Manatee County sued by River Club HOA
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Floridian homeowners in the community of Braden Woods are split on their willingness to tax themselves for the next 30 years, to purchase and preserve a 33-acre wooded parcel from Florida developer Pat Neal.
Manatee County Commissioners have delayed their vote on whether or not to approve establishment of a Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU). (See FL Statute 125.01 (1)(q))
Braden River Preserve, a homeowner group in favor of the MSTU, outlines its case for conservation on its Keep Woods website. The group made a deal with landowner-developer Pat Neal, to purchase the wooded parcel for $3 million.
Opponents of the MSTU say they don’t want to pay additional taxes to purchase and maintain a nature preserve. Some say it’s land they would never use, and others worry that an undeveloped passive park could attract vagrants.
Braden River Preserve decision delayed until last minute
BY HANNAH MORSE
March 06, 2018 07:35 PM
Updated March 07, 2018 09:58 AM
The fate of Braden River Preserve will be delayed to a last-minute decision.
After years of gathering support, months of poll collecting, weeks of outcry about a proposed municipal services taxing unit and hours of discussion and public comment Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners voted to continue the meeting to March 20, 11 days before a deal to buy 33 acres in East Manatee expires.
In a five-hour, often contentious meeting, Manatee County commissioners voted 5 to 2 for the continuance, with Chairwoman Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Commissioner Robin DiSabatino dissenting.
The overflowed commission chambers looked like a candy cane: opponents of the MSTU wore red, while supporters put on white shirts and a Braden River Preserve poster that dangled from their necks by a green ribbon. Nearly 50 people spoke, with 20 people in clear opposition.
Opponents generally felt as though the MSTU borders were drawn arbitrarily and thought that the 46.8 percent result from the polling process was clear. Others believed a passive park could become a “haven for teenagers” (as resident Renee Snyder put it) or a magnet for the homeless. Some just didn’t want the preserve, MSTU or not.
“There is no specific benefit I am getting for what I’m paying for,” said one resident. “This is not a fair tax by any means.”
The key message from supporters of the MSTU, as told by Friends of Keep Woods president Gary Hebert, said they wanted to protect the Braden River, keep the flood protection that the site gives and save natural habitat.
For more than two years, Braden Woods residents who lived near the proposed 33-acre, 32-home gated community to be named Myara were afraid that the development would destroy a pristine piece of woods — one of the reasons many of them came to the area. This idea transformed into a group called Friends of Keep Woods, who wanted to place a tax on themselves and their neighbors, 1,440 in all, to buy the land from developer Pat Neal.
The boundaries of the proposed MSTU would include River Club HOA. The association has recently sued Manatee County in an effort to prevent approval of the tax district.
According to River Club’s lawsuit, the Florida Legislature intended the MSTU to fund essential County services exclusive to subdivisions in unincorporated areas. The MSTU has never been used to create a passive park or nature preserve, a nonessential service that would potentially benefit the greater public within Manatee County.
River Club HOA also argues that Manatee County did not receive 50% of postcard votes in favor of establishing the special tax district, as required by law.
If the MSTU is not authorized, Neal intends to develop the parcel with 32 additional homes.
River Club sues to block special Manatee County tax district for nature preserve
By Dale White
Posted Mar 14, 2018 at 6:53 PM
Updated Mar 15, 2018 at 7:02 PM
MANATEE COUNTY — The River Club Homeowners Association filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block the Manatee County Commission from establishing a special tax district to finance the acquisition of land for the proposed Braden River Preserve.
The litigation states that creation of the proposed tax district is “unauthorized and unlawful, sets arbitrarily-drawn boundaries, and fails to follow Manatee County’s own established procedures.”
The County Commission recently postponed until next Tuesday its decision regarding the tax district.
Until then, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast — which has an option to buy the roughly 33 acres on the Braden River from developer Pat Neal and his business partner sons — hopes to raise $1 million toward the negotiated purchase price of $3 million. The foundation hopes to lower the amount that would be needed to be raised in taxes.
That option, which the foundation is willing to transfer to the county, expires March 31.
Proponents of the preserve insist the site is vital habitat for wildlife and do not want the Neals to build an approved gated subdivision there. Their movement, called Friends of Keep Woods, largely originated in the Braden Woods subdivision. They suggested the tax district as a means of financing the county’s purchase of the property.
Many households in River Club, however, contend their neighborhoods were included in the proposed district so they could carry most of the tax burden.
In the lawsuit, the homeowners association contends that “such a park would be used by, and be a benefit to, the entire county including residents in the municipal areas” and not just households in the special tax district.