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Entrepreneur prevails in court against Sarasota County

Written by on Friday, October 13, 2023

Todd Kleperis wants to feed the world using floating pods, but wealthy neighbors in Siesta Key don’t like their looks.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Oct. 13, 2023

Host: Sarasota entrepreneur Todd Kleperis wants to feed the world with an innovative system he developed. It involves a prototype floating off Siesta Key. But wealthy neighbors didn’t like its looks, and Sarasota County threatened to slap him with a half-a-grand-a-day fine. Kleperis had his day in court, and WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez tells us about the outcome.

Ramon Lopez: To be a vessel, or not to be a structure – that is the question that was recently addressed by a Sarasota Country special magistrate.

The vessel – or structure – in question is a six-foot-tall metal object that is bobbing in water just off a quiet residential neighborhood of Siesta Key. Inside, a crop of oyster mushrooms is growing with the help of desalinated water and solar power. The contraption is called an Opod, short for Ocean Pod.

For months now, the Opod prototype’s inventor, Todd Kleperis, fought with Sarasota County on whether or not his
innovative project is a “vessel” as he maintains, or an illegal agricultural “structure”, as the county claims. He provided proof of his registration and title from the State of Florida to county officials, showing the Opod is documented as a vessel. But
Sarasota County thinks otherwise.

Storm clouds were on the horizon for the local entrepreneur over the legal dispute. Kleperis faced stiff fines from the county, roadblocks to his research, and a hindrance to his fundraising.

A mid-June enforcement deadline passed for Kleperis. Sarasota County threatened to fine him up to $500 a day if his Opod stayed in the water.

His battle with bureaucracy seeking to shut down his development came to a head at a critical court hearing with county officials on Friday, Aug. 25. Sarasota County Special Magistrate Brian Kessler heard from Sarasota County Planning and Development Services officials. He also heard from two naval experts and got five evidentiary docs aimed at proving the entrepreneur’s point.

Kessler had up to 30 days to rule on the complaint from Kleperis. Last week, a ruling was rendered in his favor.

Kleperis says he did not know the case was dismissed until the day of the scheduled court hearing. He was out of town on business and had a representative appear at the courthouse.

“The county wasted our time and resources,” Kleperis said. “Another clear example of the county not caring about any small business or the effect they have on what happens with what they do. The county has cost us thousands and thousands of dollars in useless man hours to defend against something that didn’t even exist.”

The sustainable ocean-based growing system can produce food without fresh water, power or soil. His application calls on advanced technologies and corporate partnerships to increase the yield. Kleperis says the types of produce that can be grown in Opods is endless. And he says the amount of veggies produced is enormous.

Kleperis charged that Sarasota County was ‘playing hardball’ with him at the bequest of wealthy homeowners who live across the street from the shoreline he owns and where the Opod prototype floats. He says they don’t like what they see, and don’t want to know what his project is all about.

Kleperis says it’s full steam ahead for the project. He told WSLR News: “We will be continuing operations and moving forward with more vessels all throughout regions that support our efforts for coastal protection.”

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.