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Date of Issue: February 15, 2007

County acts to buy, preserve Perico land

Manatee County commissioners want to exercise the government's option to purchase more than 231 acres of undeveloped land on Perico Island.

To perform such an exercise they'll need to flex some financial might - about $6 million.

"The county wants the property," Commissioner Carol Whitmore, an at-large member of the board and resident of Holmes Beach, said emphatically during a meeting Feb. 6 in Bradenton.

Soon after, the commission endorsed the option to buy, a component of a legal settlement involving the county, the city of Bradenton, The St. Joe Co. and Hayden Lane 1 Ltd.

In 2004, the legal dispute involving Manatee County, the city of Bradenton, St. Joe and Hayden Lane over the "Perico Island Development Project" concluded with the settlement. Manatee County, which had sued over the SevenShores condominium project, received as a result an option to purchase the undeveloped land on Perico Island.

The settlement papers provide a brief history:

St. Joe entered into a contract with Hayden Lane, a company owned by Whiting Preston of the Manatee Fruit Co., to purchase land on Perico Island and submitted plans to the city of Bradenton for a multi-building, multi-story residential development.

Already a general development plan approved by Bradenton - after annexing the land from the county - had drawn legal challenges from ManaSota-88, Manatee County and the cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.

So in a mediation conference in October 2004, the county negotiated a settlement with St. Joe, the city of Bradenton and Hayden Lane 1 that resulted in a redesign of the project and the county gaining an exclusive option to purchase land adjacent to the pending development on the north side of Manatee Avenue.

On Feb. 6, county commissioners agreed they want to exercise that option to buy and encouraged county staff to pursue that course.

"The commission is doing the correct thing," said Glenn Compton, director of ManaSota-88, who continues to oppose the residential development at Perico for environmental reasons. "The majority of the land is mangroves and it is in need of protection.… This is the best thing the county can do."

The property, owned by Hayden Lane 1, consists of about 55.6 upland acres and 175.8 wetlands acres, according to Patricia McVoy, the senior assistant county attorney. The county attorney's office has been discussing the details of the purchase option with Hayden Lane's attorney, Kevin Hennessey.

"We've been trying to look at closing in late May," McVoy said.

"Everybody's working together and it's not an adversarial situation," she added.

The purchase price is $6 million, but McVoy said an appraisal would be conducted.

The county's plan involves conserving the land for public use and possibly a tie-in with the nearby Robinson Preserve, where work is under way to restore the marsh habitat that existed there more than 70 years ago.

"It's close to the bay," said Whitmore, who described the county's planned purchase as a "win-win" situation.

The goal, Whitmore continued, is "to try to maintain the bay, to preserve it, to keep it healthy. I'm so happy that we're staying on top of this."

While talks between attorneys on the purchase continue, county officials will also explore financing options. One possibility is to secure a grant from the Florida Communities Trust to partially fund the purchase. The trust helped the county make the recent Robinson Preserve project possible.