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Foes of NW Bradenton development request hearing

MANATEE -- Opponents of a Robinson Farms development project have asked the state to overturn a Manatee County comprehensive plan change that allows increased housing density on the property.

Residents Katie Pierola, Len Sirotzki and Greg Geraldson filed the petition for a hearing on the change Thursday with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings.

The trio represents 264 northwest Bradenton residents who in March signed a petition opposing growth in the area. Geraldson runs the county-owned Geraldson Community Farm at 1401 99th St. NW and lives nearby. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

“I’ve lived here for 14 years, and all the other subdivisions have never been opposed,” Pierola said Tuesday. “This one has been opposed since 1997.”

The comprehensive plan change, approved by county commissioners Oct. 12 by a 4-3 vote, allows developer Neal Communities to increase the density from one residential unit per acre to three residential units per acre on 28 of the project’s 49 acres.

On Dec. 3, the state’s Department of Community Affairs issued a notice of intent that found the plan change in compliance with state law. Opponents had 21 days from the publication of the notice to challenge the ruling. The change would have become final if there were no challenges.

A similar proposal from Neal Communities ran into a DCA roadblock in 1997. County commissioners rejected another plan in June before agreeing to mediation with Neal Communities.

The land in question is southeast of Robinson Preserve between Ninth Avenue Northwest and 17th Avenue Northwest. It is near Neal Communities’ Hawthorn Park development.

Neal Communities representative John Neal said he has attempted to meet with residents to allay their concerns about the development.

“There’s no real purpose in the petition except to delay the project for a not very legitimate reason,” Neal said. “Going forward, it has always been my intention to work with homeowners in this area.”

According to the petition, residents object to the change because 43 of the 49 acres in the proposed development are within an updated Coastal High Hazard Area. They are concerned about increased flooding on Ninth Avenue Northwest, say a hurricane evacuation route on State Road 64 could be compromised by increased traffic, and contend zoning would be incompatible with surrounding properties.

“For many decades and since original land use designations were in effect, this land use has always been agriculture and is best suited and compatible with existing developments and adjacent properties,” the petition reads.

“Farms and agricultural properties presently existing and operating contiguous to this subject site, could suffer irreparable harm and adverse damages in the event of excessive land fill and new development.”

Pierola said the three residents will represent themselves at the hearing. She said her neighbors also are worried that the development may reduce their property values.

“No one knows what kind of houses he’s going to put in there,” said Pierola, who lives in Hawthorn Park.

John Neal said the developer plans a “beautiful subdivision just like the one she (Pierola) lives in.”

The county commission’s most recent approval proved controversial. Opponents of the development left the Oct. 12 meeting thinking they had helped halt the plans after commissioners voted 4-3 in their favor.

But hours later, at the end of an eight-hour meeting, then-Commissioner Gwen Brown changed her vote after talking with a developer’s consultant.

County staff recommended commissioners deny the comprehensive plan change because of changes to the Coastal High Hazard Area, as defined by a new hurricane evacuation map drawn up by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Commission.