Manatee commissioners to weigh Long Bar Pointe plan

cschelle@bradenton.comJune 6, 2013 

MANATEE -- County Commissioners are thinking long and hard about Long Bar Pointe.

The Board of County Commissioners will hear the proposed map amendment for Long Bar Pointe and the text amendment to the county comprehensive plan at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino is continuing to do her homework on the site and proposed comp plan change, and wants to hear everything the developer is planning for the site and how the text amendment could affect the county.

"We need to get it right," she said. "I'm hoping that perhaps we can hear everything that needs to be said, and continue the discussion after the break in August or September."

Developers Larry Lieberman and Medallion Homes' Carlos Beruff want to build a resort-quality development featuring a 300-berth marina that can accommodate boats as large as 100 feet long, to rival Marina Jack in Sarasota in size. Long Bar stretches along Sarasota Bay near El Conquistador Parkway in southwest Manatee County up to Tidy Island, and includes privately owned submerged land, which is a rarity in Florida where much of the submerged lands are government-owned.

Already approved for the maximum limits for housing and commercial, Long Bar Pointe's developer wants more zoning changes and altered countywide environmental regulations to build:

• 1,086 single-family homes

• 1,687 low-rise multi-family homes

• 844 high-rise multi-family homes

• 300-room hotel

• 300-berth marina and canal

• Two 36,000-square-foot offices

• 60,000-square-foot shopping center

• 60,000-square-foot specialty retail

• 84,000-square-foot conference center

Staff recommended commissioners approve a map amendment because some proposed uses could be clustered, but staff recommended against altering the comprehensive plan because it would open development in other environmentally sensitive areas across Manatee -- not only in the coastal flood area on Long Bar.

Despite staff opposition, the Planning Commission transmitted the plans to the County Commission. Commission approval would send the map and text amendments to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for a 45-day comment period. An adoption hearing by the county would be held a month later, and if adopted, the state has 30 days to provide a report, Means said.

If the state does not challenge the amendment, it can go into effect.

DiSabatino said she examined a map that appears to show at least a dozen county properties that could qualify for development with the text amendment, and developers could still assemble properties and request a rezone to qualify for development under the amendment's guidelines.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore is not set on what she's going to do Thursday.

"I've been going over it all weekend and today and am very carefully studying it," Whitmore said.

Several features of the proposed comp plan amendment raised red flags concerning the Long Bar project.

Two acres of seaweed would have to be dredged to create a channel for large boats, and 20 to 40 acres of mangroves would be removed. The proposed dredging would be prohibited, according to staff, because it would adversely impact sea grasses, which is not allowed by the comprehensive plan.

Dredging could be allowed through a maintenance dredging permit re-establishing old channels, but none exist from staff studies and aerial maps, said Planning Division Manager Doug Means.

The prospects of mangrove removal and seaweed dredging has environmentalists concerned, including Randy Moore, whose public relations clients include the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

"It seems to be a half-baked idea," Moore said. "Somehow the common sense is missing in the conversation."

Moore, who has a Florida Master Naturalist Certificate from the University of Florida, said mangroves and sea grass provide important coastal protection during storms to stabilize the soil, hold off surge and provide necessary habitats for young aquatic life and manatees.

"When people throw out the word marina to accommodate 100-foot boats, you are immediately putting a crosshair on sea grass," Moore said. Dredging seagrass would go against decades of public education and policy for maintaining sea grass beds, he said.

Without aquatic life being able to develop and continue into the Gulf, the economic development from the resort would harm the fishing industry along Cortez and Sarasota Bay, Moore said.

"The bay is either vital and is a treasure, or it's not," he said. "The way you know it's a treasure is the way you treat it."

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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