Environmentalists gather opposition prior to Aqua hearings

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Andy Mele and Jane von Hahmann pore over information in preparation for public forums on Aqua By The Bay, including Aug. 10 and Aug. 16 hearings at the county level. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

The first week in August was about gathering steam for environmentalists who oppose Aqua By The Bay.

Aqua developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman are proposing 2,894 homes and 78,000 square feet of commercial space on a 2.5-mile long, 529-acre stretch off El Conquistador Parkway along Sarasota Bay, southeast of Cortez.

Ahead of county hearings, the nonprofit environment-minded groups have announced a rally, pulled together fact sheets, posters and other materials to inform the public of their concerns with the development plan and a 191-acre rezoning request.

Since 2013, the nonprofits, joined by other environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and Manatee County Audubon Society, have opposed the plans for the mangrove-lined shore on Sarasota Bay.

Sierra Club member Stu Smith sent an email earlier this summer, saying the property includes “the bay’s finest mangroves and seagrass, best fishery and largest shorebird habitat. Aqua By The Bay endangers it all.”

The same developers and their companies, Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor VIII, were previously turned down by Manatee County commissioners when they sought county comprehensive plan and zoning changes to make way for canal dredging, a marina and hotel complex.

In August 2013, hundreds of people packed the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, opposing the project.

After the county denial, the developers challenged the constitutionality of the comp plan, lost in the trial court in January 2016 and again, in February, in the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

“Here we are again in August,” FISH vice president Jane von Hahmann said Aug. 1, while waiting to meet Suncoast Waterkeeper representative Andy Mele to review materials for the upcoming Aqua hearings.

She noted the number of residents — and opposition — dwindle in the summer.

“Look at Tidy Island, 75-85 percent of its population is gone,” she added. “The developers — they know this.”

Tidy Island residents opposed the project at the last go-around of county hearings in April and May, predicting it will cause storm surges and flood homes on the island, just north of the project site.

This time, the Beruff-Lieberman plans include a 12-foot wall on the perimeter of the bayside boundary, 16 high-rises and, according to environmentalists, up to 32 additional high-rises are left open by the plan. The developers say the number of additional high-rises will be market-driven.

Manatee County planning staff and a consultant hired in July are recommending approval of the Aqua plan.

“The sum and substance of our work between now and the hearings will be to get a handle on the application, alert people, educate them and mobilize their opposition,” Mele wrote Aug. 4 in an email to The Islander.

“We can do the organizing, we can hope that the elected officials pay any heed to the will of their constituents, and beyond that, it’s court.”

Suncoast Waterkeeper, Sierra Club and FISH representatives encourage people to express their concerns to the county board before the August hearings.

The commission’s email addresses are online at mymanatee.org/home/government/board-of-commmissioners/email.

 

Public invited to rally

To show their resolve against Aqua By The Bay, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and Suncoast Waterkeeper Inc. plan to hold a rally.

The organizers are asking supporters to gather 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, at the roundabout on El Conquistador Parkway at 53rd Avenue— near the proposed development site — to hold signs in protest to the Aqua project.

The rally follows a public forum sponsored by FISH and Suncoast Waterkeeper — held after press time — 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Cortez Road Baptist Church.

The Aqua developers, Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, are looking for county approvals in August for a 529-acre development of up to 48 high-rises and a 2.5-mile lagoon the length of the property on the Sarasota Bay, a few miles southeast of Cortez and Anna Maria Island.

Manatee County planning commissioners are expected to make recommendations on Aqua after a public hearing at 9 a.m., Thursday, Aug. 10, to the Manatee Board of County Commissioners.

County commissioners are expected to consider the large-scale development after another hearing, tentatively set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16.

The public may sign up to speak the day of the hearings at the Manatee County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

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