Protesters say Crossroads development will add to Cortez Road traffic

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 6, 2014 

CORTEZ -- It was just a typical Saturday in Cortez. The sun was shinning while residents and visitors waited in traffic on Cortez Road.

Some were beach bound, while others headed to one of the many eateries, bars or fishing holes the village of Cortez and Anna Maria Island are known for.

But for some, this is the same gridlock they incur every time they leave their homes or return from work or errands.

Dozens of those Cortezians and islanders took to the streets early Saturday afternoon, armed with picket signs protesting a proposed development called Crossroads that would bring about 8,500 homes -- and even more traffic -- to the Manatee Fruit Farm land.

"It's really hard right now, during season," Susanna Spann said. "If they add all those homes it's going to be insane."

Spann moved to Cortez two years ago after living in Bradenton for about 35 years. She had fallen in love with the fishing village that is one of the few left and gives residents a feeling of nostalgia, she said.

"Even if they build out the bridge and the streets, it would still take up all the parking," Spann said.

Spann said she is not sure what the answer is but fears the consequences of more development in West Bradenton.

"As the community of Cortez, we are just trying to make people aware of the problem," Spann said. "We are really passionate about this, we care."

Bob Landry, who lives just outside the village of Cortez, shares many of the same concerns.

"How are they going to build out?" Landy asked. "The roads can barely handle the traffic. There are not a lot of ways you can build out Cortez Road."

Organizer Joe Kane was happy with Saturday's turnout of fellow concerned citizens.

"We were warned of using the word 'honk,' but people are honking," Kane said. "The only rage we experienced was road rage."

Kane, now a Cortezian, moved to Anna Maria Island from Chicago nearly 40 years ago.

"I used to live on the island, but the island turned into a parking lot so I moved to Cortez."

Now Kane says the small island charm he sought is at risk of disappearing.

Another resident protesting because of similar fears was Patty Swann, of Cortez.

"I'm in for progress, but we can't handle more traffic," Swann said. "They are going to have to do something. We are trying to keep Old Florida."

Whiting Preston, president of Manatee Fruit Company, is proposing the mixed-use community's development on land his family has owned for more than 100 years. He has invited the public to submit comments about his plans at www.bradentonsfuture.com.

"We want to embrace West Bradenton -- it's where I grew up," Preston previously told the Herald. "I'm proud of West Bradenton. Our idea is to invite West Bradenton to ultimately enjoy some of the things on the property."

Manatee County Commission hopeful Terri Wonder came out to Saturday's protest in support of residents.

"I am showing my support for the people of Cortez and how all these big development projects may crush their neighborhoods," Wonder said. "We are all about well planned development."

Wonder said she agrees with residents that the roads will not be able to handle the addition of tens of thousands of cars.

"I just don't see how the county can approve developments with large regional impact, and people who are existing property owners need answers," Wonder said. "How are they going to deal with traffic?"

If elected, Wonder said she will ask those questions for residents.

"I will not be voting for developments that have a negative impact on existing property owners and business owners in this county," Wonder said. "There is a lot at stake here that has not been thought out."

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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