MANATEE -- A plan to build 77 single family residences as part of the Woodbrook II subdivision won approval Thursday from the Manatee County Planning Commission.
The commission OK'd a preliminary site plan for the project, slated for 53.78 acres along the south side of Whitfield Avenue between Prospect Road and Lockwood Ridge Road, extending south to the Trails subdivision.
About 20 neighbors from the area appeared before the commission to oppose to the plan, which is being offered by developer Pat Neal.
Of the handful who spoke at the meeting, most contended the project would cause serious flooding in their neighborhoods.
"You will have 87 homes being flooded out, and that's a big concern for the homeowners at Sara Palms," Robin Tosch, president of the Sara Palms Homeowners Association, told the board.
After storms last fall, streets in her neighborhood were "totally underwater," in some places 3 feet deep, she said.
"We're in the middle of a bowl," she added.
Rattlesnake Slough, which zigzags through the site, has a "history of flooding," said Thomas Gerstenberger, Man
atee County's stormwater engineering division manager.
Part of the problem is that homes at Sara Palms were built decades ago, long before modern flood mapping techniques were available, Gerstenberger said.
"You can't require this developer to fix past deficiencies," responded Sarah Schenk, representing the county attorney's office.
Commission Chairman Richard Bedford vowed, "If they can't prove their project won't make it worse, it won't get approved."
After the meeting, Neal called the neighbors together in the lobby at County Administrative Center and introduced his engineer, Andrew D. Eiland, a project manager for community development at Stantec.
"They're really good," Neal told the group.
The engineering firm spent six months mapping the area with special emphasis on how to ensure that runoff would "maintain the status quo," Neal said.
He offered to meet formally with the group and to bring Eiland to answer any questions.
Because the planning commission is an advisory body only, the matter will go on for review by the Manatee County Commission.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.