County planners, staff deny Aqua, board vote expected Aug. 16

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Environmentalists hold signs Aug. 12 opposing Aqua By The Bay and motorists react by honking and giving a “thumbs up” at the corner of Cortez Road and 75th Street West. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Tidy Island resident Susan Widmayer shows a poster to the audience during the Aug 10 Manatee County Planning Commission public hearing for Aqua by the Bay, a proposed large-scale, mixed-use 523-acre development. The poster points to 16 high-rises in county submittals, which skirt land-development codes for structures proposed over the county’s 35-foot height restriction. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Manatee County planning commissioners Tim Rhoades and Matt Bower are two of the three commissioners who voted Aug. 10 against the Aqua by the Bay general development plan and rezoning request for 2,894 homes and 78,000 square feet of commercial space between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay, southeast of Cortez. The commission voted 3-1, condcluding a five-hour public hearing, to deny recommending the application to the county commission in Bradenton.

The stage is set for a showdown between developers and the county at an Aug. 16 land-use meeting.

Manatee County planners — previously recommending a large-scale, mixed-use project with an undetermined number of high-rises — flipped their position on Aqua By The Bay to denial four days before the expected vote by the county board of commissioners.

Manatee county commissioners have the final say on a 191-acre rezoning and general development plan for 2,894 residential units and 78,000 square feet of commercial space on 529 acres southeast of Cortez.

The development is proposed by Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII, controlled by developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman.

The vote is expected at a hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, in the commission chambers at 1112 Manatee Ave. W.

A new staff report was published Aug. 12 by principal planner Stephanie Moreland two days after a 3-1 planning commission vote recommending the project’s denial.

Planning commissioners Matt Bower, Tim Rhoades and Albert Horrigan Jr. voted for the denial. John DeLesline voted in favor.

In the new report, the staff concluded the plan was inconsistent with the county land-development code and comprehensive plan due to an unknown number of buildings and the lack of a 50-foot wetland buffer.

The new staff report is based on a revised report from the county’s environmental consultant and testimony at the planning commission hearing. The county contracted in July with the consultant Rummel, Klepper & Kahl of Lakeland.

Special approvals for variances over the county’s 35-foot height ordinance also were denied.

The project included four 145-foot buildings and 12 buildings with a maximum 95-foot height. However, the developers left open how many 35- to 75-foot buildings were planned, saying the number would be market driven.

Environmentalists calculated as many as 32 additional high-rise buildings based on the development’s proposed density.

In the new report, staff said its “best guesstimate” was 10 additional buildings but acknowledged it lacked expertise to make the determination.

Staff also pointed to the developers’ failure to provide “site specific conditions or physical restraints that would prevent a 50-foot buffer,” a comp plan policy limiting the use of a variable buffer.

The developers had proposed a variable buffer no less than 15-feet wide on Aqua’s 2.5 mile-boundary with Sarasota Bay.

The project also proposes a 12-foot wall and 8-foot deep lagoon running the length of the bayside boundary that environmentalists criticize as posing dangers to wildlife, fish nurseries, mangroves and seagrass.

“I don’t know about you, but for me this is a huge hallelujah praise the Lord for me,” wrote Jane von Hahmann, vice president of the nonprofit Florida Institute for

Saltwater Heritage, which, along with Suncoast Waterkeeper and Sierra Club, has opposed different iterations of the developers’ plans since 2013.

Pete Logan, president of Medallion Homes and spokesman for the developers, called the county consultant’s revised report a “surprise.”

Allison Aubuchon, of Allison Aubuchon Communications LLC, for the developers, relayed Logan’s comments in an Aug. 12 email to The Islander.

“We are working to ensure Aqua by the Bay is a neighborhood that will benefit the entire community and the environment. And we remain positive that, in the end, it will be a point of pride for Manatee County,” Logan said.

One thought on “County planners, staff deny Aqua, board vote expected Aug. 16

  1. Reed Mapes

    Having been a developer in Manatee and Sarasota for years, I can understand the developers desires to have a lot of flexibility in their development order. The issue to me is simple. If they are legally allowed to have 2984 residential units on the land, they will get that sooner or later. Simply put, the high rise buildings allow them to have more open space between buildings. I find that a benefit to the environment. I personally do not however believe that Manatee County is a high rise development area. On the other hand the views from high rises in Aqua would be pretty fabulous. Having the guts to build these certainly indicates why the developer wants flexibility in his plans. It would remain to be seen if they sell. The housing stock in west Bradenton, is old and very out of date based on what people want today. There has been very little development in the last 10 years, mostly undesirable. For those of us who want something different, I hope the developers are successful in getting something off the ground. It does however need to be environmentally sound.


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