Long Bar Pointe development off the table on Manatee County waterfront, for now

12/26/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Manatee County, environment, Janelle Irwin, fisheries, Development, Long Bar Pointe, WMNF News, Bradenton

A controversial development proposal on waterfront property in Manatee County is on hold for now. Nearly 500 acres of waterfront won’t be considered for a land use change at a meeting next month that would have given investors the green light on building a resort, retail center and convention center.

“All the grass flats – that’s where the Trout, the Red Fish, the Snook – they all get their nourishment in that area. If we ever get Scallops back, that’s where they’re going to be. It’s just teaming with life.”

That’s Merrie Lynn Parker. She was one of nearly 1,000 to speak out against a proposal by developers to build on Long Bar Pointe during a 12-hour long meeting in August. Developers did not respond to an interview request, but Larry Lieberman, a partner in the Long Bar Pointe plans, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune that “all of the yelling and screaming had nothing to do with it,” and instead that it’s “just not as feasible as we thought.” But Parker doesn’t buy it.

“They just seem very determined. The taking the marina out of the mix during that August meeting I think was a ploy on their part. I think they were asking for the moon and hoping for half way to the moon. I think it was a red herring – something that they put in there to get everybody stirred up and then they pulled it out thinking that everybody would then love everything else they did.”

Parker is referring to an earlier version of development plans that would have also included a marina for boat access to the Bay. According to the Herald-Tribune, developers now say they’ll consider residential development.

“I think that particular piece of property is too [valuable] of a natural resource to be building on it at all personally.

The property, which sits across Sarasota Bay from Longboat Key, is currently zoned as what’s called Res 9. That means builders can erect a mix of single family homes and low-rise condos no more than 9-per acre.

“Which is a fairly – 9 units per acre is a fairly, to me, dense population in a natural setting that that is.”

The proposal for large scale development on coastal property drew a year long battle among environmentalists concerned about the impacts to mangroves and fisheries. Dick Eckenrod is a member of the Manatee Fish and Game Association and the former director of the group Tampa Bay Estuary.

“The Long Bar Pointe site is, to my knowledge, the last remaining relatively pristine area in that part of Sarasota Bay and it has a very lush and lengthy mangrove shoreline. It has sea grass beds bordering that which are in quite good condition.”

Though the withdrawal of zoning changes is something of a win for critics, there are still concerned about the impacts of residential buildings. Already lands to the east and west of Long Bar Pointe are home to agricultural land and the watershed has been impacted by fertilizer runoff which tweaks nutrient levels and can lead to harmful algae blooms.

“I would say that part of Sarasota Bay which was impacted at one time, very significantly, by [agricultural] runoff can be further improved and it already has.”

Despite an outpouring of opposition for commercial development, there are people hoping a hotel or other similar development could still be on the table. In online comments to news articles, one reader called elected bodies in Manatee County “not very friendly” referring to working with developers. And Parker, the woman who endured a 12-hour meeting to speak against the plans, says her neighbor thought a hotel and convention center would be good for the economy. He compared the project to a nearby park that was built despite opposition from environmentalists.

“And my thinking was, well, I guess that makes sense in one way, but Palma Sola Bay is nothing like Palma Sola Bay was before that development occurred or before the causeway was put down to get you out to Anna Maria. That basically killed the Bay.”

Supporters of development plans, including Parker’s neighbor wore green hats and buttons that said “Yes” in support of land use changes.

“That day in August there were a lot of people with green hats, but most of them were employees of the developers. And I know that because, one of the women that I was sitting near, her son-in-law came over and said hello to her and he was an employee of the developers and indicated that they were all encouraged to b2e there – that that was their daily assignment.”

Opponents of commercial development plan to keep at least one eye on future plans for Long Bar Pointe. One of the developers, Carlos Beruff, has put money behind candidates for Manatee County Commission to potentially unseat current board members who voted against the development plans.

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