Log in Subscribe

Much Ado about an ADU

Corruption at the county administration building hits new low


Last week, TBT’s Dawn Kitterman reported on the manner in which politically connected developer Carlos Beruff secured a permit to build an “ADU” that was grossly out of compliance with the county’s land development code. This is a shockingly brazen example of how easy it is for some people to get permission to break the rules in our ethically bankrupt county.

County staff and the county commission only recently went through a long and public process in order to address the matter of adding accessory dwelling units to the land development code. The fact that the county already had a provision for “guest houses” was discussed at length, and the county commission made it very clear that they did not intend for someone to be able to have both. In other words, those who already had a guest house couldn’t add an ADU.

Staff spelled this out very clearly in section 511.18, B.7, which notes, "Conforming lots with a principal dwelling unit shall be limited to one (1) ADU or one (1) guest house." That is the language that the board approved, and at no time during the public process did Development Services Department Director Nicole Knapp or any other member of staff raise concerns about the policy, its language, or how it would be implemented.

While a member of the staff initially handled the permit, it was Knapp herself who signed off on it. This suggested to us that the initial employee had likely been uncomfortable with approving such a gross violation of the ordinance. When TBT initially reported on Beruff’s ADU, we had not yet received the public records associated with his permit.

Things got much worse once we did. Knapp wrote an incoherent memorandum in which she attempted a claim that the requirements for guest houses and ADUs were somehow in conflict and decided the following:

“... until said time that Manatee County can initiate an LDC Text Amendment to resolve the contradictions and limited applications found above, an interim remedy shall be to allow the construction of ADUs that are up to 80% of the size of the principal structure at the discretion of the Director.”

Well, isn’t that convenient for Mr. Beruff? Inconveniently for Knapp, however, that is not the way the process works. If she genuinely felt that the enacted section of the LDC was so problematic that it must be changed, there is a process for that. Staff would have presented the board with a county-initiated text amendment. It would have been advertised to the public. Commissioners would have been given a detailed presentation by staff in a public meeting, there would have been commissioner debate and deliberation, public comment would be taken, and then a vote held for the final implementation if they agreed that the process they had previously asked for was lacking clarity and if they suddenly decided that it was not their intent to allow only an ADU or guest house on an individual parcel. 

Instead, she essentially issued a decree that until such time as the county fixed what she saw as a problem, she could, with no approval from the board, enact her own policy that allowed her to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. This flagrant abuse of power from a director-level employee is clearly grounds for termination. However, it is unlikely Knapp will face any sort of discipline because, like her, the county administrator and six of the commissioners are in their positions precisely because they understand that what the developer sugar daddy wants, he gets.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner George Kruse addressed the matter after it was brought up during public comments, hoping the board would get an explanation. Chair Mike Rahn, also a developer stooge, stuttered through some sort of assurance that the board would get one at some unspecified time in the future, mumbling something about sharing concerns expressed in Knapp’s memo about ADU limitations on such massive lots. It would seem that there might be other developers who would like to build massive family compounds that do not conform with the land development code, and if you are fortunate enough to have a massive mansion on a huge lot, Knapp and Rahn think you should be entitled to more still.

In reality, there was a process in which Beruff could have achieved the outcome while conforming to the code. It would have required the expense of subdividing the lot and submitting development plans, paying impact fees, etc. In that case, two of the structures would not have been included in his homestead exemption for the property and would have been taxed at their value. Instead, he gets the massive compound pictured below, and everyone is supposed to pretend that it’s not three separate properties and that he merely received an exception to a problematic regulation.

Aerial view of private residential parcel. Parcel outlined in blue.
Aerial view of private residential parcel. Parcel outlined in blue.

Of course, none of this even addresses the fact that Beruff was also able to get the approval for the designation of a private street for the property without following the prescribed process. I doubt we will even hear about that element if and when Knapp gives the board its presentation.

This debacle played out in almost the exact same manner in which Deputy County Administrator Courtney De Pol authorized a nearly $5 million dollar discount on tree mitigation fees to an unnamed developer when she was in Knapp's position. Both seemed to have been reverse-engineered from the desired outcome to the word salad justification because someone told someone to get it done. Welcome to Manatee County, where everything is for sale—even the integrity of our top bureaucrats.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


4 comments on this item

Only paid subscribers can comment
Please log in to comment by clicking here.

  • David Daniels

    Although it won’t be in writing, there is no way Knapp goes out on a limb without the approval of Depol and Bishop. The butt-kissing tone of Knapp’s emailed responses to Beruff confirm she has no qualms about violating the clear, unambiguous language of the LDC. I’m far from an expert, but looking at the LDC’s section 311, Table 3-1 has a footnote #6 in the Code Interpretations row that refers to Part X Section 370 - which says “Code Interpretations” by a Director can be appealed to the BoCC by “any aggrieved person.” If “aggrieved” means pissed off, then all informed citizens qualify. If aggrieved means financially damaged, all taxpayers qualify because we are subsidizing Homestead exemptions for a multi-millionaire on lots #2 and #3 on this previously subdivided property. The whole thing stinks of greed by Beruff and corruption in our county government. Bishop is out-Hopes-ing Hopes. Beruff has made millions raping our environment, but has carved a large, rare piece of beautiful land for himself and wants to avoid paying his share of taxes to the government that has allowed him to destroy the rest of the County. Register now. Vote out KVO, Satcher and Turner this year

    Saturday, March 16 Report this

  • lmseybold

    This is a serious problem for citizens that on a much smaller scale can't get the same considerations I bought a home that already had a Adu that was attached to a pool area. I need a garage that was denied

    Saturday, March 16 Report this

  • misty

    When I worked in the private sector a developer told me he was angry that County Administrator Hunzeker paid an army of soldiers more money than they had ever earned (or could earn elsewhere) in return for following his lead. It feels like the same model has been applied with different players and different intentions today; but the irony is - there are SO MANY good jobs available that don’t require good people to compromise their integrity. I hope employees don’t feel trapped, because they are not.

    Sunday, March 17 Report this

  • Debann


    Sunday, March 17 Report this