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Controversial Terra Ceia development approval may be delayed again

BRADENTON — After dealing with more than three years of delays, the developers of the Estates on Tillet Bayou may face another postponement of the approval of their site plan.

The Manatee County Commission was to decide today on the proposed construction of 35 homes on about 41 acres in the center of Terra Ceia Island.

Several residents of this close-knit rural community in northern Manatee County opposed the number of proposed homes and have hired an attorney to represent them in front of the commission at a meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today.

In a letter to commission Chairwoman Gwen Brown dated Friday, Thomas Reese, a St. Petersburg attorney, requested the commission delay the approval meeting for at least 28 days.

At a work session meeting Monday, Brown indicated today’s hearing will probably be continued.

Reese cited in the letter two reasons for the continuance: He has only recently been retained by the Terra Ceia Island Development Focus Group and needs time to prepare; and to provide the county with time to “correct the defective public notice of the April 28 hearing date.” For example, according to the letter, an affidavit of notice of today’s hearing was not filed with the planning department director.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker could not be reached to respond to the letter.

Members of the Focus Group said they felt it necessary to hire an attorney to speak for them because they did not feel commissioners were listening to their concerns.

“The board has not really recognized us,” said Terra Ceia resident Delores Borbidge. “We know they’ve had meetings with the developer, but we have not had that privilege.”

The developer, Terra Ceia Vest LLC, planned to ask commissioners today to change several stipulations they imposed at a hearing in October when the site plan was presented for approval.

Since then, two new commissioners have been seated on the board, Larry Bustle and John Chappie, who beat incumbents Amy Stein Fucini and Jane Von Hahmann, respectively, in the November election.

Commissioners in October approved stipulations reducing the number of lots to 27, with none less than 1 acre; a street with only one entrance on Center Road; and no lots platted through wetlands, among other conditions of development.

“We want the commissioners to uphold the stipulations they approved in October,” said another island resident, Ron Martino. “If they did that, we’d be happy.”

The developer was to present a revised site plan today that has 35 lots, some less than an acre and platted through the wetlands, and two entrances.

This site plan was basically what was offered in October, with two fewer lots and similar to a conceptual plan that was presented three years ago.

Jack Jones, a partner in Terra Ceia Vest, said Monday he hoped the new commission would be more receptive to the plan.

“I feel sure we will get a fair and just hearing from the board and will closely follow their development regulations,” Jones said.

Since the election of Bustle and Chappie, the approval process for developments has become a priority issue with the commission.

A year-long study, called the Matrix report, indicated the county planning and building departments needed to become more customer-friendly and streamline the system.

“It appears they are implementing the recommendations of the Matrix report.” Jones said.