Manatee County planning commissioners voted 3-2 April 13 to recommend a large-scale mixed-use development along more than 2 miles of Sarasota Bay shoreline southeast of Cortez and Anna Maria Island.
The action moves approval of Aqua By The Bay — 2,894 homes, 78,000 square feet of commercial space, 13- and five-story buildings, a 2-mile lagoon and seawalls — to the county commission.
The county board will consider the Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VIII general development plan and a 191-acre rezone at its land use meeting at 9 a.m. May 4.
As part of the 529-acre site, the Carlos Beruff-Larry Lieberman entities hope to run a 260-acre mitigation bank that needs state and federal permits — but county attorney Sarah Schenk told commissioners they were not to consider the bank.
Thirteen people spoke against the plan, including Cortez-based Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage directors Jane von Hahmann, Linda Molto and John Stevely, Capt. Kathe Fannon, and Fishing for Freedom members Thomas Reynolds and Mark Coarsey.
Fannon spoke of the seahorses, starfish, conch and other marine life she sees in the bay near the proposed development and implored commissioners to reject the plan, saying, “Let’s stand up for old Florida.”
“Nobody has once asked me to take them to see a high-rise,” she said.
Von Hahmann warned, “Sea rise is happening.”
The 50-foot wetland buffers should be retained and potential impacts of tidal exchange, flow and storm surge determined, she said.
She called the 145-foot building height “beyond comprehension.”
Von Hahmann asked the development be held to the same standards as Peninsula Bay and Lakewood Ranch and called for denial “until we fully understand all the impacts.”
Molto pleaded with commissioners to save the scenic beauty of the bay.
As commercial fishermen, Reynolds asked for the commissioners to consider “all those little fish,” their migration and nurturing, and Coarsey called the pristine mangrove-lined shoreline “our last stand.”
Also registering comments against Aqua By The Bay were representatives from the Sierra Club, Manatee-Sarasota Group, Suncoast Waterkeepers and the League of Women Voters of Manatee County.
Only one comment favored the development. A woman who failed to sign a speaker card asked commissioners to consider jobs, employment and taxes.
“Large projects are never perfect,” Commissioner Tim Rhoades said before the vote. He credited the developers for making changes, trusted the plan because “many reputations were at stake” and didn’t object to its compatibility.
Commissioner Matt Bower questioned the 145-foot and 75-foot building heights.
Bower criticized planner Stephanie Moreland’s comparison of Aqua’s height “compatibility” with the approved Lake Flores plan’s 95-foot-tall buildings. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” but no buildings in Lake Flores “are on the coastline.” And “they’re closer to Cortez Road,” Bower said.
Commissioner Albert Horrigan Jr. asked about dredging and docks with regard to the gaping 100-foot stretch of untouched shoreline.
Dredging is prohibited under the Manatee County Comprehensive Plan.
“Why would you want docks if you can’t dredge?” Horrigan questioned.
The county attorney said the county can’t force them not to plan or request docks.
Planning Commissioner Mike Rahn motioned for Aqua’s approval and it received a second by Commissioner John DeLesline. Rahn, DeLesline and Rhoades voted yes. Bower and Horrigan voted no.
Absent for the planning commission vote were William Conerly and Paul Rutledge.
Plan approval was contingent on county staff stipulations, including a requirement state permits be obtained before development is commenced and the submittal of “overall layouts for the entire project” with future site plans.
The rezoning request includes 39 acres from single-family to planned development, 22 acres from agricultural to planned development and 130 acres from planned development and agricultural to mixed use.
For the developers, attorney Scott Rudacille of Blalock Walters said the plan was compliant with the land development code and comp plan.
The developers’ team touted the benefits of engineering stormwater runoff, only 13 acres of wetland impacts and the need for permits.
Developer attorney Ed Vogler predicted a 20-year build-out. He disputed the hundreds of comments made in opposition to the plan.
Stevely, a retired University of Florida Sea Grant scientist, told the commissioners: “You can’t dismiss the comments as misperceptions.”
“There’s real problems with this plan,” he added, both with the hydrology and ecology.