MANATEE -- County commissioners unanimously turned down an amendment to the comprehensive plan to allow developers to build a boat basin along the Sarasota Bay, even as county staff has worked since 2009 on creating a zoning district to create a clear distinction of a builder's plans for a waterfront resort and marina.
Developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman may still see their plans for Long Bar Pointe revived -- although it may take them even longer to design a site plan that allows them to use the property to its maximum capacity.
The developers have yet to submit a specific site plan to develop 463 acres along the Sarasota Bay. A map amendment approved 4-3 early Wednesday must still go before state review and a second public hearing for final approval from county commissioners. Commissioners Michael Gallen, John Chappie and Robin DiSabatino were the dissenting votes.
The proposed waterfront resort ordinance is a county staff-initiated text amendment still being drafted that would have provided language to inform the public early on in the process exactly what type of development could occur, similar to Long Bar Pointe, along the waterfront. The county was working on a future land-use category in the comprehensive plan defining a waterfront resort, creating a master-planned waterfront resort zoning district and also define master-planned waterfront resorts and marine research facilities.
"You have a better idea of what's being proposed," said John Osborne, planning and zoning official for Manatee County. "It's a lot more narrowed down as far as uses. Sort of puts everyone on notice much earlier in process."
But the debate over Long Bar could hurt future chances for such a county-designed waterfront development text amendment.
Most citizens wanted no possibility of the marina channel and boat ramp, said County Commissioner Carol Whitmore. She said there is no way she will vote for an amendment that will allow such intense development along Sarasota Bay's shoreline.
"Whatever projects they do, I expect environmentally, they're not affecting the shoreline at all, and that includes not cutting mangroves," Whitmore said after the Long Bar Pointe hearing. "I told them if it did, I wouldn't vote for it."
She said the public hearing, which drew more than 1,000 residents Tuesday night, was "democracy at work" and sent a clear signal to commissioners about what the public wants.
"I don't think the developer got what he wanted, but we heard from the citizens and we weren't going to mess with the bay or the shoreline, none of the commissioners supported the marina, the majority did not want to see another subdivision with a gated community of more than 4,100 homes, so that's why you see mixed use."
Long Bar Pointe caught the public's attention and shed light on the potential of changes to the comprehensive plan that would allow more waterfront development in Manatee County.
"The applicant was determined to go before the waterfront amendment," said Joe McClash, a former county commissioner who opposed Long Bar Pointe. "My understanding with staff is that the waterfront amendment might be a dead issue based on the reaction of the board."
A working version of the amendment to the comp plan was offered to Long Bar Pointe developers to view and consider, but Beruff declined waiting for staff to finish the amendment so it could be used for their project, Osborne said. When Long Bar Pointe talks came along, county stopped working on the amendment to focus on Beruff and Lieberman's application, Osborne added.
"We work on it when we have a chance to work on it," he said. "We let Carlos know we were working on it, but he wasn't really interested in using it."
No public hearing is scheduled for the proposed amendment, and it's unclear whether staff will resume work on the amendment for the County Commission's consideration.
The developers came to the county with their own map amendment requesting that Long Bar Pointe would have its land use designation changed to mixed use from residential-9, opening up the possibilities for a marina and hotel in addition to a conference center, condos and more. Commissioners narrowly approved the request early Wednesday during a marathon special land use meeting to grant that request, but went along with the developers' request and removed any reference to a marina.
Commission Chairman Larry Bustle told the Bradenton Herald after the meeting's adjournment at 1:56 a.m. Wednesday that there was no option in his mind that the commission would not leave without voting. The meeting started at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"We had all of them here, and we wanted to try it now to get it done," Bustle said of the crowd.
The crowd's energy and patience waned eight hours into the hearing, as the crowd of at least 1,000 dwindled to about 100 people waiting for a conclusion or at least a chance to speak. The public comment period ended at 11:44 p.m., more than 10 hours after the meeting began.
A final vote on the map amendment was not taken until just before 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Ed Vogler, the attorney for Long Bar Pointe developers, said he was surprised so many people stayed so late to talk about the amendments that the developer proposed for the project.
"It was a credit to everybody," Vogler said.
He said developers won't submit site plans until the map amendment is adopted.
"We have to wait until the amendments are adopted, and that won't happen for a couple of months or so," Vogler said. "They need to be adopted and final and then, we're able to pursue the project."
The county still has to send the map amendment to the state for approval. The state has 30 days to review the amendment and to collect comments on the proposed amendment and how it fits in with the county's current comprehensive plan, Osborne said,
Once the state completes its review of the map amendment, the county will have to schedule another public hearing so the commission can vote on whether to adopt the map amendment. It will allow the developers to go beyond residential development to mixed use, but currently excludes a marina or boat basin.
Vogler said the developers decided not to wait for the county's waterfront resort amendment because they didn't know how long it would take before it would be completed.
"There was no indication exactly when that would come forward to the board," Vogler said.
The attorney said the developers haven't had time to study the amendment, "but if it benefits West Bradenton, we would certainly look at it."
The master-planned waterfront resort district would be defined as a an area for hotel and related commercial uses in a resort setting; it also provides for master planned residential community that could built in phases. The definition goes on to say the resort would have to be compatible with adjacent land uses, have height restrictions and clustering to resemble a village setting and explicitly states that a designated district would not automatically grant entitlements, according to the proposed amendment.
"If you look at the comp plan in mixed use, it allows you to do a lot of things, " Osborne said. "One thing it doesn't do well is really allow for any waterfront resort type of development, clearly."
But the whole debate over Long Bar Pointe may have stirred opposition to anything that could affect environmentally sensitive waterways.
"I don't want to change our protection to our environment, if the waterfront policy weakens our protection we need to end it now," McClash said. "The community is tired of all these secret meetings with staff and the developers without including the community and stakeholders that ultimately must go out and do what we did yesterday -- fight for our rights we shouldn't even have to think about.
"Why did Long Bar bring out so many people?" McClash said. "You feel betrayed by your own county government, so some developer can make a quick buck."
Creating the future-land use designation doesn't mean properties that would qualify now would automatically be assigned that use, Osborne said. The county has some designations and zoning areas that are defined in the comp plan that are not in use today. One of those designations is "attractor," which would provide for uses such as a large indoor sports arena or large outdoor stadium.
The master-planned waterfront resort zoning district defines principal uses allowed as a hotel, marina, cultural facilities and marine research facility, according to the proposed plan amendment, PA-13-04. Buildings would have a waterfront setback of 20 to 30 feet, though other county regulations, such as a wetlands setback, might require an additional buffer.
If a building is taller than 35 feet, it has to be placed at least 100 feet away from residentially zoned property, according to the amendment.
The marine research facility definition would allow something similar to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium or the South Florida Museum, defined as having labs, hospital, long-term care and rehabilitation to support research and education for marine life and sciences.
Permitted uses also include:
Retail-- both neighborhood convenience and general
Bed and Breakfast
Personal Service Establishment (salons, tattoo parlors, health spas)
Recreation (passive, low and medium intensity uses)
Water dependent uses.
Neighborhood/community retail would be capped at 150,000 square feet, according to the proposal.
Defining waterfront resort
The waterfront resort definition has some room for interpretation, based on the lengthy discussions at the Long Bar Pointe hearing.
Doug Means, planning division manager, told commissioners Tuesday that defining properties that met the developer's definition, 200 acres or more adjacent to an arterial roadway in a coastal community, adjacent to navigable waters, was so vague that the county identified 42 properties that could have been affected by a countywide text amendment to the comprehensive plan. The commission unanimously voted against that amendment.
Means pointed out that the federal definition of navigable waters can essentially be a stream, so as long as someone can put a boat or kayak and make their way down the waterway.
In the draft waterfront resort amendment, the language describes in detail the type of waterfront tracts and type of development the county seeks to build.
Waterfront resort future land use category says these properties would be waterfront tracts lying within the coastal areas in the county that "considers the uniqueness of waterfront tracts and water-dependent, water enhanced or water related uses" and creates an "attractive, functioning waterfront through well-planned development and redevelopment."
The definition goes on to say that waterfront tracts may include upland areas and any adjacent submerged lands under private ownership. Long Bar Pointe developers own the submerged land there, a rarity in Florida.
The tracts are characterized by the "proximity to navigable waters" and the locations have to be suited to the mixed uses of residential, resort, commercial, ecotourism, marine research and education that benefits from the waterfront location, according to the proposed amendment.
The waterfront properties also have to provide an economic benefit regionally, as well as to Manatee County, according to the proposed amendment.
--Staff writer Sara Kennedy contributed to this report.