County approves ‘green’ mixed development in Cortez

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Hunters Point Resort & Marina, 12444 Cortez Road W., east of the Cortez Bridge on the north side of Cortez Road, was approved Jan. 11 by the Manatee Board of County Commissioners as a mixed-use development, including 86 energy-efficient homes. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Environmentally friendly tiny homes seem to have won favor in Cortez as well as approval from the county board.

The developers apparently found the right mix of energy-efficient tiny homes, vacation rentals, resort living, waterfront access and favor among the community. Even the name harkens back to the origins of Cortez, an area marked on maps as Hunters Point before the commercial fishing village grew to be known as Cortez.

“We will not trim the mangroves,” developer Marshall Gobuty said Jan. 11, before Hunters Point Resort & Marina gained the Manatee Board of County Commissioners’ unanimous approval.

The developer’s promise preceded the vote and responded to Commissioner Carol Whitmore’s concern for nesting birds in the mangroves buffering the canals at the development site.

Mangrove trimming was one of a few concerns voiced at the hearing.

What turned heads were the 86 energy-ready homes proposed by Gobuty, the developer of Mirabella in northwest Bradenton and founder and principal of Pearl Homes and the head of Cortez Road Investments and Finance Inc.

The BOCC vote approved Hunters Point’s preliminary site plan and rezone of 6.31 acres of the 18.73-acre site at the northeast base of the Cortez Bridge.

The rezone changes 5.01 acres of canals and 1.3 acres zoned commercial to align with the remaining “mixed-use” designation approved in August 2006 for a project that was previously abandoned.

Each of the Pearl Homes will feature rooftop solar panels, battery storage system and an electric car charging station, and will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum green criteria. The LEED certification ensures third-party verification, according to the developer.

“He will have to build these or he will have to come back to you,” Gobuty’s attorney, Caleb Grimes, said.

Partnering with the developer is Tesla and Panasonic.

“Each Hunters Point property comes with a new electric-powered Tesla vehicle” and the development will feature Panasonic “Smart Community” technology, including smart street lighting and enhanced security monitoring, according to Pearl Homes’ Jan. 12 news release.

The Hunters Point plan calls for 86 residential cottages, 45,620 square feet of non-residential use, including 62 hotel rooms in five buildings, a clubhouse, restaurant and marina with 48 dock slips and a dedicated slip for a water taxi.

Grimes told the commission that the developer has not met with the Florida Department of Transportation on the bridge.

The DOT is expected to announce either a new 35-foot bascule bridge or a fixed, 65-foot-clearance bridge to replace the 1957 bridge, a few hundred feet from the site.

“We would lose basically the western part of the hotel resort area,” if the DOT constructs the high bridge, Grimes said.

The community is expected to operate as a resort, including vacation homes.

Whitmore also addressed concerns voiced at a December planning commission hearing — where commissioners unanimously recommended the project — about the transient nature of vacation rentals.

Legal research indicates state law prohibits the county from regulating rentals and a zoned “Cortez overlay” has no such restrictions, according to Whitmore.

County planner Margaret Tusing said staff recommended the BOCC approval because of its infill design, green transportation options, walkability and use of current infrastructure.

The only negative aspect, according to staff, was its location in the coastal high hazard, coastal evacuation and coastal planning areas, but that was mitigated by the developer’s emergency preparedness plan and notice to purchasers.

Karen Bell, a business owner and resident of 125th Street West in Cortez, spoke in favor of the development.

She said that in operating Star Fish Restaurant and caring about the neighborhood, she closes at 8 p.m. and doesn’t have entertainment.

“You have to have people who care about what they’re doing…. I know in my heart they care about what’s going on,” Bell said.

Another neighbor, Robert Boyatt of 42nd Avenue Drive West in Cortez, complimented the developer on creating a “cool project,” but worried about 23 docks in the canals that would be transferred to a homeowner association.

Grimes twice said a declaration, which runs with the land, would protect “properly permitted docks” from future interference.

Another citizen asked about the old gas station on the property and whether the underground fuel tanks had been removed.

Grimes said prior owners have assured they were removed, but a Phase I environmental assessment for the property would be undertaken.

Commissioner Steve Jonsson said he was concerned about traffic, considering Penn Bay, Lake Flores and a new Cortez Bridge, but added, Hunters Point “sounds like it will be more transient.”

“I think it’s a home run,” Commissioner Robin D’Sabatino said, adding she’d never seen a development with “all the citizens so in favor of a project.”

Whitmore said she preferred the smaller homes over “a bunch of RVs.”

Commissioner Betsy Benac motioned for the development’s approval because of the consistency to the county’s comprehensive plan and land development code.

“And because it’s cool,” she said.

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