The Venice City Council’s decision to reject yet another rezoning request for the proposed Murphy Oaks development may have opened up a can of very expensive worms.

Windham Development Inc. has been trying for several years to get the property rezoned. It’s overdue: The city code requires a rezoning within a year of annexation and these 40 acres were annexed in 2008.

There are a lot of properties in the same situation but it matters for Murphy Oaks because Windham wants to develop the land. Three times it has submitted a planned-unit development proposal and three times the Council has rejected it for essentially the same reason.

Technically, last week it rejected the recommendation of a special magistrate who had found that a prior rejection was “unreasonable and unfairly burdens the owner’s property ….”

That’s a loaded phrase, because under Florida law a governmental action that significantly and unjustifiably inhibits an owner’s property rights entitles the owner to compensation.

If, instead of rejecting the rezoning, the Council approved it and granted the request of Fox Lea Farm, the property to the south, that a stormwater pond be moved and the space left in its natural state, that would be a taking, Special Magistrate Scott Steady said, because it would render about a quarter of the property unusable.

The Council didn’t do that.

Instead, it voted 5-1 to reject Steady’s recommendation, and the latest rezoning proposal, entirely. The property can’t be developed at all currently.

By law, the city now has to prepare a written order that “describes as specifically as possible the use or uses available to the subject real property.”

Venice’s future land-use map designates it for residential development, so home sites are contemplated though apparently 85, the number Windham had downsized to from 119, is too many.

CEO Herb Lawson said it wouldn’t be financially feasible with fewer, however.

He had agreed to most of the other safeguards Fox Lea wanted, including a detailed water table monitoring plan and a long berm and wall between the properties.

Those concessions didn’t allay concerns that development of Murphy Oaks might have an adverse impact on Fox Lea, so, as Fiedler asked at the hearing: What CAN be developed on this property?

How many units? How can they be configured? How far away from Fox Lea do they have to be? What buffering will be required?

Vice Mayor Rich Cautero said Windham and Fox Lea were at an impasse that “may be beyond the ability of our City Council to settle.”

But that seems to be the job the Council has taken on with its rejection. Windham can’t be expected to guess what will be approved, especially since staff said there are no issues regarding compliance with the city’s comp plan and regulations.

Fox Lea’s representatives have repeatedly said they know the property to the north is going to be developed. They just want to ensure the safety of the people and animals they host, and the financial viability of their business.

Similarly, Windham wants a return on its investment.

If it takes a legal proceeding to break this impasse, it’s going to cost the city’s taxpayers.

It will just be a matter of how much.


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