Judge sets August date for case filed to stop Whole Foods development on University Parkway wetlands

Judge Rochelle Curley signs order expediting the non-jury trial, as the defendants sought

A graphic shows the wetlands on University Parkway. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows the wetlands on University Parkway. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On March 23, 12th Circuit Judge Rochelle Curley set a date of Aug. 22 for a two-day, non-jury trial to hear a complaint a nonprofit environmental group filed against Sarasota County last month to stop the destruction of wetlands on University Parkway to allow a new Whole Foods store and a Wawa to be built.

Curley ruled during a hearing on March 23 and issued her order that afternoon, court records show.

On March 8, Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy reported to the County Commission that the owners of the 8.24-acre site the board approved in January for the Whole Foods project wanted to expedite the case. Normally, he said, a year is “a relatively short time for something to go to trial ….”

In a complaint filed on Feb. 25, attorney Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral — representing ManaSota 88 and three individuals — argued that the County Commission violated the guidelines of the county’s Comprehensive Plan in agreeing to rezone the University Parkway property because documentation by county staff showed the forested wetlands is still functioning. The 12th Circuit Court held up a County Commission denial of a project on the same site in 1999 because of wording in the Comprehensive Plan that made it clear the wetlands should be protected, staff explained to the board on Jan. 26. However, a subsequent change in the wording of the section of the Comprehensive Plan applicable to the situation allowed the commission to determine that no reasonable alternative existed to disrupting the wetland, the owners of the property and a lessee of one parcel argued in a March 8 answer to the complaint. Curley had granted them permission to intervene as defendants in the case.

BW University Honore LLC, JDL Development LLC, JDL Development II LLC and University-Honore LLC are the Intervenors. The registered agent for University-Honore is Paracorp Inc. of Tallahassee, whose manager is Stephen J. Collins of Fairburn, GA. He is the principal of S.J. Collins Enterprises, the firm Whole Foods has hired for the project, according to Florida Division of Corporations records.

An engineering drawing shows the Whole Foods/Wawa site plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County
An engineering drawing shows the Whole Foods/Wawa site plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Jeff Garrison of S.J. Collins was a member of the project team that appeared before the Planning Commission and County Commission to explain that Whole Foods could find no other suitable site in the county for its second store. To mitigate the destruction of the wetlands, Whole Foods made arrangements to purchase and turn over to Manatee County about 41 acres surrounded by conservation lands in the same watershed.

Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy. File photo
Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy. File photo

The county filed its answer to the complaint on March 11. That document does admit that the commission’s denial of a 1997 rezoning petition sought for the site was upheld in court. However, the answer says, “The Comprehensive Plan speaks for itself” in regard to the complaint’s assertion that under the Environmental Element of the Comprehensive Plan, “the protection of wetlands is preferred to destruction and mitigation due to the temporal loss of ecological value and uncertainty regarding the ability to recreate certain functions associated with wetlands.”

Further, in a manner similar to the Intervenors’ answer, the county answer says, “Plaintiffs are not aggrieved or adversely affected parties and therefore lack standing to bring this action.”

The day prior to Curley’s ruling for the expedited trial, Scott A. McLaren and Shane Costello of Hill, Ward & Henderson in Tampa and Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams, Parker law firm in Sarasota — attorneys for the Intervenors — filed notice that they would depose one or more corporate representatives of ManaSota 88 on April 14 at the Office of the County Attorney on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota.

Bailey was part of the Whole Foods project team that appeared before the Sarasota County Planning Commission and the County Commission in petitioning for the rezoning of the University Parkway site.

According to the ManaSota 88 website, Glenn Compton is the chair of the Nokomis-based organization. He is a science teacher at Venice High School.

In its 2014 filing of the required 990 form with the IRS, ManaSota 88 lists Barbara Hines as the vice chair, Betsy Roberts as the secretary and Mary Jelks as a director. Jelks is known as “Myakka Mary” because of the time and money she has dedicated to Myakka River State Park, a YouTube oral history video points out. She founded the Friends of the Myakka in 1993, the video documentation adds.

In its March newsletter, the nonprofit notes, “The efforts of ManaSota 88 and other of our conservation friends to protect the environment for present and future generations have not changed. The majority of American people support protection of our clean air and water resources and are willing to pay for this protection.