MANATEE -- Long Bar Pointe falls within the massive zone that Manatee County Commissioners have approved for an "Urban Service Area," but the debate has just started on whether that will create a loophole for the proposed luxury-resort 463-acre development.
Commissioners on Thursday voted to send plans to the state Department of Economic Opportunity to establish an Urban Service Area encompassing most of unincorporated west Bradenton -- bordered by U.S. 301, Sarasota Bay, Sarasota county line and the Manatee River.
Urban Service Areas, intended to discourage urban sprawl, allow "developments of regional impact" approved by a county to be exempt from additional state review for site plan approval.
The proposed Long Bar Pointe development is requesting a rezone that would allow a 300-berth marina, additional office and retail and a 300-room hotel.
Barrington Group's Larry Lieberman and Medallion Homes' Carlos Beruff are teaming up on the development. They have asked for changes to the county Comprehensive Plan's coastal protections to build along the mangrove-lined stretch overlooking Sarasota Bay.
The new Urban Service Area must have state approval before it is officially adopted, county planner Shelley Hamilton said. So exactly what the Urban Service Area means for certain properties is still an unknown.
"We don't know how it will be affected until the state reviews it and it comes back to the county with a report," Hamilton said.
The Department of Economic Opportunity and other state agencies have 30 days to provide comments on the Urban Service Area, which would also be an amendment to the county's comprehensive plan, said Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Jessica Sims.
The Florida Legislature in 2011 provided several exemptions for certain developments from additional state review, including hotels and motels, and wrote a definition for an Urban Service Area that could be created to lump an entire area for exemption. The goal behind the urban service are is to encourage infill between the coastal and inland developed areas.
It's unknown if Long Bar Pointe's redevelopment plans would meet the thresholds to trigger it as a "development of regional impact."
The Long Bar Pointe development could qualify as affecting more than one jurisdiction because the development borders Sarasota Bay, a regional body of water, and the Intracoastal Waterway, which was established through the Army Corps of Engineers, said Jane von Hahmann, a former county commissioner leading the fight against the Long Bar Pointe development.
State approval is pending on environmental and comprehensive plan reviews and meeting Southwest Florida Water Management District requirements.
"Otherwise, there are no changes to existing permitting and regulatory requirements and no exemption from future land use map amendments," Sims said. "The exemption applies even with the Coastal High Hazard Area. Any development approved must be consistent with the uses and the densities and intensities established in the Comprehensive Plan."
Commissioner Michael Gallen opposed removing that layer of state review, but acknowledges that he considers the state's analysis on Development of Regional Impact too weak to catch mistakes by local governments.
"I don't look for it for a smoking gun," he said, adding that the state should strengthen its review process.
The developers still have not filed a site plan for Long Bar Pointe. But that site plan process may be allowed to bypass the additional state review if the Urban Service Area is adopted before those plans are filed and the site qualifies, Hamilton said.
The county commission has the power to change the boundaries of the Urban Service Area, and Commissioner Robin DiSabatino would like the coastal areas removed.
"I wanted to cut it off at 44th Avenue West," she said. Other areas have requested to be a part of the Urban Service Area, including Lakewood Ranch, she pointed out.
"Things could be added and subtracted," she said.
The commissioners were supposed to hear presentations and a public hearing on Long Bar Pointe and a related countywide comprehensive plan text amendment Thursday, but opted to delay the hearing until Aug. 6 because of Tropical Storm Andrea. But after a lunch break they then decided to vote on the Urban Service Area that afternoon, approving it 5-2.
The Aug. 6 requests also include a map amendment to the county comprehensive plan to change Long Bar Pointe from Residential 9 to Mixed Use Development, opening up the land to more office space, stores and a marina.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.