Manatee County OKs agreement for expansion of Robinson Preserve

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 22, 2012 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission Tuesday directed its staff to negotiate an agreement with a nonprofit foundation to acquire about 150 acres for an expansion of popular Robinson Preserve.

Acquisition of the property "comes as an enormous opportunity" to expand upon the restoration of Tampa Bay, Perico Bayou and other areas, explained Charlie Hunsicker, the county's director of natural resources.

The county hopes to return the acreage to its native vegetation, "maybe even see a return of quail if we grow the habitats in the right way," he said.

An agreement would be drawn up with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, which would be charged with raising funds to buy the property, according to county documents.

No taxpayer money is involved, said Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation, based in Osprey.

Although an appraiser has visited the property recently, he has not yet determined its value, she said after the meeting.

The transaction would be structured to allow the foundation to acquire the land from the Robinson Family, and then donate the tract back to Manatee County, officials said.

The family would still be able to develop approximately 50 additional acres into a future single-family subdivision development, doing business as Robinson Farms, Inc., documents said.

"The agreement will state that it does not grant Robinson Farms, Inc., or any other party the right to any specific development approvals on the remaining 50 acres," and that future development proposals would be subject to the county's Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, according to county documents.

The land is located south of Robinson Preserve, 1704 99th St. N.W., Bradenton.

In 2002, the Robinson family sold 487 acres with 3.5 miles of shoreline to the county for $10 million, which became Robinson Preserve, county documents said.

It held back 200 acres from the original parcel of 687 acres for development as a residential subdivision and championship golf course, they said.

Since then, the county has invested more than $11 million for environmental restoration and to develop recreational amenities at the preserve, they said.

It has "exceeded all early estimates of public use," with over 300,000 visitors annually, documents said.

While acquisition talks proceed with the Robinson family, the county and developer John Neal remain in opposing legal camps over whether a proposed northwest Bradenton housing project should be built nearby, between 9th and 17th avenues N.W., Hunsicker said after the meeting.

In other action Tuesday, the commission OK'd a deal that will settle a Medicaid dispute with the state.

Commissioners agreed to pay $1.8 million in disputed Medicaid billings, also agreeing to refrain from filing administrative challenges about the issue.

Earlier this year, the state sought $5.2 million to pay for backlogged health care expenses for the needy, but since then, it settled on a lower figure.

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

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