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Developers submit fractured Long Bar Pointe site plan

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Sometimes in a football game, things may not be going so well on downs and the offense is forced to punt — a maneuver to get out of a sticky situation.

Long Bar Pointe developers, who lost their attempt in August to enhance development rights for a large parcel of land fronting Sarasota Bay south of Cortez, are proceeding with plans for a 61-acre portion of the total 523 acres before the Manatee County Planning Commission at 9 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 16.

Some players on both sides of the development scheme — for and against — might call it a punt. It fractures the project into phases, and the 61-acre plan appears to fall within the zoning requirements.

It includes 220 single-family home lots without the proposal that stirred controversy — a hotel, boardwalk, boat basin and canal that involved removing acres of mangroves and dredging Sarasota Bay.

Former Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who voted for the original plan when she served on the county board, said of the new, smaller plan, “I don’t see much we can complain about.”

Von Hahmann spoke against the concept described by co-developer Carlos Beruff as his “dream plan” in August at a marathon session before the largest-ever gallery at a county meeting.

She said in an email last week that, based on her review of the new site plan, the lots are small — 45 by 125 feet on average.

“We can’t say we aren’t getting what we asked for,” she said, as the site plan calls for fewer units than the zoning — Residential 9 — allows, “at least for this phase of construction.”

The plan is limited to the southeast end of the Long Bar Pointe parcel, the property closest to the El Conquistador and Legend’s Bay gated communities.

Opponents of the project, including von Hahmann, say they will be on hand at the planning meeting in the event the developer proposes adjustments.

Developers Larry Lieberman and Beruff have been squaring off with environmentalists for about a year since the pair made a move for a text amendment change to the county’s comprehensive plan that would have allowed them to build a boat basin and a much larger project than was originally approved.

The project went from more than 4,000 residential homes and low-rise condominiums to a concept for almost 3,000 homes, an 84,000-square-foot convention center, a 250-room hotel, additional retail and commercial space and 300 boat slips.

In August, commissioners narrowly agreed to send a zoning change to the state for review, but only after Beruff agreed to drop the boat basin from the application.

Commissioners were expected to hear the map amendment for a final reading at a Jan. 23 meeting, but it was called off by the developer.

In a letter to Manatee County Building and Development director John Barnott dated Dec. 19, Ed Vogler, attorney for Lieberman and Beruff, wrote about the decision to drop out of the application process.

“The applicant looks forward to working with you, your staff and all interested parties as plans for development of the property are presented and considered from time to time in the future,” he wrote.

Lieberman later said investment interest in the hotel has waned and it makes sense to go back to the original residential plan, first conceived over a decade ago, when he began purchasing the property.

Since the original residential project was approved in the early 2000s, no site plan has ever been submitted.

Environmentalists eager to protect the health of Sarasota Bay and the Cortez fishery have been somewhat split during the past several months in how they would like to see the saga conclude.

Von Hahmann, a Cortez resident, led a summer rally at the county offices to drop off petitions signed by voters opposed to the expanded project.

She said during the rally that going back to the original project was the right thing to do.

Other environmentalists are battling to stop any development from occurring at Long Bar Pointe, however, stopping the project from going forward may be an uphill climb considering it has prior approval.

With site plans to be submitted and project reviews in the future, the battle is not likely over.

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