Manatee Urban Service Area ordinance now effective after challenge dropped

Large-scale developments now exempt from certain review in new zone

cschelle@bradenton.comApril 24, 2014 

MANATEE -- An Urban Service Area created by Manatee County is now in effect after the developers of Long Bar Pointe dropped their challenge, allowing builders to speed up approval process of large-scale projects.

Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Parnters VIII, which include Larry Lieberman and Medallion Home's Carlos Beruff, withdrew their challenge to the county excluding 463 acres along Sarasota Bay from the county-created area. The challenge, withdrawn this month, was filed with the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

The Urban Service Area was created by the Manatee County Commission on Nov. 7 to encourage redevelopment and infill by limiting state review and speeding up the approval process for large-scale projects called Developments of Regional Impact. In Manatee, the residential limit is 2,000 units, but a host of other factors for mixed-use and other features in a project can trigger the DRI process.

"Inside the Urban Service Area, you don't need to do a DRI review because we have an Urban Service Area that allows that to happen," said John Osborne, Manatee County planning and zoning official.

The Urban Service Area in unincorporated Manatee stretches from the Manatee River in northwest Bradenton, south to University Parkway and east to U.S. 301, and projects submitted in that zone are exempt from DRI review now.

The lone exception was the Long Bar Pointe parcel, bordering Sarasota Bay, after much debate by the county and public outcry. County staff recommended the parcel be excluded because of the land's environmentally unique properties, which deserve more discussion at a regional level.

However, staff also said state review done under the DRI process does not provide additional protection because more projects, like hotels and marinas, are exempt and regulated through permitting.

It's a tough process to balance the pros and cons, Osborne said, as the point of the process is to have government bodies talk to one another about large-scale development.

"There are things that you want regional ownership and regional views and at the same time, it's just another couple thousand houses that's nowhere near other houses," he said.

Projects that border a regional asset like the Sarasota Bay and Gulf of Mexico, ought to have the additional review and comments, Osborne added.

Long Bar's developers felt that the county unfairly removed their property from the then-proposed area and challenged the ordinance in an administrative hearing, which was eventually withdrawn.

Ed Vogler, attorney for Long Bar Pointe, declined to comment when asked why the challenge was withdrawn. Beruff and Lieberman did not return calls seeking comment.

Developers outside the Urban Service Area are being careful not to trigger the additional review, which could add months to the approval process, Osborne said. Housing projects with 1,999 units, like Neal Communities' Villages of Amazon South in Parrish, are being filed to avoid the DRI. Other builders could try to change ownership of communities to break up a 2,000-home community to skirt DRI, but county staff will eventually find that out, Osborne said.

"You can monkey around with LLCs and ownership, but if your name keeps showing up, we're going to pick up on that," he said.

Municipalities in Manatee are exempt from DRI review as is Palmetto's Urban Infill and Redevelopment Area and two zones near Port Manatee property for port-related uses.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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