A nearly 360-acre swath of farmland in Cortez — the largest remaining undeveloped property on the Cortez Peninsula — could begin transformation into a waterfront community within the next couple of years.
While developer Whiting Preston calls the proposed development “a significant part of Cortez Peninsula,” he says he wants to maintain the authenticity of Cortez.
“The heritage of the community is key and essential,” he said. “Cortez has that heritage.”
Peninsula Bay would be built on 359 acres owned by Preston’s Manatee Fruit Co., north of Cortez Road, east and west of 115th Street West and south of Palma Sola Bay. The project calls for 1,950 residential units, 90,000 square feet of nonresidential uses, a dry storage marina for 200 boats and a boat ramp. The development plan and the rezoning request to planned development mixed use will go before the Manatee County Planning Commission on Thursday and the Manatee County Commission on Sept. 1.
“What makes Manatee County really unique is it is a waterfront county and waterfront community,” Preston said. “We believe it is an important part of the community.”
Using the tagline “connecting people to the water,” Peninsula Bay would be the second significant development proposal for Preston family farmland in southwest Manatee County.
Last August, the county commission approved a general development plan for Lake Flores, a 1,322-acre mixed-use community that will bring 6,500 homes, 500 hotel rooms and millions of square feet of retail and commercial space. Nearly a year after approval, Lake Flores is still in the permitting process, according to the development team.
With Peninsula Bay, which doesn’t have a projected buildout until 2027, developers wanted to come up with a plan to complement Lake Flores, according to Ed Hill, who is on the development team. Peninsula Bay is expected to have a net positive fiscal impact of $5.5 million annually and a new real estate value at buildout of $620 million, according to analysis done for the development.
“We are trying to come up with two plans that work well together,” he said.
Peninsula Bay traffic concerns
With Cortez Road headed to Anna Maria Island already congested, particularly during season, traffic is a major concern for many neighboring residents. Peninsula Bay is estimated to generate 16,161 net new trips daily, according to transportation impact analysis completed by Luke Transportation Engineering Consultants as part of the application process.
Most of the undeveloped areas of west Manatee County are encompassed now by the Peninsula Bay, Lake Flores and Long Bar Pointe proposals, according to the analysis.
Long Bar Pointe is the proposed mixed-use West Manatee subdivision by developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman on 522 acres. The three developments are expected to bring tens of thousands of residents and additional traffic to West Bradenton in the next decade.
“The Peninsula Bay plan will serve as infill development within the Manatee County existing land uses that have evolved,” according to that development’s analysis. “Infill development is one of Manatee County’s stated approaches to improve mobility. Because of Peninsula Bay’s infill location, new development that would otherwise be located at remote locations in the county will have the opportunity to locate nearer to existing origins and destinations reducing overall trip lengths.”
But, Preston said, they “are seeking to be a part of the traffic solution.”
“Peninsula Bay will coordinate with Manatee County to support the funding for future roadway improvements, needed due to both background traffic and Peninsula Bay traffic,” according to the traffic analysis.
The analysis also showed “background traffic will cause overcapacity roadway conditions at a number of roadways with or without the Peninsula Bay development.”
Long in the works
Peninsula Bay is not a new concept, according to Preston. With a 67-acre lake planned for the northeastern portion of the property, less than an acre of wetlands is expected to be impacted by the project.
“We’ve talked about it for a while,” Preston said. “We are not trying to create a subdivision. We are trying to create a community. We are trying to be sensitive to our neighbors.”
We are trying to create a community.
Whiting Preston, Peninsula Bay developer
If the project receives approval, work would likely begin on the lake and the eastern side of the property, according to Hill.
The vision of Peninsula Bay, which would be set back from Palma Sola Bay, is “an ecofriendly waterfront fishing village and resort, building on the character of the Cortez community while integrating new vacation and living options,” according to agenda materials.
An ecosystems management plan is planned for Peninsula Bay, which would include mangrove swamp enhancement, mangrove swamp restoration, mangrove establishment, enhanced tidal area and upland habitat conservation, according to agenda materials. Most of the wetlands restoration will be along the Cortez Road frontage, according to Preston.
“We are really trying to preserve mangroves,” he said. “The waterfront needs to be a place that needs to be protected and an amenity really for everyone.”
Maintaining the authenticity with Cortez, the oldest working fishing village in Florida, is important for Preston.
“We need to do what we can to support it,” he said. “That is part of our community, part of what makes Manatee County unique. We are really a waterfront community and we need to embrace the spirit of what we have here.”