What Can We Do for You Today, Mr. Neal?

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
At Thursday’s land use meeting, Pat Neal and company came before the board to ask for a comp plan amendment near the FDAB boundary in Lakewood Ranch. After a bunch of silly theater intended to present themselves as concerned stewards of the public trust, commissioners essentially asked the developer exactly what he would accept (spoiler alert: it was everything he wanted) and gave it to him.

The procedure involved a somewhat complicated three-step process (items 8, 9, & 10 in the agenda) in which a slice of property was carved out of the northeast quadrant so that it could be rezoned from RES-1 (Residential-1 dwelling unit/acre) to the UF-3 (Urban Fringe – 3 dwelling units/acre) Future Land Use Category so that the developer could cram 200 plus more units on a development site already approved for more than 900 units.

The only commissioner who raised an issue with the applicant was George Kruse, who seems to do his very best sustainable growth advocacy whenever land use attorney Ed Vogler is across from him for some reason. Commissioner Misty Servia was absent from the meeting.

"We're getting too close to the FDAB line and not putting the emphasis where it should be, which I believe is redevelopment and more toward the urban core."

Kruse went on about how he’s all for increased density, noting his support for using additional height downtown, including the soon-to-be-former site of the central library. He also asked how the board, which forever talks about supporting redevelopment in the urban core, is ever going to accomplish that if they just keep allowing developers to put as many houses as they want on virgin ground in east county, regardless of what the comp plan says. Kruse also reminded commissioners that there is a means within the comp plan to award density credits when 25 percent of the units are "affordable."

I must say that I would have loved to see this same ethos in play when an applicant recently asked for not a couple hundred additional units but 6,000, and not close to the FDAB line but beyond it. However, Kruse, along with five other commissioners, happily rubber-stamped that trainwreck with only Servia dissenting.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, who like Whitmore is up for reelection this fall and has been getting the generous support of east county landowners and the development community in his reelection campaign, asked if the developers were aware of the workforce housing crisis and had any plans to abate it (yes, this literally happened).

Allow me to answer. Yes, Commissioner Bellamy, but they’re not the ones charged with being stewards of the public good. You are. They are in the business of making money and there’s a lot more moolah in overdeveloping our pristine rural hamlets with expensive houses that will command whatever the market will bear than in building affordable units where we need them most. That’s where you all are supposed to come in. The checks they stroke you are to make sure you don’t, and I’m sure that they’re happy to see that it’s working, my friend.

Commissioner James Satcher entertained motioning for a continuance but quickly demurred. Commissioner Whitmore, who seemed willing to bend over backward to get the application approved, then seemed to sense that there might not be enough support to get four votes and debated whether the board should wait for Servia to be present before making a decision.

At one point, Whitmore asked Mr. Neal if he would please come to the podium and tell them all what he thought of how things were going (this, too, literally happened). 

Neal told them they should approve his application, that people desire to move here and his company desires to build them all houses.

Vogler then pulled out the old you’re only voting for a transmittal today, it still comes back to the board, let’s let the state weigh in line, and, just like that, the commissioners, sans Kruse, all fell right into line and voted 5-1 in favor of transmittal because, hey, it’s Manatee County and that’s how we do business here. 

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.

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Reader Comments
Nikki Velazquez
MAY 21, 2022  •  I'm very disappointed in Reggie. I thought he was better than this. It feels like this is all a done deal because residents will keep voting for these people without bothering to inform themselves, or they won't bother to vote at all.
Russell Owens
MAY 20, 2022  •  It seems that the commissioners believe only in government of the developer by the developer and for the developer. I thought Bellamy would be a rock for the people, but has become an agent for neal. His vote for building on the shores of our water supply means that he has abandoned democracy and the Democratic Party. A big part of their job is to protect our water sources. Building on the shores of Lake Manatee is totally irresponsible. As more development is allowed it will become more difficult to clean the water. Eventually Lake Manatee will become Lake Sludge. We've seen this on our beaches from sewage leaks and homeowner lawns. We're waiting for the time bomb on the Peace River where the Commission turned tail and ran when they were threatened by a suit! Oh! Well the Planet is dying anyway so why give a damn.
Russell Owens
MAY 20, 2022  •  It seems that the commissioners believe only in government of the developer by the developer and for the developer. I thought Bellamy would be a rock for the people, but has become an agent for neal. His vote for building on the shores of our water supply means that he has abandoned democracy and the Democratic Party. A big part of their job is to protect our water sources. Building on the shores of Lake Manatee is totally irresponsible. As more development is allowed it will become more difficult to clean the water. Eventually Lake Manatee will become Lake Sludge. We've seen this on our beaches from sewage leaks and homeowner lawns. We're waiting for the time bomb on the Peace River where the Commission turned tail and ran when they were threatened by a suit! Oh! Well the Planet is dying anyway so why give a damn.
Rachel
MAY 20, 2022  •  I’m currently looking at places out of state to relocate after my husband (school teacher with the SDMC for 27 years) recently passed away. I can’t begin to afford to live here on my own. I hope these developers also have ideas on who will wait, serve, teach, protect, and assist those able to afford moving here. Guaranteed, blue collar workers are not in that mix.
Paul D. Smith
MAY 20, 2022  •  Just like Washington, the best government that money can buy. Affordable housing comes on the heels of recession/ depression when the financial institutions repossess and nobody has a job or money to buy.
Cat Lubin
MAY 20, 2022  •   Growing up here, and loving what is natural and wild, is painful. I don't care that everyone wants to move here, if it happens at the expense of the all the things that make Florida, Florida. While the actual locals are struggling, the selfish line their pockets and take up all the space. While the ecology is collapsing, they tear more of it down. This place is unique in the world, and it should have been treated better.


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