Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Residents sue Sarasota County over Whole Foods Fiasco

If you wish to support the lawsuit, the plaintiff organization's mailing address is:

P.O. Box 1728
Nokomis, FL 34274

Some added context can be found below the articles.


Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016 5:10 am

SARASOTA, Fla. -- At the corner of University Parkway and Honore Avenue sits 4 acres of previously protected wetlands. It's a last remaining piece of nature in the middle of urban sprawl, says environmentalist Andy Mele. 
"It feels like you're stepping into a medieval French cathedral," said Mele of the property, "with shafts of light coming down on water." 

The small piece of land is the site of a large controversy. Now there's lawsuit against Sarasota County.
"We've been watching them for awhile," said Mele of the County Commission, "and this is the place where we decided to draw the line."
In January, the county heard from those against construction as well as a few in favor. 
"I go to Whole Foods at least twice a week," said one local resident, "but I have to go all the way across town." 
Commissioners also heard from county staff who called the wetlands "relatively rare" with a "high degree of environmental importance." 
Ultimately the county voted to allow developer S.J. Collins to build a Whole Foods shopping center and Wawa convenient store, a decision environmentalists say goes against the county's comprehensive plan. 
In exchange, Collins agreed to purchase wetlands to be preserved in Manatee County's Rye Preserve, but Glenn Compton of Manasota 88 says that addition doesn't offset what's happening in Sarasota County.
"The fact is the wetlands that are being set aside would probably never be developed anyhow," said Compton, "so there's really nothing being gained." 
Plus, Compton says this could affect much more than just these four acres, potentially setting a precedent for other construction in the county. 
"We think we have a very good chance of winning this case," said Compton, "and hopefully not allowing for the precedents to continue moving forward."

Herald Tribune:


Lawsuit may delay Whole Foods development plan

Plaintiffs say the county erred when approving the destruction of a wetland preserve for the shopping center's development.

Whole Foods was planning to open a new store at University Parkway near Interstate 75 as early as summer 2017.
Published: Monday, February 29, 2016 at 4:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 29, 2016 at 4:09 p.m.
A new Whole Foods commercial center in north Sarasota County faces a likely yearlong delay, if not a complete derailment, after a lawsuit filed Friday by a group of environmental activists challenged the county's decision to let it develop over a wetland preserve.
Led by ManaSota-88, the group alleges county commissioners violated Sarasota County's growth management plan when, on Jan. 26, they removed longstanding stipulations protecting a forested wetland deemed by county staff as “rare and unique and important.”
The measure had passed 4-1 after about an hour of public comment. Commissioner Charles Hines cast the dissenting vote.
The environmentalists want the court to review the commissioners' decision by holding a “de novo trial,” which will allow both sides to present their cases and a judge to determine whether the original decision violated the long-range growth plan. If so, they want the court to invalidate the county's decision.
The complaint was filed in Sarasota County Circuit Court.
It could take at least a year for a judge to hear the case, said the environmentalists' attorney, Ralf Brookes. In the meantime, he doubts the project will proceed. That's because a judge can order the complete demolition of a development found to be inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, as upheld in a previous comprehensive plan consistency case, Pinecrest Lakes Inc. v. Shidel.
Because of that, Brookes said, “most developers don't proceed until a case is over. And we don't believe the county will issue permits while it's pending.”
County spokesman Jason Bartolone declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Whole Foods spokeswoman Briana Madrid didn't respond to messages seeking comment, nor did Jeff Garrison of Atlanta-based SJ Collins Enterprises, which partners with the national grocery chain on development projects.
The 4.5-acre wetland sits at the northwest corner of the total property eyed for development, at the intersection of Honore Avenue and University Parkway. Included in the proposed development are a Whole Foods Market and a Wawa convenience store/gas station.
A spokesman for the project told commissioners in January that there is no other suitable site – it's at Honore and University or bust – and that the destroyed wetland would be offset by the purchase of 41 acres of environmentally sensitive land for protection nearby in Manatee County.
But the proposed mitigation site doesn't contain the same type of wetlands nor does it offer the same habitat for wildlife and birds as does the site targeted for development, said Glenn Compton of ManaSota-88, who called it “irreplaceable.”
Compton and others in the lawsuit noted that the county twice designated the wetland in question as a preserve area and had previously denied a prior owner's rezoning petition to develop the site and protect wetlands elsewhere.
They also cited the county's own growth management plan, which says “wetlands shall be preserved except in cases where they are no longer capable of performing defined environmental functions and values, or where no other reasonable alternative exists.”
The comprehensive plan guides the community's growth and sets criteria for commercial and residential development, transportation, parks and environmental protection. Amendments generally involve the county attorney's office, Bartolone said, without speaking specifically about the lawsuit.
“The comprehensive plan said they're supposed to preserve that land, and they ignored it,” said Gerry Swormstedt, one of the plaintiffs.
She and other plaintiffs worry the county will continue chipping away at environmentally sensitive land in favor of developers. They said it's time to stop.
“This is a very small lawsuit,” said plaintiff Andy Mele. “But it's part of a larger battle over the heart and soul of America.”

More context (courtesy of Bill Z.)

ManaSota-88 was founded in Manatee County by John and Gloria Rains back in the 70's to fight the phosphate industry in its attempts to gain mining permits in Manatee County. Becker Phosphate was the target company. Since that time, ManaSota-88 has continued on as a major environmental organization that has fought ferociously against some of the largest environmental threats over the years...often successfully. John and Gloria are now gone, but Glenn Compton leads it now...Glenn is a local science teacher who has put his heart and soul and his great intelligence into continuing the work that the Rains started so long ago.
If you wish to support the lawsuit, the organization's mailing address is:

P.O. Box 1728
Nokomis, FL 34274

The Pinecrest v Shidel case is what we usually refer to as the Martin County Case. I think it was around 2000, that a developer received approval for land use changes that would permit him to build a rental apartment complex. This approval was challenged in the public hearings as not being in compliance with the Martin County Comp Plan, but the Martin County Commission approved it anyway. A woman who lived adjacent to the property decided to challenge the approval in court. The developer scoffed at her case, inasmuch as he relied on the BCC approval, and he proceeded to build the $3,000,000 complex, and to rent the units. The woman won at the local circuit court level, and the developer was ordered to demolish the complex. He appealed, of course, scoffing once again, but perhaps with not quite so much confidence. The appeals court upheld the original circuit court decision, but the developer apparently could not believe that this demolition could come to pass...so he appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, and thus the lower court ruling stood. The tenants all had to move out of the apartment complex, and it was actually razed to the ground! All because one woman stood her ground and asserted the protection of the Comp Plan. It took about 3 years, but there is no apartment complex on that site!

This is the reason this suit is so important. If, indeed, we are correct that the BCC approval to destroy the wetlands is not in compliance with the Comp Plan, then the courts will support that contention, and the wetlands can be saved. As Ralf Brookes said, in light of the Martin County Case, a developer would be taking a huge risk to proceed with construction in light of this serious legal challenge. In the long run, this is about much more than this one wetlands...it is about stopping these sorts of unlawful decisions.

So, if you want to support this effort to prevent our BCC from making these "So sue me" decisions, you can send a donation in any amount to ManaSota-88 at the address above. The only way to stop these decisions is by shutting them down through the legal process... by accepting their "so sue me" challenge!

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