Developer, residents clash over vision for Long Bar Pointe in Bradenton

Herald Staff WritersJuly 12, 2013 

CORTEZ -- Developer Carlos Beruff faced a skeptical crowd of Manatee residents Thursday saying his Long Bar Pointe project would provide jobs and a classy resort for southwest Bradenton.

Environmental concerns were paramount to the crowd especially after Beruff said he would have to destroy 225 linear feet of mangroves and trim other areas.

Mary Fulford Green, whose grandfather bought the first tract of land in the area in 1887, said she feared the development would disturb Cortez's multimillion-dollar fishing industry and the families who depend upon it to make their living.

"We are concerned you will destroy our town," she said.

At times the crowd shouted down Beruff while he was trying to talk, sometimes leaving the developer with his head in his hands. Former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash got a round of applause when he told Beruff: "While it's not a bad project, it's not a good project here."

Beruff, founder of Medallion Home, is a lead developer of the proposed "coastal resort." He told the roomful of about 175 people his proposal would produce a "net benefit" to Sarasota Bay or it would not be approved.

Another hurdle: Manatee County Comprehensive Plan amendments are required for the project, which Beruff said would be built over 20 years.

"What I'm worried about is your comp plan text amendment," Katie Pierola said. "It means all the waterfront left in Manatee County will be affected."

Beruff said it was not his intent to change the county comp plan "for anybody but us."

"Unfortunately, the comp plan precludes us from doing what we're trying to do," Beruff said.

The meeting lasted more than two hours in a sweaty, cramped Fisherman's Hall, with dozens of questions about the project, which comes before the Manatee County Commission for review Aug. 6.

The site overlooks Sarasota Bay and parallels El Conquistador Parkway in the area where 75th Street West intersects with 53rd Avenue West.

Plans call for a mixed-use development on 463.2 acres, including single- and multi-family units, hotel, upland marina, office and commercial space, and a conference center, according to county documents. About 294.7 acres are within the Coastal High Hazard area, land prone to flooding during storms.

Beruff said he put a substantial amount of his own money into the project. He also has a partner of 23 years, a retired Bain Capital partner, and two partners who are senior members of Bain Capital.

"So, our access to capital, and I'm sure you'll recognize what Bain Capital is, is not a problem," he said.

A promenade area inspired by places such as Barcelona, Spain, and two developments in South Walton in the Panhandle -- WaterColor and Seaside -- was an example Beruff gave of public benefit, enhanced water use and amenities.

"The public benefit is to create a village that is open 24/7. And is open to all of the residents of Manatee County, and everyone who visits Manatee County," Beruff said.

Beruff said a boat basin would be the focal point at a natural break of mangroves. The basin would cut into the land forming a circle lined with boat slips. A circulation channel would cut south of the basin to prevent stagnation, Beruff said.

To accommodate 80 boats in what he called an upland marina, 2,100 linear feet of seagrass would be dredged along a 60-foot wide channel at a maximum depth of 5 feet, he said.

"It's not a marina like Twin Dolphin or Marina Jack where you have gas," Beruff said. "It is a boat basin done on uplands with no impacts on wetlands. Zero."

To the north, the hotel and promenade would sit close to the shore. He said the promenade would meander near various shops and eateries allowing sunset strolls overlooking trimmed mangroves.

A water taxi could take guests to and from Coquina Beach and Sarasota, Beruff said.

Beruff acknowledged the shallow shoreline water, but said docks don't necessarily require boats to be enjoyed. He could create a deed-restricted community where dock construction could be controlled, Beruff added.

The tallest building would be five stories, Beruff said. A five-star, 250-room hotel is possible, too, he said.

"Getting a five-star hotel resort isn't a challenge because we are under-flagged in this market," Beruff said.

Beyond the hotels, 150,000 square feet of mixed-use office and retail would dot the landscape, he said. He estimated as many as 1,000 jobs would be created over time.

Capt. Kathe Tupin Fannon told Beruff she has taken people out to see the natural wonders of the area for years and not a single visitor has ever asked to see a big marina.

"Once you take Old Florida out, it's gone," she said.

The project still must gain approval from various permitting agencies to be built, he said.

"We will do whatever the state and federal (agencies) say we have to do," Beruff said.

In order for the project to be approved, Beruff needs a map amendment to rezone the property for mixed-use development as well as a text amendment in the county comprehensive plan to allow development in the Coastal High Hazard Zone -- areas prone to damage from storm flooding -- as long as the property is 200 acres or more.

Beruff said the land would be elevated to protect Long Bar Pointe from tidal surge. He wouldn't do the project unless losses from a natural disaster could be covered.

"If we can't get insurance, it can't be done," Beruff said.

Sara Kennedy, county government reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow Kennedy on Twitter @sarawrites and Schelle @ImYourChuck.

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