American photographer, author and environmental activist Ansel Adams once wrote, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”
That sentiment runs parallel to a growing number of people and organizations rallying against a proposed development on Sarasota Bay on the mainland between Cortez and IMG Academy called Long Bar Pointe.
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners will hold a special land-use meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto, to address proposals from the developer that will facilitate the development plan.
The county previously approved in June a new zoning designation — although not yet approved by the state — that will allow a combination of marina, hotel and commercial development in addition to residential housing.
A mix of single- and multi-family residential development was approved with stipulations by the county in 2008.
The August meeting was moved to the convention center with an expectation of a large crowd and, like Adams’ quote, the crowd is expected to fight their government to save the environment.
“Why is this even a question?” asked Capt. Kathe Fannon, who operates a charter boat from docks at the Star Fish Co. Market and Restaurant in Cortez.
“Why are we even wasting taxpayer dollars and paying commissioner salaries in an attempt to get this stopped? We’ve said ‘no’ to so many developers and projects and all of a sudden now we want to discuss it?” she asked.
Developer Carlos Beruff partnered with developer Larry Lieberman in 2011 on certain development entitlements that were approved for Lieberman at the site by the Manatee County Commission in 2004.
The approved plan allows a subdivision with thousands of single- and multi-story homes with an additional 150,000 square feet of commercial development.
Beruff has submitted a revised development plan that calls for more than 1,600 low-rise multi-family homes, a 300-room hotel, a boat basin, an 84,000 square foot conference center and 120,000 square feet of retail space.
At issue are the text amendment changes required for the revised plan that would change the county’s comprehensive plan requirements and the environmental impact to the bay.
Fannon invited Beruff to tour the coastline July 21, hoping to give him a better understanding of the stakes — that Long Bar is the last large undeveloped, unprotected shoreline area in the county.
“He’s never seen it that close and I wanted to show him the depth and beauty of the area when you are out on the bay,” said Fannon. “I pointed to the south and all we could see is Sarasota high-rises and then pointed to Long Bar Pointe so he could understand what his development will do.”
Fannon said the 55-year-old Beruff told her the development is a family legacy.
“I told him in another 55 years, neither one of us were going to be here,” said Fannon. “I can appreciate him wanting to do something for his family, but I told him if he really wanted to leave something for his children and grandchildren, does he really want it to be a 55-year-old building?”
Fannon said a preserve named after Be ruff’s family would be a more substantial legacy and it would be more of an impact to say he chose to give a sensitive environment back to the people.
According to Fannon, Beruff declined.
“Three hours later we got back to the fish house and I pointed to the Plum House and told him the difference between me and him,” she said. “I said I could live the rest of my life in the Plum House and be happy.”
Fannon told Beruff he could not.
“I told him if he owned it, he would want to tear it down and build a $2 million house,” she said. “He told me I was right.”
Fannon said the effort to get Beruff to understand the environmentally sensitive nature of the bay “went nowhere.”
Equally unsuccessful approaching Beruff on a tour of the land was Barbara Hines of Holmes Beach, vice chair of ManaSota-88, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environment.
Hines met with Beruff at the Long Bar Pointe property July 19. While it might appear Beruff is willing to discuss the development with opposition groups, Hines said, it’s largely for show.
“Carlos is a charming person and a smart businessman,” said Hines. “He’s doing things he needs to do in order to keep a record so he can say ‘Look who I met with.’”
Hines said she wanted to meet with Beruff with other members of ManaSota-88, as well as members of the Sierra Club, but Beruff refused.
“He said he would only go if it was just me and he told me I couldn’t take pictures,” said Hines. “He said if I didn’t put my camera away, then he would call the whole thing off.”
Hines said the tour didn’t go well for Beruff either.
“We didn’t get very far on the property before his truck got stuck in the mud,” she said. “Keep in mind that we were still in the uplands and nowhere near the wetlands yet.”
They eventually freed the vehicle and briefly continued the tour in another area of the property. According to Hines, Beruff said he has never had problems getting around the property before.
“I told him obviously not during the rainy season,” she said, and he had no reply.
Hines said Beruff’s vision for Long Bar Pointe is incompatible with the property.
“We talked about how important the seagrass and mangroves are to the bay’s health and wildlife,” she said. “I told him what he wants to do is totally unacceptable.”
Beruff has made a lot out of the fact that his plans only call for the clearing of 225 linear feet of mangroves in order to make way for a channel entry for the proposed boat basin. He has claimed more than 15,000 linear feet of mangroves would remain.
However, Hines said his plans are to have all the mangroves cut down to 6 feet tall to create a uniform hedge and ensure visibility from his development of the bay waters.
“The seabirds nesting in those mangroves will either no longer nest there or be more exposed to predators,” she said. “The whole concept is awful. This is going to be an environmental disaster if it is allowed.”
Both Hines and Fannon, as well as an anticipated large crowd of opposition, will attend the Aug. 6 meeting.
Both are hopeful that commissioners will “do the right thing,” but have seen these battles go the wrong way in the past.
“I just hope the commissioners look at their citizens and do the right thing,” said Fannon.
City commissions from Holmes Beach and Anna Maria have either written letters to county commissioners or adopted resolutions expressing opposition to the Long Bar Pointe development.
Bradenton Beach commissioners July 25 said a similar resolution is being drafted to send to the county.
The Manatee County League of Women Voters also has joined the opposition and issued a “call to action.”
The call to action states, “Our Manatee County coastal environment, natural resources and comprehensive plan are currently under an unprecedented threat.”
If commissioners approve Beruff’s text amendment changes to the comprehensive plan, the league says 47 pages of the conservation and coastal management that cover air, water, habitat, wetlands and coastal protection could be exploited by future developers.
The call to action claims approval would set a precedent and send a message to developers that amending the county’s comprehensive plan is a “casual, easily-obtained option.”
An attempt to reach Beruff for comment was unsuccessful by Islander press time.
Long Bar zoning
Long Bar Pointe now falls within an Urban Service Area zone that the Manatee County Board of Commissioners approved in June, but whether it will be approved by the state remains unknown.
The county sent its USA zone, encompassing most of unincorporated west Bradenton, a broad area bordered by U.S. 301, Sarasota Bay, the Sarasota county line and the Manatee River to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The USA zone is intended to discourage urban sprawl, allow “developments of regional impact” approved by the county, and exempt those projects from additional state review for site plan approval.
The proposed Long Bar Pointe rezone will allow a 300-berth marina, additional office and retail space and a hotel where presently only residential housing is allowed.
Barrington Group’s Larry Lieberman and Medallion Homes’ Carlos Beruff teamed up on the development this year, and asked for changes to the county comprehensive plan to build on 500-plus acres on Sarasota Bay.
The county’s proposed USA zone must have state approval, and that decision had not been made by the state as of press time for The Islander.