Host: Pat Neal asked, the City of Venice complied at a council meeting yesterday. In what looks like an end-run before a judge rules on the developer’s plans to build a shopping plaza in suburban Venice, the city granted Neal what’s called a “re-plat” for the land in question. WSLR News reporter Ramon Lopez is following the conflict that pits the big developer against homeowners in a neighborhood Neal’s company had built.
Ramon Lopez: Wealthy local real estate developer Pat Neal won another minor victory in his plan to rezone open space and wetland at the intersection of Jacaranda Boulevard and Laurel Road in Venice for a grocery store-anchored shopping center.
The battle began in July. Opponents to the commercial development lost a fight with the Venice City Council. The VCC gave the green light to Pat Neal’s Village at Laurel and Jacaranda. This, despite the fact, that the Venice Planning Commission had previously rejected the zoning change.
The land in dispute is in the Cielo subdivision of the 500-acre Milano development. Plans call for a 70,000 square foot shopping center on the 10.4 acres, including 6.6 acres of existing wetland. Local residents claim they were promised by Neal that the existing wetland would never be bulldozed over for an intrusive shopping center. They say Neal used a “bait and switch” scheme to sell houses.
Neal said he is within his legal rights to move ahead with his plans. The project’s opponents appealed the VCC’s rezoning decision in early August to the 12th Judicial Circuit, seeking review of the V-C-C’s approval. They asked the court to either cancel the city council’s decision or direct the VCC to review their decision. The appeal process may take up to one year.
Neal came up with another approach to move his commercial real estate project forward, pending the court’s decision. In September, Neal sought what’s known as a final plat designation from the Venice Planning Commission that would allow him to move ahead with his plans. But the VPC only granted a preliminary plat amendment and passed the matter on to the VCC.
The council members on Tuesday, with little discussion, voted 7-0 to accept the preliminary plat amendment. But they noted that approval of the preliminary plat amendment and a final plat is contingent on the circuit court’s critical ruling.
Project opponents led by Ken Baron asked the VCC to bring in an independent authority to decide whether Neal actually holds title to the land. That request fell on deaf ears.
Ken Baron: I suggested that the city council obtain an independent opinion from a board-certified land-use attorney because the city is relying on the applicant’s land-use attorney. … That issue has not gone away, and the North Venice Neighborhood Alliance is looking at different options to get another opinion ourselves. And we’ll see, we’ll see where that goes. The pendulum could swing the other way. … So we have to look at every possibility here, and we have to look at every issue.
RL: Pat Neal said he was not surprised by the VCC’s vote.
Pat Neal: I think today’s action was a technicality to clean up the title so we could move forward. The real issue as to the public will be decided by the court, I’m guessing about a year from now. All we’re trying to do is clean up matters, make sure we can move on …, satisfy their concerns, and assure that. I’ll say the title is tidied up so that we can go forward. This was expected. They followed their lawyer’s advice. There was a unanimous vote. I heard some comment, and I’m trying to resolve those comments. But otherwise, we’ll go forward with the .. completion. Sometime, years from now, we’ll understand whether there’s purpose or not.
RL: After the vote was taken, Pat Neal quickly left city hall. He was chased down by a few angry Venice homeowners who confronted him. I asked Pat Neal how it felt to be called a liar to his face.
PN: You know, I was public official a long time, and people are inclined to say crazy stuff when they’re unhappy.
This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.
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