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Long Bar opposition rallies, developer cancels hearing

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

An aerial view shows the El Conquistador Parkway and the roundabout at 75th Street and 53rd Avenue in unincorporated Manatee County. The development is proposed for the vacant land to the right and southward on the shoreline. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

Opposition to the development of Long Bar Pointe on Sarasota Bay saw success in reduced environmental impact, but there is a difference between winning a battle and winning a war.

The first battle was won in August, when the Manatee County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted to deny a text amendment change to the county comprehensive plan submitted by developers Carlos Beruff and Joe Lieberman.

The request would have opened a door to allow the development of a boat basin and dredging a channel in Sarasota Bay that environmentalists said would have devastated the bay’s delicate ecosystem.

The developers were tentatively successful in gaining a map amendment change to rezone the property from Residential-9 to mixed use, essentially allowing for a project that consists of 2,700 homes, an 84,000-square-foot convention center, a 250-room hotel and additional commercial space.

Commissioners approved the land-use change, which then requires it be reviewed by the state before the board takes a second and final vote, which opponents are now gearing up to confront.

Opposition to the Long Bar Pointe project garnered another victory on Nov. 7 when the county board voted to uphold a county planning commission decision that proposed to remove 3,000 coastal acres — including most of Long Bar Pointe — from the Urban Service Area.

The USA zoning was created with the intent to allow development exemptions from extensive regulatory review to spur economic growth. The decision essentially means the development could cost Beruff and Lieberman hundreds of thousands of dollars for additional project scrutiny.

Save Our Bay representative Joe Kane said people should not assume “total victory” has been reached and that his group, as well as others, has pledged to continue to monitor what the developers come up with for Long Bar Pointe.

The opponents put out a rally cry in recent weeks for concerned citizens to attend a second public hearing on the map amendment planned for Jan. 23 but the county canceled the meeting Dec. 23.

The attorney for the applicant — Long Bar Pointe — Ed Vogler of Vogler & Ashton, PLLC, Bradenton, wrote the county building and development services department Dec. 19, stating, “We wish to withdraw the comprehensive plan amendment from further consideration or action at this time.”

Vogler goes on to thank the participants in the process, including the board of county commissioners.

He also said the applicant looks forward to working with “all interested parties as plans for development are presented and considered from time to time in the future.”

Kane said he realizes this may be just a delay of the inevitable, but speculated that the developer may want out. “It may be they’ve had enough and they’re throwing in the towel. We don’t know that.”

Opponents like Kane say Beruff is not trustworthy. He claims too much is at stake for the property that the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has called “a regionally significant natural resource.”

He also said he spoke to one of the county commissioners, who claimed to have negotiated the withdrawal of the map amendment.

The hearing was set to again be held at the convention center, and a large audience of opponents was expected.

More than 1,000 people attended the August meeting with the majority in attendance opposed to the project.

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