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Who is Driving Comp Plan and LDC Changes?


BRADENTON — The newly seated Manatee County Commission has been vocal about its intent to overhaul and "completely rewrite" the county’s comprehensive plan and land development code. Multiple commissioners have stated publicly in recent weeks that those efforts are already underway. However, documents reviewed by TBT raise questions about the process and those who may be working with the county to initiate the changes before the public has access to participate.  

Documents reviewed by TBT are providing insights into the potential changes the county may initiate to its Comp Plan and Land Development Code (LDC). The LDC White Paper—which is a Microsoft Word document—is something of a template filled with suggested changes to the county’s LDC. According to county public record emails, the LDC White Paper was provided to the county by the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association (BIA). 

The county’s comprehensive plan is the long-term planning document defining the future vision of the community and establishing the associated goals, objectives, and policies that should guide decision-making toward achieving that vision. A comp plan touches on almost every facet of a community’s quality of life, addressing land use and transportation, the environment and resources, parks and public services, and even historical preservation.  

The comp plan lays the foundation for the county’s land development code. The LDC establishes regulations, procedures, and standards for the review and approval of future development and the use of land toward implementing the community’s vision for its future as outlined by the comp plan. 

State law requires a review of local comp plans once every seven years, though local governments are permitted to amend comp plans. Comp plan amendments must follow public hearing requirements and receive state approval. A county’s LDC contains the regulations to be implemented consistent with the comprehensive plan. Often, changes to the comp plan will require changes to the LDC. 

In January 2023, an email sent to development services employees of the county’s planning division included the LDC White Paper as an attachment. The subject line of the email read, "PDF of LDC Changes from BIA."

Another email reviewed by TBT sent later in January also referenced the proposed LDC changes contained in the White Paper. The subject line of that email read, "Meeting to go over staff comments to BIA change request to LDC."

The BIA is a reference to the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association. According to its website, "The Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association is a membership-driven networking and advocacy group focused on the needs of the building and development industry and related business in Manatee and Sarasota Counties."

The local BIA has some direct relationships with current county commissioners. District 4 Commissioner Mike Rahn, who was elected in 2022, is the former president of the Manatee-Sarasota BIA. Rahn, who is also a former county planning commissioner, is listed on the BIA’s website as a "Life Director." 

David Ballard is a staff member of the local BIA and currently serves as the organization’s Government Affairs and Membership Director. Mr. Ballard is married to District 2 Commissioner Amanda Ballard, who, like Rahn, was also elected to her seat in 2022. 

Don Baugh, the husband of District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, serves on the board of directors of the Manatee-Sarasota. BIA. 


The LDC White Paper 

As a Microsoft Word document, the LDC White Paper contains historical information about its creation and edits. Utilizing Word’s file info feature, TBT was able to confirm that the document’s original author was local land use and real estate attorney Scott Rudacille. 

Rudacille is an attorney with Bradenton law firm Blalock Walters, a firm with 27 attorneys listed on its website, including Rep. Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) and Mark Barnebey—husband of Bradenton City Council member Marianne Barnebey. Through the firm, Rudacille also represents the City of Bradenton as its attorney. Over the years, Rudacille has frequently appeared before the Manatee County Planning Commission and the Manatee County Commission, as the land use attorney representing Medallion Home and/or local developer Carlos Beruff. 

The White Paper created by Rudacille is a 30-page document composed of edits to select sections of the county’s land development code. (To view Manatee County’s Land and Development Code on the municode website, click here) The White Paper begins with a page from the county's LDC Chapter 3: Review Authority and Procedures, Part IV: Site Plan Review, Section: 320.2 Applicability. It includes selected pages from several other LDC chapters, including pages from Chapter 4: Zoning, Chapter 7: Environmental and Cultural Resource Protection, and Chapter 10: Transportation Management. 

When the Word document is opened and "enable editing" is turned on, the Word document allows the viewer to review all edits performed within the LDC White Paper. TBT was able to view the author who made edits to the selected pages of the county's LDC pasted into the document and the dates and times of those edits. In total, Rudacille made 40 revisions to portions of the county's LDC within the White Paper, including 27 deletions of text and 13 additions. Rudacille worked on the White Paper throughout much of November 2022. 

To view a PDF of images captured of the Word document showing the revision history of the LDC White Paper when in "enable editing" mode, click here. To view the white paper in its entirety, click here

TBT reached out to Rudacille via email for comment and was told that he does not speak to the press about any of his client matters unless the client has specifically authorized him to do so. He said that if we provided some additional detail, he would be happy to inquire. TBT clarified that we wanted to know whether he had been engaged by the BIA or another interest for his work on the LDC White Paper. Rudacille did not respond. 


County Work Product

In addition to the LDC White Paper, TBT also reviewed redlined draft documents created by county staff that proposed various future changes to the land development code and the comp plan. The drafts are still in process and not yet publicly available, but the county's future hearings list appeared to show that some of the changes TBT was able to view on the drafts are tentatively scheduled to come before the Manatee Planning Commission and county commissioners next month in April. 

Because the drafts of proposed changes are still in process, it is possible some of what TBT was able to note may see additional changes and revisions before April. Click here to view the county's draft of proposed changes to the LDC as obtained by TBT, and click here to view the draft of proposed changes to the comp plan. 

Included within the county's redlined draft of proposed comp plan changes were several deletions to the comp plan’s existing text relating to wetland mitigation, including wetland buffers. Wetland buffers are those areas that surround a wetland and reduce adverse impacts on the wetland from adjacent development.

Waterkeeper and Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeepers, Dr. Abbey Tyrna, was also able to review the county's drafted changes to the LDC and comp plan. Dr. Tyrna was concerned by the proposed redlined changes she saw to the comp plan. 

In an email, Dr. Tyrna wrote that the proposed deletion as currently included in the county’s work product of Section 706.7—regulations that require at least a 50-foot buffer around state-protected wetlands—are based on, "A robust body of scientific research that shows buffer zones around aquatic systems are essential to the system's functions. Therefore, the larger the buffers, the more support for the wetland's ability to filter water, replenish groundwater and alleviate flood risk."

Although the draft work products that TBT and Dr. Tyrna reviewed could still see additional revisions before a formal hearing is noticed on the items, the Suncoast Waterkeepers are not waiting until the finalized versions of the text amendments are published to take action. 

Based on the county’s upcoming hearing list, on April 13, a Comprehensive Plan text amendment - "Wetland Protection" Ordinance 23-66, and a Land Development Code text amendment- "Wetland Protection" Ordinance 23-67, are scheduled to go before the county’s planning commission. 

The county’s tentative hearing list shows that both ordinances are then scheduled to be before commissioners, just a week later, on April 20. The Comp Plan text amendment will be voted on by commissioners for its transmittal to the state, while the Land Development Code text amendment will be heard in its first of two required advertised hearings. 

Given that the first time these ordinances may be scheduled for a Planning Commission meeting is April 13, there may be little time between when the agenda for the meeting is published and when it heads to a county commission meeting, for the public to review the items and their supporting documents. Rather than wait until April, Suncoast Waterkeeper has already begun its effort to inform the public of the possible changes. 

"We're taking action to ensure that another threat to our quality of life, local economy, and waterways doesn't become a reality," begins a petition titled Save Our Wetlands which was published on Suncoast Waterkeeper's website on Friday. 

The petition points out the current threat of red tide along the Suncoast. "Why would the Manatee County Commission want to push changes that would destroy wetlands in the face of red tide? The answer is simple: they want more developable land to put corporate profits before our quality of life, our local economy, and water quality," the petition asserted. 


Wetland Buffers 

State statutes require that each county and city develop and adopt its own Comp Plan and Land Development Code. The state also keeps a comp plan and regulations it imposes on future land development. The state’s regulations are a bare minimum requirement that all counties and cities must—at a minimum—implement through their comp plans and codes. 

However, the statutes allow for each county and municipality to expand upon and/or create additional regulations or restrictions. This is because each region in the state has differing environmental considerations. For example, Manatee County, a coastal county with multiple watersheds, may require more stringent regulations to protect wetlands than an interior county. Based on the redlined drafts of proposed future changes to the county’s LDC and comp plan, it appears as though the county may bring forward changes that largely scale back its personalized regulations and codes deferring to the state's bare minimums as its new regulations and requirements. 

On the state level, wetland buffers carry a 15 ft requirement near wetlands with a 25 ft average, whereas currently, the county's own regulations impose a 30 ft buffer requirement with up to 50 ft in certain development in proximity to vulnerable wetlands and watersheds.

In 2015, Carlos Beruff and associate Larry Lieberman—developers of the then-proposed Long Bar Pointe Development, now known as Aqua by the Bay—brought a lawsuit against Manatee County arguing that portions of its Comp Plan relating to wetland mitigation were unconstitutional. In 2016, 12th Judicial Circuit Judge John Lakin issued a ruling in the county's favor and awarded the county recovery of its legal expenses.

In 2015, Beruff’s Mandarin Development Inc. filed suit again in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. The 2015 suit revolved around the county’s comprehensive plan and its requirement that Mandarin provide wetland buffers and conservation easements over wetlands.

In 2018, The Bradenton Herald reported that the county settled with Beruff after the judge overseeing the case issued a "split decision" ruling in favor of the county’s comprehensive plan policy and implementing provisions of the land development code, but ruling against the county in respect to a takings claim against the Mandarin property.

While the redlined drafts of the possible changes to the LDC and comp plan we were able to review were mostly focused on scaling back or completely deleting regulations that expand upon the minimum requirements and regulations imposed by the state, the LDC White Paper included other proposed changes the county may initiate relating to planned development site plans. These included the deletion of residential greenbelt requirements, and the complete strikethrough of LDC section 701.6: Residential Street Trees, which regulates the planting of canopy shade trees in residential planned developments. 

Although TBT did not receive county redlined draft product relating to these proposed changes as outlined in the White Paper, the county’s upcoming hearing list appears to show at least some related text amendments may be coming forward between April and June of this year. 

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


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