Real estate slump may add lands to Manatee County preserves

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 2, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Due in part to the recession, the county has a chance to rescue from development three ecologically important properties.

County Department of Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker recommended Manatee should apply for grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to purchase the land from private owners.

He outlined Tuesday a plan to acquire 149.9 acres adjacent to Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton; 8 undeveloped acres in east Manatee with 2,000 feet of Braden River frontage; and 24 acres along the Braden River, also in East Manatee, that includes the popular Linger Lodge restaurant.

“It’s an opportunity, I believe, that looks really at advancing Manatee County land holdings without impact on our general fund,” Hunsicker told the county commission during a workshop session at County Center.

William C. Robinson, president of Robinson Farms Inc., wrote the county, “Clearly, we are in a very serious real estate recession/depression which has artificially -- in our view as a large landholder -- reduced absolute land values in the current market cycle.”

He set the price of the land at $12.1 million, but Hunsicker contended the county would pay no more than $2.5 million for the parcel skirting the southeast edge of the 480-acre Robinson Preserve.

“We think it would cost them money to build now,” Hunsicker said after the meeting.

However, once economic conditions improve, the window of opportunity to preserve the land might slam shut, and new subdivisions could grow there instead, Hunsicker cautioned.

“Some of these opportunities only come around once, and if you don’t hear the knock on the door, it’s over,” said Commissioner John Chappie.

If the water management district provided grants, the county would manage them for conservation and passive recreation, Hunsicker said.

The land would play a “very important” role in protecting the purity of the Braden River, which supplies drinking water to the cty of Bradenton, he said.

It would also help the area meet new federal freshwater quality standards by precluding development, and preserve “irreplaceable habitat” for diverse flora and fauna, Hunsicker explained.

“We’re truly reaching for something with positive potential,” he told the commissioners, who seemed receptive to the idea.

They asked their attorneys to review the details with the intention of presenting it to the commission quickly for approval “in concept.”

Commissioner Joe McClash suggested that perhaps the city of Bradenton, which would benefit from the acquisitions, might help supply staffing for the properties’ management.

The northwest Bradenton land, owned by Robinson Farms and adjacent to the Robinson Preserve, has already been approved for construction of 20 single family home sites, along with an 18-hole championship golf course, clubhouse, pool and recreational fields, according to documents provided by Hunsicker.

If Hunsicker’s plan comes to fruition, the land would instead become “Robinson Preserve II,” with 75 acres of saltwater habitat, 25 acres of tidal creek, and 50 acres of passive recreation and tropical forest, documents said.

About 50 acres would be reserved for development, with 60 residential units -- subject to county approval; and Robinson Farms would be allowed to use up to 500,000 cubic yards of spoil developed by the restoration of the adjacent preserve parcel at no cost within five years of its acquisition date, documents said.

The owner of the 8 acres in East Manatee at 6538 Lincoln Road has indicated a willingness to sell at the county appraisal value, documents said. The property is assessed on the tax rolls at $136,280, they said.

The Linger Lodge property, 7205 85th St. Court E., was appraised at $3.55 million in December, documents said.

Listed among its owners are Florida Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Sarasota financier Marvin Kaplan, according to state records.

In state Commission on Ethics reports, Bennett reported a loss in the value of “M&M Linger Lodge-Linger Lodge RV/Rest,” a reference to the property, from $1.75 million to $100,000.

Should the county be able to acquire the property, it would seek federal and state competitive grants to complete environmental restoration of the Linger Lodge RV park and grounds, documents said.

“Public acquisition of the property and removal of 99 of the 104 rental units is a sound basin management plan component for restoration of the tributary watershed,” documents said.

The restaurant would continue to operate under a lease agreement between Manatee County and a concessionaire, but Hunsicker said the owner volunteered to continue running it for another couple of years if necessary.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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