East Manatee woods saved after developer terminates deal — for now

Developer Pat Neal has decided not to proceed with his plans to develop a wooded area in East Manatee that area residents were pleading to be conserved.

Neal Communities has terminated the contract for the purchase of the land from Albert Myara. But there is still an application with Manatee County for the rezone request and preliminary site plan of the Myara Subdivision, which called for up to 32 houses on 33 acres along the Braden River’s north bank.

“It couldn’t move forward unless we had control of the property, which we do not,” Neal said Wednesday, adding that the application is in “limbo.”

A future connection between Linger Lodge Road and Clubhouse Drive, which is included in the county’s comprehensive plan and the reason for county staff’s denial recommendation, contributed to Neal’s decision. The proposed thoroughfare was not included in the applicant’s preliminary site plans, making the proposal inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.

With the ending date of the contract, there was not enough time also for the comprehensive plan amendment, Neal said. When asked to extend the contract, Myara said effectively, “No thanks,” according to Neal.

“We tried to consolidate the two processes,” Neal said. “We thought we were on sound legal footing, but Manatee County legal staff did not agree and we respect that. Partly because of Hurricane Hermine, but mostly because we never had enough time. We cannot accomplish the result so we have terminated the contract for purchase and sale.”

In a prepared statement, Neal said the comprehensive plan process takes from 18 months to more than five years as it did with the Tides End property in West Bradenton.

“We do not have time now, and we have never had time under our Contract for Purchase and Sale to proceed to a Comprehensive Plan change, transmittal to the state, adoption and then the zoning process required by Manatee County,” Neal said in the statement. “It is our hope and wish that Mr. Myara can accomplish his goals for the property or that he will negotiate with the owners of the homes in the adjacent subdivision to provide this land as a preserve adjacent to the preserve granted by Carl Bergstresser for the adjacent property to the west.”

Braden Woods resident Gary Hebert, who helped lead the Keep Woods group, said Wednesday he is very pleased with Neal’s decision.

“That was the outcome that we had anticipated and hoped for,” he said. “We are still interested in preserving the property along with the adjacent Bergstresser property. We are trying to find an entity or organization that will be able to take over both properties and maintain as nature preserves.”

Following Manatee County’s staff recommendation, the planning commission recommended denial of the request in October. The proposal was scheduled to go before the county commission on Dec. 1.

Neal Communities was seeking a rezone for the property, from residential single family — one dwelling unit per acre — to planned development residential with a preliminary site plan.

As part of the Keep Woods opposition effort, nearly 5,000 people from throughout Manatee County signed two petitions — one asking the commission to deny the rezone request, and the other to preserve the land as a nature preserve. Other concerns include the effect on the Braden River and the overall quality of life for the people and wildlife.

This support brought the public attention to the matter, Hebert said.

“We are certainly pleased with the amount of support we received from the community and the action from the planning commission,” he said. “We are very happy at this point and we are pursuing our efforts to get the entire property preserved and look forward to the next steps.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson