Manatee County to consider rezoning Aqua By The Bay

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Heavy equipment clears the land, as trees, vegetation and shrubs burn at the 529-acre Aqua By The Bay site under a Southwest Florida Water Management District agricultural permit that was issued to excavate ponds and lakes. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Manatee County commissioners soon will be asked to rezone and consider a general development plan for the Aqua By The Bay, a development formerly proposed as Long Bar Pointe.

About one-third of the property, which lies east and south of Cortez, is submerged lands.

Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII, guided by developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman, have requested a 191-acre rezone and mixed-use development plan for the 529-acre site between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay.

The county planning commission is expected to hear the developers’ proposals at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 13, and the plan could be on the agenda for a Manatee County Board of Commissioners’ land use meeting as early as May 4.

The plan includes 78,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, 2,894 homes, recreational amenities and private boat docks.

According to the Aqua website, plans include a boardwalk, promenade, observation piers and restaurants accessible to the public.

Since the developers resubmitted plans in August 2015, the number of proposed residences has dropped by 303 units but the commercial space has remained the same.

According to a county notice, the proposed mixed-use zoning change will affect 191 acres and three parcels — 39 acres currently zoned residential single-family at 4.5 units per acre, 22 acres zoned suburban-agricultural land at one-dwelling unit per acre, and 130 acres now in planned-development residential and agricultural zoning.

The Beruff/Lieberman partnership will carry with them a history of fighting Manatee County coastal policies.

They purchased the property in 2012 and sued the county after commissioners refused to grant them exceptions from coastal policies for a marina/hotel complex.

In February, the developers lost their case in the 2nd District Court of Appeal. They had asked the court to declare unconstitutional the county comp plan regulations that protect wetlands, restrict dredging and prohibit boat ramps.

In mid-October 2016, the developers erroneously bulldozed a conservation area south of the Aqua site.

An Oct. 31 survey of the Legends Bay property indicates 8,962 square-feet of “construction clearing, grubbing and earth moving” in the county’s 1.19-acre conservation area.

The developer submitted a draft vegetative restoration plan in January.

In a Feb. 14 letter, Joel Christian, Manatee County planning manager, recommended additional regrading, stabilization and maintenance, as well as two 10-foot cabbage palms and cluster or random placement of trees, ground cover and 18- to 20-foot native shrubs.

Christian wrote in an email March 24 the county and the developers were going back and forth on the restoration plan.

Since December 2016, more than 80 lots were purchased by a Beruff-controlled entity, Legends Bay Real Estate LLC, a subsidiary of Medallion Home.

Legends Bay resident Arlene Dukanauskas reported March 1 she is not pleased with the new ownership, which has “done very little to manage the community.”

She said her neighbors are displeased with the developers, who’ve failed to restore the conservation area destroyed in October 2016 and, for the past several months, allowed workers to burn trees and brush and create piles of blowing sand and dirt.

Calls to county officials have not helped, Dukanauskas added.

At the expected county hearings on Aqua in April and May, former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash is expected to urge county commissioners not to consider Aqua piecemeal, but wait for the Army Corps of Engineers permit decision as well as Swiftmud and DEP administrative challenge outcomes.

McClash and Suncoast Waterkeeper Inc., a nonprofit with a mission to protect the coastal waters, have appealed the developers’ late-filed wetlands Swiftmud permit, claiming additional wetlands at the site. That matter is set for a video hearing at 9 a.m. April 26 before Judge Bram D.E. Canter of the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

An appeal of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s “intent to issue” a mitigation bank permit at the site is set for another administrative law judge’s review Sept. 19-21 at a Bradenton location yet to be determined.

The county plan commission’s next meeting is set at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 13, in the first-floor chambers of the Manatee County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

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