LONG BAR POINTE -- A reimagined shoreline subdivision with nearly 3,200 homes and apartments and a downsized retail district is the latest bid from Manatee builder Carlos Beruff to develop a project blocked by Manatee County two years ago.
Landowner Cargor Partners VIII/Long Bar Pointe LLLP filed a new general development plan in August for its proposed "Aqua" community. Sited on 522 acres between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay at Long Bar Pointe, the proposal takes the place of a more ambitious plan rejected by county commissioners in August 2013.
The project's application is still being reviewed by county staff. Stephanie Moreland, a principal planner with Manatee County, said the next step for Aqua would be a public hearing. She said there is no set time frame for a hearing.
The general development plan comes 14 months after the developers applied to form a Community Development District at the Aqua site. Named Aqua One, the CDD would finance $31 million in infrastructure for a 61-acre portion of the project.
Sized down considerably from the initial development plan submitted by Beruff and business partner Larry Lieberman through their Long Bar Pointe partnership, Aqua excludes features that caused its earlier incarnation to stumble. The original proposal included nearly 3,500 homes and multi-family units, a hotel, a marina, a conference center and nearly 200,000 square feet in commercial buildings. The marina, hotel, conference center and much of the commercial development are not part of the new plan.
The marina and proposed dredging and mangrove destruction that went along with it were the principal reasons the original plan failed. In August 2013, the Manatee County
Board of Commissioners declined to change the county's comprehensive land use plan to accommodate high-density development at the shoreline. The decision came during a marathon meeting in which county residents and environmental groups pressured the board to reject the subdivision.
Glenn Compton, chairman of environmental watchdog group ManaSota-88, said his group will also oppose the new proposal. ManaSota-88 is particularly concerned for the safety of anyone living on that part of the coast during hurricane season.
"Even with the new plans, we're still very concerned that coastal high hazard area is being infringed upon," Compton said. "We would be in favor of no development on this property."
According to documents filed with the county in August and September, Aqua will cover 256 acres at Long Bar Pointe. The project is expected to include 57 acres of open space.
Beruff, who also owns Bradenton-based Medallion Home, did not respond to requests to comment on the new subdivision plan.
Aqua's site plan differs significantly from what the county considered in 2013. It includes an unbroken tract of mangrove trees running the length of the development's shoreline. The tract would be covered by a conservation easement that includes underwater lands owned by the Beruff-Lieberman partnership. Previous plans for the development showed large sections of protected mangroves replaced by a stone promenade, a marina channel and other shoreline development.
In all, the project file states that 252 acres of wetlands would be spared construction and development. Seventeen acres of wetlands would be dredged and filled to allow for construction.
However, Aqua does not strictly set aside the shore lands as a nature preserve. The development application states that homeowners will be able to build boardwalks through the mangroves, as well as docks that allow for fishing and docking small watercraft including kayaks and canoes. In addition, according project engineer King Engineering Associates, individual docking facilities for power boats "may be proposed."
Plans also call for a seawall to be built on the landward side of the mangroves. Mangrove trimming would be allowed under the development plan.
A multifamily community
According to the development plan, the vast majority of the residences in Aqua would be in multifamily buildings. The plan sets aside two small neighborhoods for 331 single-family homes.
Multifamily units, to be built in low- and high-rise buildings, would total 2,687. The plan also includes 188 semi-detached homes.
Residents would see a limited amount of businesses inside Aqua. A planned 78,000 square feet of commercial space would provide room for neighborhood and general retail and restaurants.
Project drawings do not contain a high level of detail. No street plan is included, nor approximate locations of individual buildings.
The gaps in information are being filled in as county planning staff evaluates Aqua. In September, planning staff submitted a list of questions about Aqua to the developers and their engineer. They asked for more information about zoning conflicts, traffic volumes, emergency vehicle access and street construction, among other aspects of the project.
One of the most pressing issues for planners are land uses that conflict with zoning. The plan places mixed-use buildings in a residential zone, as well as some multifamily units in an area designated for single-family homes.
Engineers from King wrote that "the team is currently evaluating rezone options."
If approved, Aqua would be part of the largest tract of new housing in West Manatee. Aqua butts against an even larger proposed housing project, Lake Flores. The general development plan for that 1,300-acre subdivision was approved in August. Planned to be built on land owned by Manatee Fruit Co., Lake Flores could bring another 6,500 homes to the El Conquistador Parkway area.
Suit on underwater lands
Even as Aqua moves through the county's approval process, its developers are preparing to face off against Manatee County in court. Last year, Beruff and Lieberman filed a Bert J. Harris private property rights suit against Manatee County through the corporate entities they control. In their complaint, they claim that the county's land-use rules prevent them from developing the submerged coastal lands they own at Long Bar Pointe.
In the complaint filed with the 12th Circuit Court, the developers ask for a judgment that compels the county to condemn the land and pay "full and just compensation." The case will go before a judge Dec. 2.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.