Article Courtesy of The
By Hannah Morse
Published March 1, 2018
Manatee — The attorney for the River Club Homeowners Association said he’s
prepared to do whatever it takes to quash the creation of a municipal services
taxing unit, or MSTU, that would lead to the establishment of a preserve. This
includes getting an opinion from Florida’s lawyer: Attorney General Pam Bondi.
In a letter sent to Assistant County
Attorney Bill Clague, the HOA’s attorney Eric N. Appleton of
Tampa-based law firm Bush Ross asked that the county seek
Bondi’s legal advice.
“As Manatee County is apparently poised to attempt to use
the MSTU process in an unprecedented manner, it seems
prudent for the BOCC and your office to seek this legal
guidance from our State’s Attorney General,” the Feb. 26
Appleton cited Florida Statute 16.01(3) that says the
attorney general can, “on the written requisition of the ...
officer of a county, municipality, other unit of local
government, or political subdivision, give an official
opinion and legal advice in writing on any question of law
relating to the official duties of the requesting officer.”
Clague wasn’t immediately available for comment, but stated
in an email to Appleton that he would address the HOA’s
concerns on the record in front of commissioners.
According to the attorney general’s website, Bondi has most
recently issued an opinion on whether Monroe County could
establish a MSTU to fund landscaping, signage and canal
maintenance and restoration. She wrote that it is up to the
county to decide if these services are deemed “essential” to
the people in that taxing unit.
Friends of Keep Woods and the River Club Homeowners
Association are at odds over a municipal services taxing unit that
would save a wooded area behind Braden Woods from being developed.
The Manatee County MSTU in question is
being proposed to 1,440 residents in the Braden Woods/River Club
subdivisions to increase their property tax by a millage rate of 0.53 over
30 years. The funds would be used to purchase a 33-acre parcel of land to
turn it into a preserve. An agreement needs to be in place by March 31, a
deadline set by developer Pat Neal, who intends to cluster 32 homes on the
site and call it the gated community of Myara.
Appleton told the Bradenton Herald on Monday that he hasn’t found a case
where an MSTU was used in this manner.
Wanting to prevent development on a pristine patch of woods, a group called
Friends of Keep Woods banded together to come up with a way to buy the land,
priced at $3 million. The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is
facilitating the transaction, also raising funds for its purchase, and has
gained a nearby 11 acres that would be added to the preserve if the
purchasing mechanism passes.
“In reality, this was done as a community project,” Keep Woods president
Gary Hebert told the Bradenton Herald on Monday. “We weren’t dividing Braden
Woods and River Club.”
County officials and Keep Woods members held several community meetings to
spread information on what the MSTU would entail and when the county would
send out postcard polls in two rounds. If more than half of residents showed
support, it would indicate whether county staff would bring the MSTU
proposal to the board of county commissioners, who have the final say.
When MSTU supporters saw that they might be short of votes, they found out
who did and didn’t vote based on a public records request of addresses and
went door to door asking for responses. Keep Woods members said that the
postcards never reached some residents, or were sent to vacant lots. They
notarized their substitute polls, which would have pushed support over 50
percent, and asked that commissioners consider their plea during a January
Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague said during that meeting that the
commissioners don’t need the approval of residents to establish a MSTU, but
“many (governments) do it because MSTUs can be the subject of intense
“You could get 100 percent support and not establish an MSTU,” Clague had
In a Feb. 19 letter to Clague, Appleton outlines four main reasons why the
homeowners association takes issue with the MSTU. He said that the
association was never explained how the MSTU idea was formulated and how the
boundaries were created, saying they are “quite arbitrary” and “make little
sense.” Appleton also contends that River Club homes make up 62 percent of
the 1,440 parcels and would “be exposed to 70 percent of the tax burden
created by the MSTU.”
The Myara project’s rezone could have also increased the value of the land,
which Appleton believes will result in the 1,440 homeowners paying more than
the $3 million. In her Jan. 19 letter to commissioners, attorney Patricia
Petruff, who was hired to represent the association in December, believes
that properties of this worth should be appraised twice, not once.
“Why would the County set its citizens up to pay more and enrich the current
land owner at their expense?” Appleton asked in his letter.
For these reasons, the association, “in the interest of avoiding such a
legal dispute,” wants the county to “cease all efforts to consider the MSTU.”
Hebert said he thinks the call to get the attorney general involved because
the state law is “very clear about counties being able to establish MSTUs.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.
He said he understands that nobody likes being taxed (“It’s a fact of life,”
he said.) and Keep Woods is not against development, but they want to
promote more green space in the county.
“We’re destroying the very thing that makes this area attractive to people,”
The board of county commissioners will decide on the matter at their next
regular meeting on March 6.