MANATEE -- An early test of the county’s efforts to be more business-friendly didn’t favor a prominent developer Thursday.
A split Manatee County Planning Commission decided the county should not relax its landscaped buffer requirements for a University Parkway shopping center, saying it could set a bad precedent. But Benderson Development Co. LLC, the center’s owner, says the advisory board’s rejection, if upheld by county commissioners, could jeopardize its chances of landing prospective tenants.
Buffers are landscaped areas designed to shield homes and businesses from traffic impacts. The county requires a 50-foot-wide buffer that can be reduced to as little as 20 feet in spots in order to preserve native trees and plants.
Benderson wants the county to allow buffers of varying widths between The Shoppes at University Center and University Parkway. The developer is seeking the change because it wants to expand the former Circuit City building, 8551 Cooper Creek Blvd., at the request of a prospective tenant it declined to name. The expansion would encroach on the University Parkway buffer.
The developer also plans a new building for another potential tenant that would broach the buffer along Cooper Creek Boulevard.
“This would give us greater flexibility but still maintain that sense of place,” said Paul Blackketter, Benderson’s executive director of planning.
But county planners objected, saying Benderson’s request was vague and could result in some areas having no buffer at all. It also would set a precedent that other developers might follow, resulting in uneven enforcement, planners said.
Four board members -- Steve Belack, John DeLesline, Tim Rhoades and Marilyn Stasica -- agreed in recommending the county deny Benderson’s request. Richard Bedford, the board’s chairman, and David Wick were in the minority.
Stasica said the request ran counter to county guidelines for entranceways, while Rhoades said he was confident that Benderson and county planners could resolve the issue before it goes in front of county commissioners.
Bedford actively lobbied for Benderson, citing the developer’s track record along the University Parkway corridor.
“I want what they want because I remember what that corner looked like,” he said.
While denying the buffer request, the board endorsed other changes to development approvals for the overall Cooper Creek Center project. Among them: allowing a new right-in/right-out driveway on University Parkway and extending the project’s buildout by two years to 2015.
Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.