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Commission sees red, rejects Ellenton plan

BRADENTON — With the commission chambers overflowing with neighboring residents wearing red shirts opposed to a proposed apartment complex, the Manatee County Commission on Thursday rejected plans for the project.

It was standing room only as a red sea of about 150 people packed into the chamber to hear the proposal to build a 216-unit apartment complex on about 25 acres north of the Ridgewood Meadows mobile home neighborhood along Victory Road in Ellenton.

The mobile home park residents who spoke against the project said the three-story apartment buildings would not be a good fit for a site that is surrounded by one-story mobile homes.

In a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Donna Hayes voting in the minority, the commission denied the request to rezone the property from a single-family manufactured home designation to planned development residential.

The rezoning of the development, called Ridgewood Palms, would have allowed an increase in density from 4.5 units per acre to more than 8 units per acre.

After hearing from representatives of the developer, county planning department staff and about 18 residents opposed to the apartments and their representatives, several of the commissioners said they liked the proposed project, just not in that location.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she was not against rental units, because she was a renter for many years and grew up living in a mobile home.

But she warned those who objected to rental apartments to understand that the property is now zoned for manufactured homes that could end up as rentals.

Commissioner Ron Getman asked county planning department director John Osborne how his staff determined that a cluster of three-story apartment buildings is compatible with the surrounding mobile and single-family homes.

Osborne said the codes allow the compatibility to be mitigated with such elements as buffers and clustering to create more green space.

For Commissioner John Chappie, the increased density was a problem.

“Mobile homes are a major part of the Manatee County way of life,” Chappie said.

Todd Pressman, a spokesman for the property owner, Chris Scherer of Clearwater, presented an aerial photograph that showed a sea of mobile home roof tops and said the proposed apartment buildings would be clustered among acres of green space, which makes up about 75 percent of the property.

Commissioner Larry Bustle said the clustering of the density was the kind of planning more developers need to do to promote better use of land.

In the end, though, Bustle said he could not support the rezoning because of the timing, not because of the density.

The increased density was what prompted Hayes to support the project, saying it was what was needed to make rapid transit feasible.

“We have to look at clustering because better transportation would be convenient for senior citizens,” Hayes said.

Pressman said after the meeting that Scherer will consider appealing the commission’s decision in circuit court.

He said for the two years the project has been working its way through the process, county planners, the planning commission and even the county commission were in favor of the project.

“Everything was great,” Pressman said. “All the flags were up until (the commissioners) saw all the red shirts.

“This sends a message you can come and do everything the county wants and still be turned down,” he said.

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