Manatee County commissioners could forever alter the “longest mangrove shoreline” on Sarasota Bay with their decisions on the future development of Aqua By The Bay.
The county has noticed a public hearing before the planning commission for the proposed 523-acre mixed-use development at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 10.
Aqua also is set to be heard at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, by the final decision-makers, the Manatee Board of County Commissioners.
Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII, companies controlled by Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, propose construction of 2,894 residential units and 78,000 square feet of commercial space — including 120 acres of submerged land in Sarasota Bay — southeast of Cortez and north of IMG.
“This part on the edge of the water is the longest single mangrove shoreline in Manatee County on Sarasota Bay and we’re here to make sure that won’t change,” said Pete Logan, president of Medallion Home, a builder-development company headed by Beruff, at a July 24 news conference called by the developer.
Logan introduced a new Manatee County staff report and July 21 general development plan at the conference.
County planning section manager Nicole Knapp said July 27 the staff report released by Logan predated a legal and environmental consultant’s review, but “nothing of significance” is expected to change in the version to be distributed to planning commissioners in August.
The hearings will be the second go-around for the developers’ requests to rezone 191 acres and approve a GDP, which includes plans for a 2.5-mile lagoon and an unknown number of high-rise residential condominiums.
At a May BOCC hearing — after discovering an error specifying two high-rise buildings when, in fact, two types of high-rises and multiple buildings were planned — commissioners sent the project back to the planning commission.
At the meeting, commissioners asked the developers to provide county staff with the number, height and placement of high-rises on the property.
And, according to the new staff report, the Aqua project includes a maximum of 12 condo buildings no higher than 95-feet and four buildings between 95 and 145 feet tall.
The developers, however, won’t say how many 36- to- 75-foot buildings are proposed, only that the number will be driven by future market conditions. A 20- to 25-year buildout is anticipated.
As far as where the mix of buildings will be located, two maps were provided to staff in June — but environmentalists have criticized the imprecise renderings as out-of-scale, including buildings depicted from miles away.
The lagoon is one of several bodies of water proposed on the property, although several ponds have been excavated based on Southwest Florida Water Management District permits.
Also referred to as an “Estuary Enhancement Area” on the GDP, the 2.5-mile lagoon extends the length of the property’s bayside boundary and includes a retaining wall.
It will be excavated, not dredged, according to Logan, because the area is considered uplands by Swiftmud.
Logan also acknowledged the soil from the excavation will be used to raise the elevation of the surrounding property.
Environmentalists, including former Manatee County Commissioners Joe McClash and Jane von Hahmann, Sierra Club and Suncoast Waterkeeper representatives, have argued for strict wetland buffers and buffers for the wall and lagoon due to adverse impacts on the mangroves, marine nurseries, wildlife and seagrass.
Asked about the wetland buffer July 24, Misty Servia of King Engineering Inc., a planner for the developers, said a variable 50-foot buffer is compliant with the county’s land-development code and “happens on almost every project.”
In a June 21 email, Sierra Club activist Stu Smith disagreed.
Once constructed, Smith argued the lagoon’s tidal connection with Sarasota Bay may move the mean-high-water line farther upland and, under the county land development code, requires an additional 50-foot buffer, not a 15-foot buffer as a county engineer concluded.
And that’s only half the environmental story.
“The so-called lagoon will mix with tidal flows, will be salt water, will have marine species in it, will rise and fall with the tides, and its inshore edge will constitute the mean high-water, without question,” Andy Mele, representing Suncoast Waterkeeper, told the Islander July 27 in an emailed statement.
He also estimated 48 high-rise buildings based on the proposed density.
Von Hahmann, representing Cortez-based nonprofit Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, said prior county commissions have demanded lower density and larger setbacks from wetlands.
She also criticized proposing a “wall of buildings from a water view no matter how you slice it.”
Another part of the project — not to be overseen by the county — is its mitigation plans.
At the July 24 conference, Logan said 294 acres are proposed for mitigation while acknowledging the 260-acre mitigation bank proposal is pending permits from Florida Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Logan also said Aqua will generate $33 million in impact fees based on a median $11,400 per house and an estimated $1.45 billion added to the tax rolls.
Mary Dougherty, executive director of Gulf Builders Xchange, a lobbying group, said more than 8,600 new jobs could be created, based on National Association of Home Builders’ estimations.
According to Allison Aubuchon of Allison Aubuchon Communications LLC, representing the developer, the job estimates are based on three jobs per new home and “given in full-time equivalents.”
Both the planning and county commission hearings will be held at the Manatee County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
Crystal lagoon plan pushed by Aqua developer
Carlos Beruff is peddling Crystal Lagoons for Aqua By The Bay.
The 3.5-acre lagoon is planned as part of the first phase this fall, including 200 single-family homes, Medallion Home president Pete Logan said July 24.
Environmentalists, including former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash and Suncoast Waterkeeper’s Andy Mele, however, cautioned the county against the plan.
After hearing Beruff speak about the concept to the Manatee Board of County Commissioners in May, McClash wrote the commissioners an email, calling the concept a “giant swimming pool” that was “never brought up before” and warned commissioners to require developers to come back for approvals.
Logan touted the concept as a “pretty stunning” amenity, with a liner that creates “a vibrant blue” water color. He also said no more than 40 operate worldwide, none in the United States.
In 2014, the county approved a preliminary site plan for the first phase, as well as a community development district to subsidize infrastructure costs.
Because the crystal lagoon may involve a chemical treatment, Mele said the private amenity should undergo “rigorous environmental review” to prevent a future disaster that could send treated lagoon water into the bay.
“This is not Manatee County,” McClash wrote in a May email. “It is not what is allowed by our rules.”