The plans are flowing in and out of the county like the ebb and flow of the tide.
It’s creating a moving target for anyone trying to follow Aqua by the Bay as the developer pushes for approvals.
Amid a multitude of concerns about Aqua by the Bay — a large-scale proposed development on Sarasota Bay — yet another plan is expected to come before the Manatee County Board of Commissioners.
The BOCC will next return to the Aqua proposal at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23, in the commission chambers at 1112 Manatee Ave., Bradenton.
Developers Carlos and Larry Lieberman, as Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII, are seeking county approval for a 191-acre rezone and a general development plan for 529 acres.
The commissioners and about 150 people heard a full-day of testimony Aug. 16 from the developer, staff and the public — following similar Aqua hearings in April, May and August.
They heard how the plan changed, swaying staff recommendation three times in several days before the hearing.
The plan still calls for 2,894 residential units in an unknown number of high-rise buildings and 78,000 square feet of commercial space southeast of Cortez on Sarasota Bay.
However, the developers announced at the hearing that concessions made to staff over the weekend included allowing a 50-foot wetland buffer and the deferment to a later date of four 145-foot high-rises
The Beruff-Lieberman team proposes 12 buildings no higher than 95 feet and an unknown number of buildings up to 75 feet. Special approvals are needed to exceed the county’s 35-foot height restriction.
Prior to acquiescing to the 50-foot buffer, the developers proposed a variable-width buffer with no minimum setback from Sarasota Bay, later revised to a 15-foot minimum.
“All we’re doing is adding what we already agreed to on Monday,” Beruff said after the Aug. 16 hearing.
“There’s not going to be any changes. We’re just going to give them the detail” with the 50-foot buffer marked with a line, he added.
Also in the proposal, running the length of the 2.5-mile bayside boundary, is an estimated 120-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep lagoon, also called an estuary enhancement area and a 12-foot wall.
During the hearing, Ed Vogler, attorney for the developers, called former county environmental manager Joel Christian to testify, announcing he had subpoenaed him.
Christian testified the proposal is the “best ecologically designed project for this property” with or without the 50-foot wetland buffer.
The county’s stormwater engineering manager, Tom Gerstenberger, however, testified there was no need for the wall with a 50-foot buffer from the wetland.
About 150 people filled the chambers, about 75 people signed up to speak and 50 gave public comment, which Commission Chairman Betsy Benac said would remain open at the continued hearing.
Most people spoke against the project, some on behalf of nonprofits, including the Sierra Club, Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Aboriginal Peoples Indigenous Peoples.
Holmes Beach resident Barbara Hines, representing ManaSota-88, a Manatee-Sarasota environmental nonprofit, emphasized the importance of the commissioners’ decision because “everything else,” as far as natural areas on Sarasota Bay “has been destroyed.”
Capt. Kathe Fannon of Cortez, who runs eco-tours on Sarasota Bay, compared the proposed lagoon to finger canals that are known to become stagnant, predicted planned mangrove trimming to result in birds no longer nesting and the lagoon and wall requiring unpermitted dredging.
She added, “You can’t call this an enhancement plan.”
Also voicing opinions were contractors, business people and a representative of Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, among others. They favored the project for job creation and economic development.
Appraiser Richard Bass, who said he helped draft the county’s 1980 comprehensive plan, called the plan “an excellent opportunity for infill development.”
Dominic DiMaio, a Tampa area banker, testified he sees the development as an opportunity to grow the economy.
Some concerns voiced by environmentalists were echoed by the commissioners.
“I’m just going to admit it. I have no idea what staff is recommending,” said DiSabatino at the end of the meeting, adding she wants clarification about the consistency with regard to the land-development code and comp plan and why native burial grounds protection had been crossed out of a staff report.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked Vogler to address details about the wall and the benefits of the estuary enhancement area at the next hearing.
Benac asked Christian and environmental consultant Tom Pride of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl of Lakeland whether the project would harm mangroves.
Both answered, “I don’t believe it will.”
After the meeting, Jane von Hahmann, who testified in opposition, agreed with Gertzenberger on the proposed wall, saying: “We don’t need it.”
She also criticized the high-rise density on the property, noting the elimination of the 145-foot-tall buildings will increase the unknown number of 35- to 75-foot buildings.
“It’s just insane,” von Hahmann concluded.