizens when they were reducing the wetlands………….

    Exactly why is the camera blurry on the paperwork presented by citizens during public comment now or is it just some documents? It seemed to work just fine after public comment.

    Wednesday, January 10 Report this

  • pattybeenutty

    Beruff cares only about the money n his pocket that he can share with those who do his bidding!

    Our BOCC does not care about the environment!

    Wednesday, January 10 Report this

  • Mtmartin

    Board of pathetic hypocrites and Beruff lackeys. Besides for Mr. Kruse they have taken Beruffs money and know they have no choice but to do what they are told. They say nothing about anything that matters and look like idiots when presented with any logic or reason. Clearly hopeless for these fools to act in good faith to fulfill their elected duties, represent the residents of Manatee County, or protect the environment. They all need to be sent back to the dumpsters they crawled out of.

    Wednesday, January 10 Report this