Manatee County Commission to take up 'Urban Service Area' today

skennedy@bradenton.comNovember 7, 2013 

MANATEE -- The boundaries of a controversial "Urban Service Area," meant to encourage growth where infrastructure already exists, is slated for discussion Thursday by the Manatee County Commission.

An amendment to the county Comprehensive Plan would exclude low-lying lands from the boundaries of the county's new Urban Service Area. If the recommendation is adopted by county commissioners, it would take 3,662 acres from the original boundaries and reduce it 15 percent, from 24,406 acres to 20,744 acres. The proposed amendment would omit most of the Long Bar Pointe project from the Urban Service Area, which allows exemptions from higher-level planning reviews. Last summer, the commission asked Long Bar Pointe developers to remove a marina and other items from their project, contending it might damage sensitive coastal habitat. The commission then approved plans for the Long Bar Pointe mixed-use project in the county's southwest section.

Former County Commissioner Joe McClash took aim Wednesday at the latest version of the plan amendment, arguing that the area on the map exceeds the need, and that "unintended future impacts could reduce the quality of our community."

"The map should be amended further to eliminate not only the coastal areas, but the developed land" for which an Urban Service Area was not intended, he wrote in an email message to Commission Chairman Larry Bustle.

County planner John Osborne, when told of McClash's objections, said, "The USA we're proposing we feel is an adequate size, it provides coverage for an area of the county that has certain needs, an area well-established, which meets the intent of the statute."

As for unintended future impacts, Osborne said state officials can make changes "either positively or negatively" during any legislative session.

In June, Bustle and Commissioners Carol Whitmore, John Chappie, Betsy Benac and Vanessa Baugh voted in favor of an urban service area. Commissioners Michael Gallen and Robin DiSabatino voted against it. The Florida Legislature created a specific exemption from the Development of Regional Impact process for such an area, allowing development to be reviewed through local government alone.

The county's professional staff supported the change, as did the Manatee County Planning Commission, recommending the urban service area be established in the unincorporated area south of the Manatee River and west of U.S. 301. However, after hearing public comments about where the boundaries should be, planning officials now are recommending the most sensitive ecological areas be excluded from it.

A summary of the plan amendment noted development is encouraged in an Urban Service Area, although it is discouraged in low-lying sections "and population is directed away from coastal areas." "Removing the Coastal Evacuation Area from the Urban Service Area boundary is also consistent with Southwest Florida Water Management District's concerns about development within an area of potential storm surge and flooding threats," the summary said.

The meeting is open to the public and begins at 9 a.m. at the Manatee County Administrative Center, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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