Aqua by the Bay could destroy last untouched shoreline, Cortez boat captain warns
To Kathe Fannon, a fourth-generation Cortez resident, the Long Bar Point shoreline makes the difference. It’s where she often goes to get away from it all since it’s the last untouched shoreline in the area.
“You can clearly see every blade of seaweed, the rolling moss,” Fannon said from her boat at the shoreline. “You can clearly see everything.”
On a recent morning boat trip, Fannon points out horseshoe crabs in the water near Long Bar Point. May, she notes, is horseshoe crab mating season.
“Imagine thousands of them up here. It’s amazing,” said Fannon, who operates Captain Kathe and First Mate Pup-Pup Charters out of Cortez.
Sitting at the front of her boat on “Skipper’s Seat,” Fannon’s dog Skipper accompanies her, constantly on the lookout for sea life, including dolphins and manatees. Skipper yelps to let Fannon know there’s a dolphin on the side of the boat.
“He tells me if something is here,” she said.
Carlos Beruff’s latest proposal to develop this shoreline has many local residents, including Fannon, fighting to protect the shore and the sea life that call it home. Aqua by the Bay, a proposed 2,894-home development on 529 acres, goes before the county commission at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
“This is a breeding ground for just about everything there is out here,” Fannon said. “This is the only untouched shoreline in this area, and Carlos Beruff has actually admitted that himself.”
The Aqua by the Bay development team declined to comment about the project before Thursday’s commission meeting.
“There are no shoreline impacts,” Ed Vogler, the attorney representing Beruff, said in April. “There is no mangrove trimming allowed. The water quality would be enhanced.”
But if the development is approved, it would change the entire shoreline, Fannon said.
“You won’t be able to come here and see the Old Florida,” she said. “I think a lot of people come to this area to see Old Florida because we are the only one that has Old Florida left. St. Pete, Sarasota, Tampa, the entire east coast of Florida has ruined their shoreline. Therefore, there isn’t any Old Florida left to show people.
“I think we should stand up as a people and as a community and say, ‘We have something that no other shoreline has. No other county has this but Manatee County.’”
The 55-year-old Cortez native compares what could happen to the Long Bar Point shoreline to the Tidy Island shoreline more than 30 years ago. Houses abut the entire waterway along Tidy Island.
“I know the outcome of it,” Fannon said as she passed by Tidy Island on her boat. “You need to let the mangroves continue to grow and the birds will continue to nest on the outside.”
In her 15 years of operating boat tours, Fannon said she’s never had anyone ask her to see the Tidy Island shoreline.
“It is just not in the interest of any tourist or anything,” she said. “We try to build our tourist industry up and in building that, I just stand on the fact that I’ve never had anybody ask me to come bring them to see a 145-foot building. Nobody has asked me to take them to see a mega-marina. No one has ever asked me to come show them a seawall that cuts off the shoreline.”
‘Preservation of mangroves a priority’
After the development’s previous iteration, called Long Bar Pointe, was denied in 2013, the development team made changes before proposing Aqua by the Bay.
Long Bar Pointe was planned to include up to 3,600 homes, 192,000 square feet of commercial space, a hotel, a conference center and a marina and navigation channel.
Aqua by the Bay is a proposed 2,894-home development on 529 acres between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay, just at the south end of 53rd Avenue West.
“The Long Bar Pointe land is a well-known and beautiful property in West Bradenton, fronting on Sarasota Bay and Coon Key,” project documents state. “The site is surrounded by water and magnificent mangroves, and these natural features will become one of the biggest assets of the future Aqua development.”
Aqua by the Bay, according to the development’s website aquabythebay.com, would preserve 98.5 percent of the existing coastline.
“Preservation of mangroves is a priority,” the website states. “Displaced mangroves will be replanted (mitigated) at a site where they will provide high environmental benefits. We will create a healthier sea grass bed and healthier overall ecosystem through a combination of a decrease in pollutants into the Bay, the revitalization of the mangroves by cutting out the nuisance species, the replanting of sea grass and the restriction of propeller motors through the sea grass areas.”
When the Manatee County Planning Commission recommended approval of the project in a split 3-2 vote this month, environmental concerns dominated much of the public comment. Staff recommended approval of the general development plan with stipulations.
Joel Christian, the county’s environmental planning division manager, said then that mangroves and sea grasses would not be affected.
There are “added layers of review by state and federal government to assure no adverse water quality impacts to the bay,” Christian said.
Aqua by the Bay will include multi-family buildings — one proposed at five stories and the other at 10 stories over parking.
If approved, Aqua by the Bay would be the second major development built in this area, as Lake Flores was approved by the county commission in 2015.
Lake Flores, a 1,300-acre mixed use walkable community, is south of Cortez Road, east of 86th Street West, north of El Conquistador Parkway and west of IMG Academy. It calls for 6,500 residential units, 1 million square feet of retail space, 2 million square feet of commercial space and 500 hotel rooms.
Residents fighting for the shoreline
Four years after Beruff’s original proposal, many residents say they feel like they are living in “Groundhog Day,” fighting to protect the shoreline like they did in 2013.
After Manatee County Commission in 2013 denied amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Long Bar Pointe developers Beruff and Larry Lieberman filed an $18 million suit against the county over their claimed right to develop shore lands at the property.
But both then-Circuit Judge John Lakin and the Second District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the county on all issues in the case.
As Manatee County commissioners are set to consider the proposed Aqua by the Bay development, many residents are speaking out in opposition.
A “STOP Aqua by the Bay” Facebook page has been created and a rally was planned for Saturday near the project site.
“We just want to preserve our shoreline and the millions of creatures in it,” said Katie Tupin, a Cortez resident who created the Facebook page. “We are just tired of building, more and more building. The birds are running out of room.”
The 26-year-old, who operates Captain Katie Scarlett Boat Tours, said the majority of her customers want to do eco-tours.
“Basically, all the creatures I’m showing these people, dolphins, manatees, are currently under attack and have been for a long time,” Tupin said. “Even trimming the mangroves affects everything in a negative way. I would do whatever I can to protect the sea creatures from greedy developers and preserve Old Florida and preserve the amazing creatures that live here.”
If Aqua by the Bay is approved, a full-time commercial fisherman out of Cortez said it would absolutely affect business.
“They need a habitat like that,” Pickett Reynolds said. “If you take a habitat away, the fish will become less and less. With the fishing pressure we have, we need as much habitat as we can get and there’s not much habitat like this particular shoreline. It’s very unique how it works and all that.”
Reynolds is particularly opposed to the proposed lagoon and sea wall.
“That’s going to mess the whole natural water filter that the mangroves are,” he said. “They are claiming it is an enhancement. It’s not an enhancement. It’s a degradation.”
Rose Lipke, who was raised in Cortez and now lives in Northwest Bradenton, said she knows the property will eventually be developed. But it should be in a responsible way, she stressed, without 145-foot-tall buildings.
“We have seen that happen in municipalities after municipalities around the coast,” said Lipke, a board member for the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage. “We’ve got this little oasis that’s Manatee County. If it’s going to be developed, we just want it to be developed in the most responsible way possible and in character with Manatee County. ... It’s one of the healthiest bays that we have left, and that chunk of shoreline is a big reason for that.”
People have a right to develop their property, Fannon acknowledged. But not at the expense of the shoreline — they should build away from the shoreline, she said.
“That would be a bigger legacy than building the biggest and tallest and grossest building on this shoreline,” she said. “That’s a legacy.”
If you go: Manatee County Commission on Aqua by the Bay
- 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4
- Manatee County Administrative Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton
- First floor commission chambers