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Sea turtle group opposes ELRA project

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

A key selling point in the city of Bradenton Beach’s partnership with ELRA, the corporation headed by Ed Chiles and owner of the BeachHouse Restaurant, to construct a dune across from city hall has been enhancing sea-turtle nesting habitat.

During the April 10 public hearing on the joint development agreement between the city and ELRA of the planning and zoning board, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox said the city’s argument for the dunes should not be made in the name of sea-turtle protection.

Fox spoke at the hearing and told P&Z board members that this is not the first time this project has been considered.

“The initial dune project came about in 2007 and I was at that meeting with the city,” said Fox. “This dune was thought up so we could have parking on sea-turtle habitat.”

Fox said that since AMITW began collecting data, there have been 88 nesting sites and false crawls at the proposed development site.

“I felt then that parking in that area was not a good thing,” she said. “We are talking about sacrificing 88 habitats for a private restaurant to make more money. I want to see businesses expand, but it reaches a point where you can’t do it anymore.”

Fox said there were two recorded nests in the proposed development area last year.

“Be cautious about what you are doing,” she said.

The city’s argument for sea turtle protection has been that the dune would provide more protection by shielding headlights from Gulf Drive that may cause hatchlings to be disoriented, and the dune would provide a barrier from foot traffic that could encroach on nesting sites.

 

And still more opposition

Fox wasn’t the only person who spoke out against the project during public comment at the P&Z meeting.

Former city commissioner Janie Robertson also opposed the plan. While much of the opposition has been against the parking expansion, Robertson said the city may not be able to afford the long-term costs of maintain the dune system.

“I have a history of planning, zoning and development in this city,” she said. “I also have experience looking at dune projects and what happens to them.”

Robertson said the dune would become a budgetary concern to the city and cited those concerns “among many of my objections to this project. (The city) would be responsible for maintaining their portion of the property for at least 10 years. I feel it would be impossible for the city to maintain it for that amount of time.”

Robertson said dunes shift and move and what’s not being taking into account are additional expenses of having to install retention obstacles to keep shifting sands off of the proposed parking lot.

“And you wouldn’t be able to use (Community Redevelopment Agency) funds,” she said. “CRA funds can only be used for the creation of a project, not to maintain a project. The city would have to budget money every year to maintain something that is alive and moving on its own.”

Robertson also said she was not in favor of giving city property to allow the flow of traffic through a commercial parking lot.

Building official Steve Gilbert reiterated the city’s position — that parking is secondary to the project’s main goal of the dune project — which is designed to protect city hall and Gulf Drive from storm surge.

P&Z member Bill Shearon said the design of the dune system may or may not protect city hall, but it wasn’t going to protect private citizens on Gulf Drive.

“The dunes running south aren’t connecting to other dunes,” he said. “All that’s going to happen is the flow would take water (away from city hall) and impact private property.”

Shearon also objected to the project, saying it conflicts with the Scenic Waves committee’s “vision plan, which spent $25,000 on that plan.”

Shearon said BeachHouse Restaurant owner Ed Chiles was on the committee when the vision plan was created. Shearon also said $4,000 was spent by CRA in creating the small park in the proposed development area and the project would require CRA to spend city tax dollars twice.

Dune project engineer Lynn Townsend-Burnett said the city’s position was not to expand parking, but to enhance public safety.

“It’s about enhancing turtle and public safety,” she said. “You have the ability to address the parking concerns in your recommendations, but that’s not what this project is about.”

P&Z chair Rick Bisio said the way the project was presented as a complete project, including parking, the board had no choice but to address the parking, “which is obviously against the comprehensive land-use plan.”

The P&Z board voted to recommend the city deny the agreement.

The city commission will address the agreement at its May 3 meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive.

Commissioners will have the final say, as the P&Z board is strictly a recommending board.

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