MANATEE -- Plans to develop Long Bar Pointe are quite a change from the residential community that county commissioners approved in 2008.
Today's blueprint turns the Sarasota Bayfront community into a bustling resort.
A marina that could handle 100-foot boats, ripping out 20 to 40 acres of mangrove forests and dredging a canal through seagrass are all part of the new plans along Sarasota Bay and El Conquistador Parkway. Two components that would guide the project's future are up for approval Thursday by the Manatee County Commission.
The project is led by Berrington Group's Larry Lieberman, who has owned the property for 13 years, and he brought Medallion Homes' Carlos Beruff on board last year to help.
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Developers want a map amendment change to request mixed-use development on the property, and also want a text amendment in the county's comprehensive plan to allow more construction in the coastal and conservation elements of the
plan. But environmentalist groups are already preparing to put up a fight against the proposed changes.
Long Bar Pointe received approval in 2008 to build the maximum number of units under the property's current zoning:
1,667 single family homes
2,501 multi-family homes
150,000 square feet of commercial
Here is what Long Bar Pointe wants to build under new zoning and the comp plan amendment:
1,086 single-family homes
1,687 low-rise multi-family homes
844 high-rise multi-family homes
300-berth marina and canal
Two 36,000-square-foot offices
60,000-square-foot shopping center
60,000-square-foot specialty retail
84,000-square-foot conference center
Staff is OK with recommending approval for the map amendment change, but the text amendment request raises red flags.
"We thought it was too vague," said Planning Division Manager Doug Means. "It wasn't specific how they would accomplish this stuff."
The "stuff" that the text amendment cites for the property to qualify for development in environmentally sensitive areas includes:
Offers enhanced water-related uses
Demonstrates new, substantial, material public benefit
Must increase public access to waterfront
Mitigate all environmental impacts
Innovative design for mixed-use
Land mass must be at least 100 acres
Adjacent to navigable waters on coastal lines
Adjacent to arterial roadway
One of the reasons staff recommended to deny the text amendment is that it affects the entire county, and the justification provided by the applicant only talks about why Long Bar Pointe would be good for the new zoning, Means said. Some of the qualifications are open for interpretation.
The map amendment would allow more development on the property, changing the zoning from Residential 9 to mixed use, which is one of the most intense uses under the county's comprehensive plan. Residential 9 zoning allows nine units per acre to be built. At least three types of uses would be needed on mixed use property, meaning the property could see any mix of homes, offices, hotel, resorts and retail.
If approved, the commission's vote would send both the map and text amendments to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for a 45-day comment period. An adoption hearing by the county would be held a month later, and after adoption, the state has 30 days to provide a report, Means said. If the state does not challenge the amendment, it then can go into effect.
The neighboring IMG Academy is undergoing its own major expansion, including a 5,000-seat multi-sport stadium designed to bring more professional sports and entertainment events to Bradenton. As a result, Beruff has said, IMG supports the Long Bar Pointe development.
IMG Academy also welcomes the addition of a resort, according to a letter sent to the County Commission by Chip McCarthy, vice president of finance and operations of IMG Academy. McCarthy wrote that he thought the project aligned with the county's How We Grow report that analyzed future land use planning and infrastructure support.
"We think it's just good fortune that they are perfectly aligned and we support the concept, subject to your further review when the property comes before you for further approvals," McCarthy wrote.
McCarthy and Lieberman were both unavailable for interviews for this report because they were traveling. Beruff did not return calls seeking comment.
The nitty gritty of the project, like how long the proposed canal would be and what the buildings look like, has not been submitted yet, but some details have been shared with the community and county staff.
What the developers envision, Means said, is to remove 20 to 40 acres of mangroves and remove more than two acres of seagrasses for dredging to create a waterway for 100-foot-long boats to come into a canal and harbor in the upland area of the property.
That mangrove removal is no secret by the developers, as released in the plan and on the Long Bar Pointe website.
The project's website labels the mangrove area as an exotic area that will have "nuisance clearing completed along Bay." Brazilian peppers from the Manatee Fruit Farms operations are "choking off" the mangroves, according to the paid environmental consultant, and would be removed.
"They got some environmental consultants that assured owners they could get enough mitigation credits to allow for removal," Means said.
Yet staff reported that the developer's plan lacked information on how it would mitigate impacts on the 117 acres of privately owned submerged land where a significant chunk features "some of the most significant seagrass beds in all of Sarasota Bay" and is a fish and shellfish harvesting area and area frequented by manatees.
The proposed dredging would also be prohibited, according to staff, because dredging that would "adversely impact seagrasses" is not allowed, according to the comprehensive plan.
The only way dredging would be allowed is through a maintenance dredging permit that would re-establish old channels, but none exist from staff studies and aerial maps, Means said.
The dredging would be necessary for the envisioned marina, as Sarasota Bay is at the most 6 feet deep by Long Bar Pointe, Means said.
"You could probably walk 200 feet out," he said.
Environmental groups are rallying against the proposed development and the related text amendment that would significantly change the county's environmental policy and the appearance of Sarasota Bay.
A group of concerned residents and environmentalists gathered last week at Fishermen's Hall in Cortez to talk about their opposition of Long Bar Pointe.
Aside from the environmental issues brought up in the proposals, the loosely organized group is planning to make its views known to the county this week.
Former County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann says she doesn't understand why politicians would want to approve changes to the comprehensive plan that county staffers have recommended against and don't meet guidelines for county and state comprehensive plans.
"Why would we want something that's inconsistent with our present comp plan and inconsistent with the state of Florida's comp plan?" von Hahmann said. "What is the overriding public interest?"
Environmentalists also point to the 263 acres of the project that is in a designated Coastal High Hazard area, where construction is encouraged to be clustered because of the amount of public resources that would have to go into responding to that area during severe storms and hurricanes. Some of the property is also in a FEMA-designated high velocity zone, leading to higher insurance rates for buildings there.
"The hazard of storm surges is significant given the site is low in elevation and would likely be completely inundated in a Category 1 hurricane," according to environmentalist organization ManaSota-88, headed by Glenn Compton. "A storm surge is the most dangerous hazard from a hurricane. A Category 5 hurricane could produce an 18-foot storm surge and would likely place Long Bar Pointe at least 13 feet under water."
Countywide impact feared
The attorneys for Long Bar Pointe contend that qualifiers in the text amendment create a narrow scope that may apply only to Long Bar Pointe, and maybe two or three other properties in Manatee County.
Means isn't as convinced.
"We are currently, probably be presenting Thursday at the hearing, our understanding of what that text amendment could allow, and identify properties that could potentially meet that criteria," he said. "It's certainly more than one or two."
Local Sierra Club members also oppose the plan.
"It is disrespectful and presumptuous for a developer to try to change the county's comprehensive plan to suit his private development of Long Bar Pointe. We are very concerned about the environmental impacts of the proposed changes," said Manatee-Sarasota Chair Linda T. Jones. "The changes would apply countywide and allow exceptions to protections of water and air quality, wetlands, seagrasses, upland habitats, fish and shellfish harvesting, and natural disasters."
If the County Commission approves the changes, von Hahmann plans to take the matter up with state officials.
"I think we have an excellent comp plan that protects our quality of life and protects the ambience of Manatee County," von Hahmann said. "We're not St. Pete, and we're not even Sarasota. We are different. We are ourselves, and why do we want to change that?"
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.