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Judge Rules in Favor of Developer

Written by on Friday, June 14, 2024

Grassroots opponents in Venice get ready for a Round Two.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: June 14, 2024

Host: The score is: Developer Pat Neal — 1, Grassroots Opponents — 0. A judge ruled yesterday in a case filed by neighbors against the city of Venice over a commercial development, as Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez:  In a much-awaited legal ruling, Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Danielle Brewer denied an appeal this week that challenged the rezoning of a planned shopping center in North Venice at the southwest corner of Laurel Road and Jacaranda Blvd.

Pat Neal

Opposition to the proposed shopping center was extensive and vocal. The plaintiff in the lawsuit was the North Venice Neighborhood Alliance. The Defendant was the City of Venice and Border & Jacaranda Holdings, a Pat Neal company. The lawsuit resulted from a 5-to-2 vote by the Venice City Council July last year. It changed the land-use designation of ten acres in the Neal-built community of Milano, from open-space and wetland to commercial for Pat Neal’s “Village at Laurel and Jacaranda.” The local community group asked Brewer in August to either cancel the city council’s decision or direct the local lawmakers to review their vote. The Venice Planning Commission had previously rejected the zoning change in a 4-to-3 vote.

Plans call for a 70,000 square foot shopping center anchored by a 47,000 square foot grocery, a 5,000 square foot restaurant, and other stores. Local residents claim they were promised by Neal that the existing six acres of wetland — visited by endangered birds and other wildlife — would never be bulldozed over for an intrusive commercial development. They also fear the noise, traffic congestion and pedestrian safety issues that often come with new shopping centers. Opponents say Neal used a ‘bait-and-switch’ scheme to sell houses. Neal says he is well within his legal rights to move ahead with his plans.

To win the lawsuit, the plaintiffs had to convince Brewer that the city did not afford ‘procedural due process’ to them. Brewer had to determine that the City of Venice observed “the essential requirements of the law.” And the judge also had to establish that the Venice City Council’s vote was supported by “competent, substantial evidence.”

Brewer ruled that procedural due process was “satisfied by the city” on the legal requirements question, she basically said “a municipality may approve a rezoning application whilst observing all essential requirements of the law.” She rejected the argument that the rezoning should have been processed under a new version of the land development code. And Brewer said the petitioners have no say as to whether the open space can be developed. She said the planning commission’s denial of the rezoning didn’t matter since the board is advisory only. Finally, Brewer ruled that the Venice town leaders cast their votes correctly. She said: “this court finds that the record contains competent substantial evidence to support the City’s decision.”

WSLR News reached out to Venice City Council members for comment on Brewer’s order. City of Venice Public Information Officer Lorraine Anderson said the local leaders would have to consult with the town’s lawyer before issuing a statement, probably next week. Pat Neal said in an emailed statement: “Competent and substantial evidence always prevails. I believe that Judge Brewer wrote a great opinion.” Ken Baron, a board member of the North Venice Neighborhood Alliance, is disappointed in Brewer’s rejection of their petition. But he told WSLR News that the land-use battle isn’t over yet.

Ken Baron: Obviously, we are very disappointed by Judge Brewer’s decision. However, we as a group can say we are not surprised by it. Now, what we are going to do going forward: the Board of Directors of the North Venice Neighborhood Alliance will be meeting next week, and we will be gathering input from our supporters as to what the way forward with this is going to be. And the way forward with this … There are two different scenarios. Number one, we can file an appeal against Judge Brewer’s decision. The other avenue we can take is to continue to fight the shopping center via the upcoming site plan hearings. 

RL: Baron also said the legal decision “highlights the importance of our ongoing efforts to elect city council candidates who are not beholden to developers.”

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.