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.
It also argues that “the boundary line” for the tax district “follows an arbitrary and irrational path that tracks very close to the proposed preserve in some areas and reaches far to capture properties in other areas three miles away. Still other properties less than a mile away that would logically be included in the (district) footprint, are inexplicably omitted.”
The association notes that, in October, the county established the rules for a postcard poll, asking 1,440 households whether they wanted to be in the tax district. At least 50 percent needed to respond affirmatively for the commission to consider setting a public hearing to consider enacting the district. Of the households in the poll, 48.6 percent agreed to be taxed — most likely at a rate of 53 cents for every $1,000 in taxable value.
The lawsuit states that the County Commission “rejected its own process” and conducted a public hearing on March 6, which it continued until next Tuesday.
The foundation recently acquired land to the west from the estate of the late outdoorsman Carl Bergstresser. It is willing to transfer ownership of the Bergstresser tract to the county as well. With the combined properties, the proposed Braden River Preserve could span 44.6 acres.