On the southernmost end of the Aqua by the Bay property, there is an elevated dirt mound, allowing one to see the proximity of Sarasota Bay to the west and El Conquistador Parkway to the east.
“This particular property on the edge of the water is the longest single, mangrove shoreline in Manatee County on Sarasota Bay,” Peter Logan, Medallion Home president, said shortly before giving a site tour of the West Bradenton property Monday. “We are here to make sure that won’t change.”
As developer Carlos Beruff’s proposed Aqua by the Bay project is scheduled to go back before the planning commission on Aug. 10 and county commission Aug. 16, development team members held an informational meeting for the media followed by a site tour Monday as an opportunity to correct what they say is misinformation in the public. Allison Aubuchon Communications, LLC, which organized the tour, was hired by Medallion Home to help communicate about Aqua by the Bay.
“I think there was a lot of misinformation out there and some false narrative,” Logan said. “There’s information out there that we are going to completely eliminate existing mangrove forest and fringe and that’s just not accurate.”
Aqua by the Bay is Beruff’s latest proposal to develop 2,894 homes on 529 acres between El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay, just to the south of 53rd Avenue West. The development team estimates that Aqua by the Bay will pay $33 million in impact fees under current fee schedules and increase the tax base by approximately $1.5 billion.
“That’s a big number and that’s a real number,” Logan said.
This will be the second time the proposed development goes before the planning and county commissions. County commissioners referred the controversial development back to the planning commission on May 4 because they wanted more information about how many buildings would exceed the maximum height of 35 feet allowed.
In the most updated staff report, the different building types are clearly spelled out as well as where on the property they would be built — 12 with a maximum height of 95 feet on the central part of the site, four with a maximum height of 145 feet also on the central part and the others between 36-75 feet tall, which would be limited by the approved number of dwelling units in the general development plan.
On Monday, Logan said county staff “misinterpreted the language in our narrative to be two buildings when we were trying to describe two different types of buildings.”
“There was just a misinterpretation and semantics issue in the first application,” he said. “I think it was an honest mistake.”
While the Aqua by the Bay developers say they have no current plans to have community meetings, they wanted to use Monday to correct the misinformation about the project, especially the environmental impacts.
“All mangroves and sea grasses will not be affected,” said Misty Servia, the project’s planner. “There is no dredging that is proposed.”
According a 2015 environmental report, there are 13.29 acres of “unavoidable impacts to the highly disturbed exotic wetland hardwoods dominated by Brazilian pepper.”
Pointing to the proposed mitigation bank, which is subject to a challenge by local environmental groups, the approximately 300 acres will “help ensure there are no impacts to sea grass and mangroves are preserved,” Logan said.
But until the conclusion of the legal challenges, the mitigation bank permit application is sitting with Florida Department of Environmental Protection, according to Logan.
“Until that issue is sorted out, we don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
A mitigation bank is a way to trade off the impacts, Logan added.
“We don’t have a formal plan yet,” he said. “We don’t have any proposed impacts to our site where we would offset them with this mitigation bank.”
With respect to the least terns, nesting on the property, Logan said “least terns from my understanding are migratory birds.”
“Our consultant must work with Florida Fish and Wildlife,” he said.
As project opponents argue that this would destroy the last untouched mangrove shoreline in Manatee County, Logan reiterated that the Aqua by the Bay project “will be focused on preservation, vibrant quality of life as well as the revitalization of West Bradenton.” The post-development wetland buffer is proposed to extend the full length of the property, have a minimum width of 15 feet and be located between the post-development wetland boundary and the the upland retaining wall, according to county documents.
“People move here to Manatee County for a number of reason,s not the least of which is the natural beauty and we are here to make sure that doesn’t change on this particular property,” Logan said. “Aqua by the Bay sits on a very special stretch of land. It’s really at the center of the design of the entire project.”
With two projects already fully permitted for the site, plans for at least the 200 single-family homes on the southern end of the property will move forward regardless of what happens in August, Logan said, adding that they expect to break ground later this year.
As a single-family home builder, Medallion Home plans to build those units if approved but a multi-family unit builder most likely will construct those units in the towers, according to Logan.
“Medallion is not really a multi-family developer,” he said. “That will be down the road. A myriad of state/federal agencies still need to take a look.”
During Monday’s informational meeting, Mary Dougherty, executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, said she’s confident Manatee County can build great neighborhoods like Aqua by the Bay.
“We can grow our economy and protect our beautiful, waterfront simultaneously,” she said. “This is transformative. Aqua by the Bay is being planned in an area that we all know has struggled. West Bradenton has been left out while development has occurred in east and north county but with Aqua by the Bay we are looking at new jobs, new businesses and a tremendous tax base.”