Bad timing on Manatee County vote, but still good decision on growth

June 12, 2013 

When the Manatee County board of commissioners skirted the issue of Long Bar Pointe last week on the excuse that Tropical Storm Andrea interfered, they then approved a major change in development approvals. The timing was poor, to say the least.

Yet the designation of the southwest portion of unincorporated Manatee County as an "urban service area" is part of a broader plan years in the making -- officially known as "How Will We Grow."

The commission approved a strategic plan to encourage redevelopment in the area west of Highway 301 and south of the Manatee River to focus growth in a place that is vital to the county's overall economic health. This designation will be helpful in that effort.

An urban service area frees developers from expensive state review of plans determined to be a "Development of Regional Impact." That could apply to the giant Long Bar Pointe plan, a 463.2-acre mixed-use development on Sarasota Bay. The urban-service designation requires state approval.

But the fact remains that the county has been considering this urban service designation for a long time, and the idea can be found in the How Will We Grow document on the county website.

The Urban Land Institute, which conducted an in-depth study of Manatee County growth opportunities in a 57-page report, recommended targeted investment in the southwest.

With the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and vital industries, the area is ripe for a concentrated effort at revitalization.

Long Bar Pointe represents an important development for the county, too, one that should position the area to compete with Sarasota for the tourism trade.

With a luxury hotel and convention space there, Manatee will be able to attract more visitors.

That said, the county should tread carefully on environmental issues. Amendments in the comprehensive plan, a valuable land-use document, should only be amended with great care and consideration.

Long Bar Pointe blueprints calls for dredging of a canal and the destruction of acres of mangroves in order to provide a marina for the resort.

While we agree water access is important for a resort of this style -- a 300-room hotel and a marina -- we question the loss of valuable seagrass and marine habitat.

And the comp plan changes that are proposed for this project would set a precedent that would impact other areas of the county. That alone should give pause to this.

Commissioners delayed consideration until an Aug. 6 public hearing. This is a critical project that deserves time for a thorough review.

The commission has already decided that the southwest corner of the county is the key to future growth. Let's do justice to both economic growth and the environment.

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