BRADENTON -- A four-hour public meeting in front of a packed gallery in the Bradenton City Hall chambers ended Wednesday with no resolution regarding the proposed relocation of Glazier-Gates Park as part of a land swap deal between the city and the development team of Villages at Riverwalk, a 521-until rental complex.
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith convinced most council members to slow the process to determine if the city is getting the best value for the proposed land trade, which would move the park north to make room for phase 1 construction of Villages at Riverwalk. Smith, Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. and Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff voted in favor of Smith's motion to table the issue. Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo and Vice Mayor Gene Brown voted against it.
More than 20 people spoke, with the overwhelming majority expressing opposition to relocating the park, but not necessarily opposing the project.
"Let's take a moment to reflect on the property that is historically significant, pristine and beautiful in its natural state," said resident Nancy Reeves. "It's the last piece of property downtown close to the river to be developed. This is your legacy, gentlemen. Is this what you want to look back on 10 years fromnow? Take a breath and give this project some additional thought."
The council will take about three weeks before voting Oct. 14. Smith, like most speakers, is not opposed to the project, but said he wants to ensure the city is getting a fair return. "My goal is not to kill this project," Smith said. "My only goal is to see we get a fair return for our citizens, so it's important to review what we are giving up for what we are getting."
Atlanta-based Hatfield Development Co. purchased 20 acres surrounding Glazier-Gates Park in the 1000 block of Manatee Avenue East out of foreclosure for $4 million late last year. The property had been in foreclosure for years following the defunct Riveria Southshore project zoned for up to nine-story condominiums. The project failed during the Great Recession. All existing predevelopment agreements approved by the city prior to the bankruptcy remain intact.
Hatfield is represented by NDS Construction and attorney Ed Vogler, who said his team could proceed with the original Southshore condominiums without any more approvals from the city. Instead, he said, Hatfield is investing $75 million into a much-needed revitalization project to change the landscape of downtown Bradenton. The city, he noted in response to Smith's concerns, is getting plenty.
"The developer is going to pay $2 million in impact fees and $200,000 of that is park impact fees," Vogler said. "The developer, at his expense, is going to relocate, repair and make safe all of the park's equipment. The developer is going to build sidewalks and lighting on all of the public streets associated within the project, will provide public amenities on the waterfront at our expense, rebuild a failing lift station, repave Fourth Street East and pay for the new park's construction."
The proposal is to move Glazier-Gates Park north along Riverside Drive East and the Manatee River. Vogler said he is often criticized for trying to develop waterfront property and was taken aback so many oppose a development team's proposal to give waterfront property back to the public.
Those opposed say it's more about the historical and ecological significance of the existing park and retained Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes, the former city attorney of Bradenton Beach. Brookes laid out the groundwork of potential legal action should the city go forward with relocating the park. Citing the comprehensive plan, Brookes said the city cannot divert park space except in the case of overriding public interest.
"This is for private development," Brookes said. "That's not overriding. Overriding means something like a hospital or a school."
Brookes said the city is also required by its own master plan to develop a parks master plan by 2010 and "it's 2015 and you still don't have one."
After the 3-2 approval to table the vote, the battle for Glazier-Gates Park will begin again Oct. 14.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.