EAST MANATEE -- Tim Law's backyard is a picturesque plain of emerald grass and patches of old trees. Sometimes, horses and the cows poke their heads over his bushes for a daytime visit.
"That's a beautiful piece of ranch land," said Law, 58, admiring the view from his pool patio. "Many of those oak trees are probably approaching 100 years old. Those will be mulch."
Law and his wife, Pauline, live in a 2,100-square-foot home in Country Meadows, a community nearly 15 years old just off Upper Manatee River Road. All 247 neighborhood homes, nestled on 1-acre lots, have plenty of breathing room, which is what makes the community so attractive, residents say.
Country Meadows is clean,
quiet, cozy and essentially rural. Some residents say that will change if Manatee County approves plans for a 600-lot community, Del Tierra, just west of Country Meadows at 15156 and 16000 Upper Manatee River Road. Those Country Meadows residents do not welcome the project spearheaded by Texas-based developer D.R. Horton, the largest residential home builder in the United States.
If approved, the four-phase development will begin in 2013 with an estimated completion date of 2017.
"I'd love to see our county continue to grow and develop out east. We're not anti-development," said Law, president of the Country Meadows Homeowners Association. "The concern is density."
The proposed Del Tierra project will consist of more than 600 single family homes on 233 acres, according to plans filed with Manatee County. That's a net density of 2.58 homes per acre. Country Meadows now has about one home per acre.
"What that translates to is a lot of homes and a lot of traffic, and I think that it's going to become a safety issue in Country Meadows," said resident Jerry Koontz.
Residents say high density doesn't mesh well with the spread-out communities in the area. Del Tierra's lots will range from 6,000 to 7,500 square feet, while lots in Country Meadows are now a minimum of 15,200 square feet.
The density of the Del Tierra project is comparable to the neighboring Rye Road subdivision, approved in 2012, at nearly three homes per acre. But there are only 152 lots in that development or about one-quarter the size of the proposed Del Tierra project.
Most existing developments around Del Tierra have a density of one or two homes per acre.
"I'm all for Manatee continuing to grow. I think the growth has been positive. I just don't want to see developers ... be permitted to violate the standard that's been out here for quite some time," said Koontz, 70.
County planners who reviewed D.R. Horton's application for the proposed community, which sits on land zoned agricultural, noted its lots are "significantly smaller than allowed in the adjacent agricultural properties ... and smaller than Country Meadows to the west."
They also say the project is consistent with area growth patterns and have recommended approval.
Representatives of D.R. Horton could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Residents are also worried the new neighborhood will overcrowd area schools.
Michael O'Reilly, 51, has lived in Country Meadows since 2007. He said his children, ages 2 and 5, will spend a good chunk of time in Manatee schools.
"I'm very concerned about overcrowding in schools, access to school and safe travels on Rye Road going to and from school considering it's a 55-mph road and there's going to be added traffic," O'Reilly said.
An estimated 227 children could come from Del Tierra, and surrounding schools could support that many, county planners say.
Del Tierra would have a main entrance and exit along Rye Road, but residents there would also use a secondary entrance and exit on Fifth Avenue Northeast inside Country Meadows, which doesn't sit well with Law.
"We have a lot of kids that ride their bicycles and things like that and I'm concerned for their safety," he said, adding many children congregate at the bus stop in the front of the community, which can become congested before and after school.
"I don't believe the streets in Country Meadows were designed to be able to handle this sort of traffic," he said.
County planners disagree. They say the road alleviates a choke point on Rye Road and encourages connectivity between neighborhoods, which fits with the Manatee County Comprehensive Plan.
"It's anticipated that a small volume of traffic will utilize that connection," said Stephanie Moreland, the planner assigned to Del Tierra.
The connection was anticipated when Country Meadows was approved in 2001, records show.
A traffic impact analysis prepared by the Tampa-based ADEAS-Q engineering and consulting firm states turn lanes should be added at the intersection of Rye Road and the project entrance and suggests leaving a setback to accommodate widening Rye Road as needed.
The analysis also indicates the intersection of Rye Road and State Road 64 will operate at a level of service "F," a failing grade.
The project will go before the Manatee County Planning Commission at 9 a.m. Dec. 12 followed by the Manatee County Board of Commissioners at 9 a.m. Jan. 9.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, be can reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.