On-the-fly changes to the Aqua by the Bay development plan force the hand for Medallion Home to submit a revised proposal to commissioners by Thursday, extending a marathon special land use meeting into the next week.
The Wednesday meeting for the 529-acre plot of land between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay started off with abrupt changes to the plan from earlier in the week, detailing the switch from a variable width buffer to 50-foot buffer so that it could be consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. This originally was one of the reasons why one of the planning commissioners voted to recommend denial of the project.
The buildings’ heights also posed an issue to some of the commissioners and public speakers and was why the project was sent back to the planning commission in May. In the most recent staff report, there was a proposed maximum of 12 buildings between 75 feet and 95 feet, four buildings between 95 feet and 145 feet and an unknown amount of buildings between 35 feet and 75 feet, depending on “market demand,” according to Misty Servia, a consultant for the project with King Engineering.
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During the applicant’s presentation to commissioners, Medallion Home founder Carlos Beruff said, “I’m prepared to say that any building over 95 feet, we’ll come back for specific approval.”
Servia said the buildings would be compatible with the area.
“Compatibility does not mean homogeny. It means harmony,” she said.
Medallion Home attorney Ed Vogler brought in a familiar face during the presentation: the county’s former environmental planner.
“Today’s going to be the first. I have subpoenaed a witness,” Vogler said.
Joel Christian resigned from his position earlier this year following a DUI arrest. He in charge of the environmental review of the project but left the county scrambling for an outside consultant before the scheduled August planning commission hearing.
“I felt as it was proposed, it was consistent with the comprehensive plan and the land development code as far as environmental concerns,” Christian said, adding that he still believed that. Christian noted that he was “vehemently opposed” to the project’s previous iteration.
Before the lunch hour, there was a full house in commission chambers. But after the hour was up, when public comment began, only 32 people spoke against the project while 13 others praised it.
Mary Dougherty, the executive director of the Gulf Coast Builder’s Exchange, said the development would be positive for the area.
“Manatee County could use a shot in the arm,” she said.
Pete Logan, president of Medallion Home, was upbeat about Wednesday’s proceedings.
“We will continue today’s momentum, working with staff through the process toward a beautifully designed neighborhood that benefits both our local economy and our local environment,” Logan said in a statement issued Wednesday night. “That is the promise we’ve made, and we will move forward with that ultimate result in sight. We’re grateful to the members of the community who came out in support of smart growth.”
Andy Mele, who represented the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club, said its members flock to Sarasota Bay “like ants on an old hot dog bun.” But Mele believed it was a problem that the applicant hadn’t mapped out where the high-rises would sit on the property, although they would be in the center.
Other concerns raised by opponents of the development included the estuary enhancement area to be excavated between the property and the mangroves, traffic on the two-lane El Conquistador Parkway, decreasing the quality of the water and mangrove habitat and losing the Old Florida feel of Cortez.
According to Assistant County Attorney Sarah Schenk, the county staff had already been stretched thin to accommodate an expedited schedule between the planning commission meeting and the county commission meeting as requested by Beruff. Typically, she said, there’s at least one month between the meetings to give sufficient time to prepare.
The continuation of the special land use meeting will be 9 a.m. Aug. 23 at the Manatee County Administrative Building. Since the applicant will have to submit a revised version of the plan by Thursday, public comment will remain open. Chairwoman Betsy Benac advised member of the public that they should focus on the newest version of Aqua by the Bay.
If you go
What: Continuation of the special land use meeting for Aqua by the Bay
Where: Manatee County Administrative Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.
When: 9 a.m., Aug. 23