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Venice developer wants to build strip mall in natural preserve

Written by on Friday, June 30, 2023

Developer Pat Neal wants to build a strip mall on a piece of land that was supposed to be a natural preserve, next to a subdivision he himself built.

By Ramon Lopez.

Original Air Date: June 16, 2023

 

Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: Homeowners in the city of Venice who bought from Pat Neal are up in arms. The big developer now wants to build a strip mall anchored by a grocery store on a piece of land that was supposed to be a natural preserve, next to a subdivision he himself built. The neighbors consider Neal’s deal a bait and switch. WSLR Reporter Ramon Lopez has this report.

Host: The fate of developer Pat Neal’s plan for construction of a 70,000 square foot shopping center, expected to be anchored by Publix on 10.4 acres on the southwest corner of Jacaranda Boulevard and Laurel Road became clearer on Friday, June 16, when the Venice City Council voted 5-1 to designate the parcel, which includes 6.6 acres of wetland, commercial versus open space. But Neal has further hurdles to jump over before concrete is poured for the villages of Laurel and Jacaranda, which will have a 47,000 square foot grocery store and another 18,000 square feet of stores, as well as a 5,000 square foot restaurant.

The land use change vote was needed by Borders and Jacaranda Holdings, of which developer Pat Neal is a principal. The land in dispute is in the CLO subdivision and the 500 acre Molano Development, straddling Jacaranda Boulevard. The Venice City Council’s majority vote is the latest skirmish in the battle between Neal and affected area residents, who claim they were promised that the existing wetlands visited by endangered birds and other wildlife would never be removed. Neal said he was within his legal rights to build the shopping center on wetlands that no longer serve a purpose. His traffic engineer consultant said a shopping center northeast of I75 would reduce, not increase, local traffic.

The opponents said Neal reps utilized a “bait and switch” scheme to sell houses to them. They further contend that the shopping center will produce a traffic nightmare and safety issues. In March, after its own protracted hearing, the Venice Planning Commission recommended against the developers requested plan change on a tight 4-3 vote. The latest hearing, called a “first reading,” will now be followed by a second reading scheduled for July 10, giving the VCC members time to change their minds on the matter or not. If they do, Neal could go to court.

The opponents to the project could then further attempt to block the “isolated strip commercial center” at subsequent public hearings on the project’s site plan and traffic study. Failing this, they have the option to appeal the land use matter to Circuit Court. The opponents to the commercial buildings include four affected property owners, the North Venice Neighborhood Alliance and the Venetian Golf and River Club, a property owners association.

Ken Baron with the North Venice Neighborhood Alliance pretty much sums up what’s the issue: he said all of Neal’s marketing material said the wetlands will always remain, no commercial developments. He said this was part of Neal’s “smoke and mirrors” campaign.

Pat Neal was elated after the Venice City Council majority vote in his favor.

Pat Neal: Every member of council made reference to competent and substantial evidence. Facts were based on the testimony given by the applicant. I believe one of the council members said, “It was based on emotion I would have voted against it, but because e listened to the experts and we’re required by law to vote on the basis of facts, I had to vote yes.” That seemed to be the unanimous statement of the members of the council, and I believe it’s accurate. So we’ll follow this up in the second reading, and we’ll do any further action, but the answers will remain the same.

Host: And he’s not worried about lawsuits down the line.

PN: The result will be the same, because the court will evaluate the same facts and the deliberations. They took 34 hours to discern the facts, they did a marvelous job sorting out all the evidence and they made a clear decision.

Host: Ken Baron says the fight’s not over yet.

Ken Baron: I’m not surprised by this outcome, because I’ve been watching the body language of some of the council members throughout this whole process. And I think I knew the results of this based on just that alone. To answer your question, I am not surprised at all, and as far as if this fight is over, I do not think so. We as a group, we’ll need to get together, talk about some strategy going forward. And then we will [unintelligble]. But to answer your question, no, it’s not over.

Host: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

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