Manatee commission approves 600 new homes in East Manatee despite protests

srocco@bradenton.comJanuary 10, 2014 

MANATEE -- They came wearing all shades of blue: blue button-down shirts, blue suits, blue jeans, blue shoes. They filled the Manatee County Commission chambers Thursday to fight for a neighborhood they were afraid they'd lose.

Nearly 50 residents of Country Meadows showed up to oppose Del Tierra, a 610-home development slated to occupy 233 acres at 15156 and 16000 Upper Manatee River Road.

And they lost.

The Manatee County Commission approved the project in a unanimous vote after four hours of deliberation.

Country Meadows residents, who live just west of the site, fear Del Tierra's high density will overwhelm the lower-density neighborhoods surrounding it. Del Tierra, created by Texas-based developer D.R. Horton, has a net density of three homes per acre, while Country Meadows has about one home per acre.

Tim Law, president of Country Meadows' homeowners' association, was one of eight residents who spoke out against the project Thursday, saying: "If you count five ceiling tiles, that's the distance between neighbors in Del Tierra's homes ... This adds much more homes per acre than what you have in surrounding communities."

Along with his presentation, Law submitted a 300-signature petition to the board.

Resident Jerry Koontz also urged a no vote, arguing the influx of residents will add further damage to the already-deteriorated Rye Road, a two-lane road that will serve as the main point of community access.

"There are no plans to improve these roads, and the added traffic is going to make it worse," he said.

Keith Baker said he's concerned the schools won't be able to handle more students.

"The schools are becoming full, and with all these other developments that have already been approved ... do we as a county have the money to make larger schools or more schools and hire more teachers? And fix Rye Road?" he asked the board.

Several residents voiced concerns Del Tierra would use a secondary entrance-exit road through Country Meadows to Upper Manatee River Road in the form of an inter-neighborhood tie, creating extra traffic in the community.

Caleb Grimes, the attorney representing D.R. Horton, said the net density of Del Tierra, 2.99 dwelling units per acre, falls below the county's comprehensive plan limit of nine dwelling units per acre.

He also cited a traffic impact analysis done by the county that states "there are no deficiencies attributable to impacts of the proposed development," and a study done by the Manatee County School District that states surrounding schools -- Gene Witt Elementary, Haile Middle and Lakewood Ranch High -- would be able to handle the influx of students.

"If you want schools to operate efficiently, you have to get them as close to capacity as possible," Grimes said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac was the first to speak out in favor of the development.

"This area was set up to accommodate suburban development ... It's no longer rural. It's rural transitioning to suburban development," she said. "I can't say that this is incompatible or inconsistent with our comprehensive plan, so I feel like I have to vote for it."

Commissioners Robin DiSabatino and Carol Whitmore said they would be in favor of the community if the board would do away with the inter-neighborhood traffic tie.

"We've had a major outpouring of citizens in that area, and I think I'd be slapping them in the face if I didn't do that. I think I would eliminate that tie," Whitmore said.

The board approved an amendment by 6-1 vote to direct Del Tierra to have private streets and the inter-neighborhood connection will be gated and used for emergency access only.

Benac was the only one opposed to the inter-neighborhood connection amendment.

"I think this is a win-win because the builder gets what he wants and the community gets a win because the traffic won't affect their community," DiSabatino said. "No one's ever going to get 100 percent of what they want."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.

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