Manatee County Commission Chair Larry Bustle pledged the Aug. 6 special hearing regarding map and text changes to the county’s comprehensive plan requested by the Long Bar Pointe developer would continue until every voice was heard.
Bustle was true to his word, with public comment consuming about half of the meeting that ran for more than 12 hours and ended just before 2 a.m. Aug. 7, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
With about 1,000 people in attendance to begin the meeting, either for or against the Long Bar Pointe proposals, county officials, staff and the Long Bar Pointe development team launched into a detailed meeting to address the questions before them.
The hearing — the largest ever county meeting — was for two proposals from developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, including a request to amend the county’s land-use map and to amend text in the comprehensive plan.
Commissioners ultimately approved the land-use map amendment with a 4-3 vote and rejected the comprehensive plan text amendment that would have put the county’s environmental protection regulations and policies in jeopardy.
Commissioners John Chappie, Michael Gallen and Robin DiSabatino voted against both amendment requests.
The map amendment must still be approved by the state and then return to the county commissioners for a second public hearing.
The approval to a map amendment change designating the property from residential-9 to mixed use — units per acre plus commercial — potentially allows the developers their residential development plans, yet to be submitted.
The Aug. 6 meeting was the first in many steps the developers must negotiate with the exception of a 2004 approved site plan to begin construction on more than 250 homes at the northern portion of the 500-plus acre parcel.
Developers, at any time, may proceed with that construction, but Beruff is proposing an amended development project that adds commercial retail space, a 300-room hotel, 72,000 square feet of office space and an 84,000-square-foot conference center, in addition to commercial space.
That proposal will require a site-plan submission and further review.
What the developers lost when commissioners voted to reject the text amendment was the opportunity to change stringent environmental rules that would allow dredging rights for a channel into Sarasota Bay.
The text amendment proposal was at the heart of the controversy that spurred multiple environmental protection groups and thousands of citizens to protest.
Future land-use map amendment
Manatee County planner Shelley Hamilton told commissioners that staff recommended approval of the land-use map amendment — rezoning — based on the information available, which she emphasized did not include a site plan.
Hamilton’s staff explained that amendments to the future-land use map are not uncommon and that the map is a guiding document in how the county intends to grow.
Hamilton emphasized that an approval of the amendment was not an approval for any phase of the proposed development. She said all aspects of a future site plan would be thoroughly reviewed for consistency with the county’s comprehensive plan and land development codes.
She said an approval would simply re-designate the property from residental-9 to mixed use, which she said is consistent with the comprehensive plan and other undeveloped property in the county.
She said although a site plan has not been submitted, based on development suggestions, staff noted that environmental impacts would require further review and that some of the proposed uses may not be consistent with the conservation elements of the comprehensive plan.
Manatee County Environmental Planning Division manager Doug Means said staff raised concerns about a proposed marina and the impact it would have on Sarasota Bay, mangroves, coastline, wildlife and fishery.
Means also said that an approval of the map amendment, “in no way grants approval for those proposals.”
Commissioners expressed concern for whether any reference to a marina, dredging or boat docks should be included in the map amendment request.
Commissioners Carol Whitmore and DiSabatino wanted references to a marina removed from the request before voting.
Staff cautioned the board that the amendment was the developer’s proposal and not theirs to change, which could be considered grounds for a future lawsuit.
Commissioners were advised that a recent court ruling advised against local governments telling developers what they can and can’t put into a proposal, however language referencing the marina was removed prior to the vote after the developers agreed to have the language removed from their request.
Chappie said he also had trouble understanding how staff could say the request was consistent with the comprehensive plan.
“I’m having a problem that quite a few things are changing if the map amendment changes to mixed use as far as regulations that are imposed,” he said. “Why does staff say this is consistent with the comprehensive plan?”
Hamilton said until staff sees a site plan, “we don’t know if it will be inconsistent.
She said that’s why staff made sure to include language in its recommendation that further review may be needed and that there may be proposals that are inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.
Hamilton said the amendment request asked for the change and “we looked at it based just on that.”
Chappie said based on the increase in commercial square footage alone, it appears an increase in intensity is apparent and therefore not consistent with the comprehensive plan.
Text amendment change denied
While county staff recommended approval of the map amendment, Hamilton said staff had recommended denial of the text amendment request.
Hamilton said the language was not in the best interest of the public and would jeopardize the county’s environmental protection provisions.
“Staff has concerns that it could have negative impact on seagrasses, water quality, fish and shellfish harvesting,” she said.
Hamilton said the request would limit the county’s ability to maintain control of flooding, erosion and protection from tidal storm surges in order to maintain public safety and wildlife habitat.
“There is no justification in support of the text changes,” she said. “The uses envisioned may have an adverse impact to all shoreline in Manatee County, not just Sarasota Bay.”
While Beruff has maintained his text amendment proposal is designed to apply only to Long Bar Pointe, Means cited 42 properties within the county, which were identified by staff in a last-minute study completed the day before the Aug. 6 meeting, that the text amendment could impact in the future.
Means also said the comprehensive plan, written in 1989, prohibits the development of private property that continues into Sarasota Bay for dredging purposes and that the Long Bar Pointe proposal is contradictory to state requirements.
Commissioners unanimously voted to deny the text amendment changes.
Developers defend proposal
Beruff, whose comments were brief Aug. 6, said his vision for Long Bar Pointe was inspired by a trip to Barcelona, Spain.
“We believe this is the best designed community west of I-75 in 50 years,” said Beruff, who then turned over the presentation to his development team and attorney Ed Vogler.
Vogler said the two amendments sought by developers were simply an authorization to bring forward a concept not yet submitted and that it was a first step in a multi-agency regulatory review process.
Vogler argued that should the resort be built as proposed, it would create 1,000 jobs and hundreds of temporary construction jobs over 15 years. He said the resort would become an economic generator in terms of tax revenue and estimated it would generate $330,000 a year in annual sales tax and $952,000 in resort tax.
He said the text amendment changes were written under supervision and advisement of county staff, “I was very disappointed to come in today to hear staff disapproves of the language.”
Vogler said he was willing to work with staff in making some minor language changes that would achieve a good result, but it appeared “we don’t have that kind of relationship.”
One of Beruff’s environmental consultants, John Henslick, said the fact that Beruff has hired three environmental firms “shows how much we know that environmental concerns are a primary issue. We know we can make significant improvements to the condition of Sarasota Bay.”
Henslick cited the plan’s proposal to preserve or enhance 123 acres of mangroves, place a conservation easement and preserve 2.8 miles of the 2.9 mile Long Bar Pointe coastal shoreline.
Getting to the vote
After some short breaks, and a great deal of public comment — some scientific and environmental arguments as well as heartfelt concerns for the health of Sarasota Bay from the audience that dwindled to about 100 people by midnight — commissioners continued discussion on the map amendment with staff and reviewed the mixed-zoning already applied to the area surrounding the Long Bar Pointe property.
A large farming area running south from Cortez Road to 53rd Avenue West, running east past the county sewer treatment plant to 34th Street, owned now by Manatee Fruit Co., has been rezoned to mixed-use community, which allows a higher concentration of commercial at the 75th Street-Cortez Road intersection and some retail at the roundabout at 75th Street and 53rd Avenue West and on 53rd Avenue to the east.
Commissioners indicated they did not want another residential gated community at Long Bar Pointe, and mixed use was preferred.
However, several commissioners spoke against the marina and channel dredging proposed in the plan. Again, the county legal staff cautioned that the plan changes were proposed by the developer, and any change initiated by the commission would likely result in litigation by the developer.
Commissioner Michael Gallen reminded board members that the county has an agreement to maintain Sarasota Bay with Sarasota County and municipal governments by contract with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
Chappie cautioned commissioners about approving the zoning change based on further environmental concerns and the ability for the developer to include “big box” stores in the commercial uses.
There also was concern that staff’s recommendations were incomplete or incorrect — that not enough information was known at the time the amendments were reviewed.
Commissioners Betsy Benac, Vanessa Baugh and Whitmore continued to say they would go along with the recommended mixed-use zoning if the marina was not an option.
It finally became clear the land-use map change would fail with the marina included — based on the commissioners’ conversations.
Vogler then approached the podium — at about 1:30 a.m. — announcing the developers had agreed to remove the marina from their request.
DiSabatino had already motioned to deny transmitting the zoning change to the state —the first step in the rezone process — and she called upon the chair to take the vote.
Bustle, Benac, Baugh and Whitmore, voted no, essentially approving the zoning map change.
Chappie, DiSabatino and Gallen, who maintained issues aside from the marina were of concern, voted yes, to deny the amendment.
The marathon meeting ended just before 2 a.m.
- I am honored to speak on behalf several Manatee County residents. In all, 22 people have given me permission to speak for them today. I have the honor to speak on behalf of individuals with different backgrounds holding the same opinion. Many are fishing guides like CPT Scott Moore who is considered the pioneer of guide fishing in this area. Those fishing guides and many others here today depend on the waters and the fishing it provides to put food on the table and live what many might say is a simple life yet, to us, it’s the grandest life we could ask for. Others are residents who care deeply about where live and why they live here.
- We are opposing:
- Any dredging whatsoever – There is arguably no other area more important to the tidal flows and marine life that call the long bar home.
- Any mangrove trimming or mangrove removal. Many others already have or will speak about the traumatic effects.
- We aren’t taking a position that we should be able to tell Mr. Beruff what he can build on his land, to a certain extent, but we are taking a position we have every right to oppose any coastal destruction or alteration. No mitigating factor will ever make up for the harm caused.
- Why to say NO:
- In less than two months, my very own Petition has generated nearly 1000 signatures opposing the potential dredging and mangrove removal. When all of the petitions are combined, over 6000 signatures have been received.
- Save the Manatee County Shoreline Facebook Page is reaching 1100 likes alone.
- The only persons in favor of this project are individuals associated with developers and having a potential financial gain as a result.
- For fishing enthusiasts and charter captains like me, there mere thought of dredging through on the most important sea beds in all of Sarasota is a devastating thought. Not to mention to multiplied, increase of boat traffic and increased in size of boats that do not currently exist.
- When combining the dredging, the boat traffic and then the mangrove removal, the habitat and fishery will slowing wither away and no mitigating factor can every replace our special, natural environment.
- The few in favor keep preaching “mitigation.” Mitigation is a term to legally skirt around destroying one area and technically redefining another. There is no mitigating factor that will ever make up for the harm caused if this amendment is passed. The Long Bar is not the only location in Manatee this amendment will affect.
- If you pass this amendment, developers will be lining up to do the same thing to the rest of our shorelines and then, there is not stopping it, at least without paying thousands upon thousands of our tax payer dollars defending lawsuits which I know all too well.
- Fl Dept of Environmental Protection – Sarasota Bay designated as Outstanding Florida Waters meaning:
- No permits for indirect discharges significantly degrading nearby waterbody (Sarasota bay)
- Must meet a more stringent public interest test (nothing about this is in the public’s best interest as indicated by all of the people here today and all of the petitions signed).
- Activities adversely affecting the conservation of fish
- Adversely affecting navigation or the flow of water
- Adversely affecting the fishing or recreational values and marine productivity “in the vicinity”
- (see www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wqssp)
- Florida legislature implemented the Surface Water Improvement and Management Act of 1987. (Section 373.451, Florida Statutes)
- “SWIM Legislation requires the water management districts to protect ecological, aesthetic, recreational and economic value of the State’s surface water bodies, keeping in mind, degraded water quality can cause both direct and indirect losses of habitats.”
- Sarasota’s SWIM plan was approved in 1997. Commissioner Benac should know a lot about this. She sat on the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Policy Board in 2006-07.
- Concern for the overall health of Sarasota Bay resulted in the designation by the US Environmental Protection Agency as an estuary of national significance in 1987.
- In 1995, the following were identified as PRIORITY management issues:
- Decline in water quality
- LOSS of WETLANDS and other COASTAL habitats.
- Loss of sea grasses
- How is it that the Chairman that is supposed to be advocating for all that I just went through be here today advocating exactly the opposite?
- Please do not let the lawsuit effect your decision today. Unfortunately, I know all too well that we live in a lawsuit happy world. If I am a commissioner, I would much rather fight on the grounds of supporting an existing plan designed to protect the County I was voted into office to protect versus giving into a group that has long had tremendous influence on the outcome of the world most everyday residents live in and playing “defense” for years to come.
- Mr. Vogler, you cant legitimately say that environmental protection is important while saying environmental policies need to be changed. That’s an oxymoron.
- You said recently, “The policy limitations that are in here today are not well though-out and tailored. They were placed there and nobody objected to them because there wasn’t a project. There’s nothing wrong with high level of environmental protection. It’s perfect. Its wonderful. When it doesn’t work right, when the words say the wrong thing, you have to change the words.” Well, you are right, they are perfect, they are right. The policy wasn’t objected to because there wasn’t a “project.” The policy wasn’t objected to because it was put in place to prohibit such a project from that point forward because those commissioners knew that our coastline was too vital, too special to let anything happen to it. The policy was well thought out. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here today.
- I assure you, the residents of Manatee County have the Commissioners back to fight any lawsuit that threatens our coastline and our way of life.
- Before the commissioners come to a vote, I respectfully request withdraw your text amendment proposal. While there may be some hecklers out there that may tease you, there will be many, many more of us that will congratulate you on listening to the vast majority of the people who call this place home and give you a great deal of respect for doing what we believe to be the right thing to do despite your disagreeing. I would be the first person to shake your hand and say thank you.
- Even when and if you withdraw your request, you and everyone else involved is still going to make a killing on this property.
- Commissioner Whitmore: You are face with an important decision. A decision that forces you to look into the eyes of your friends and neighbors throughout Anna Maria and West Bradenton. Your decision today will tell them how much you truly care about them and their livelihoods.
- Commissioner Benac: I believe that you, Comm Whitmore and Chappie have the most to gain and the most to lose from your vote today. Your vote today, one of the most important votes you will ever make, is going to define you as a commissioner representing the people of Manatee County forever. Please vote wisely. Listen to your constituents.
- It is time that the Commissioners listen very carefully to the voters and the very people whose lives, both from a professional and recreational standpoint, depend on your NO vote today.
- I want our fishing and tourism industry to continue thriving. I want my friends and colleagues to continue being able to put food on the table for their family and pass on their knowledge like it’s been passed on to them. I want my son to grow up enjoying all the things I have enjoyed and pass that along to his children.
- We urge you throw out politics, say thank you to the developers for all they have done for our community and tell them there is no way we will approve any amendment that compromises our coastline for you or anyone else. Not under my watch.
- I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.