Manatee residents, let your voice be heard on growth plan revisions

December 15, 2013 

Long Bar Pointe map

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If the intense public interest in the Long Bar Pointe development proposal is any indication of concern about Manatee County's comprehensive plan and land development code, then residents should be keeping a keen eye on the pending revisions to the massive blueprint that will guide future growth.

The public review process continues through Dec. 23, and now's the time to provide input.

With more than 1,000 people attending the Manatee County Commission hearing on Long Bar Pointe last August, residents are strongly engaged in the future of this piece of paradise. The second public hearing on the adoption of the comprehensive map amendment, as proposed by Long Bar developers, will be heard on Jan. 23 -- also at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.

In the meantime, Manatee residents should weigh in on the rewrite of the land development code, the purpose of which is to implement the comprehensive plan by "establishing regulations, procedures and standards for review and approval of all development and use of land in the unincorporated portions of the county," as the code states.

This is just the first phase of code revisions, designed to "reorganize and clean up inconsistencies," as the county notes. Residents will be the judge of whether the changes meet that goal, or go too far.

The next code phase will incorporate changes to mesh with the "How Will We Grow" blueprint that has been in the works for years now.

Regardless of changes in the land development policy, the comprehensive plan supersedes the code. That makes the county commission decision on Long Bar Pointe the final answer, barring a court battle. An administrative court battle is already threatening to mire the project, as reporter Charles Schelle reports in today' 1A story. At issue is whether the project should be included in the county's newly created Urban Service Area, designed to support infill development by actually speeding up the development process.

Criticis contend the code revisions are geared solely toward streamlining permitting to allow fast-track development with less oversight. That remains to be seen. Citizen interpretation of the wording is the most important part of this rewrite process. Disputing passages and raising objections are imperative now, not later when the ink is dry.

The land code addresses zoning, site development, the environment, stormwater management, parking and landscaping among other regulations.

One proposed code rewrite change, though, looks inconsequential. One section slices the published notice of a public hearing on an environmental workshop from 15 to 10 days.

Other proposed alterations are friendlier to residents. One would require sidewalks on both sides of the street, something desirable for many reasons. Another increases the minimum setbacks for nonresidential, multi-family or mixed-use properties from residential zoning -- twice the distance that is now in the code. Neither one of those benefit builders -- adding higher costs to sales prices -- but certainly improve neighborhoods.

A link to various documents can be found at the Manatee County government website, www.mymanatee,org. Citizens can direct comments to robert.schmitt@mymanatee.org until Dec. 23.

After the review period closes, county staff will address questions from the public and make revisions wherever deficiencies are found. Like the county, we encourage participation in this vital guide to future growth -- and thus our community's health and welfare.

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