Conservation group close to getting endorsement for tax-backed preserve

A 33-acre plot of woods in East Manatee is one step closer to being saved from development and turned into a county park.
A 33-acre plot of woods in East Manatee is one step closer to being saved from development and turned into a county park. Herald file photo

More than 100 votes stand in the way of giving county officials the OK to consider establishing a taxing unit that could spare 33 acres of land from being developed.

Developer Pat Neal has plans to cluster 32 homes as the gated Myara subdivision, which sits where Pine Meadow Way becomes Club House Drive in the Braden Woods subdivision, just north of the Braden River.

But, for an offer that lasts until March, Neal is proposing to sell the property for $3 million to Manatee County to become a passive park and preserve if the surrounding 1,440 homeowners would support paying for it through a municipal services taxing unit, or MSTU. The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is facilitating the possible transaction and raising funds for the acquisition, and was recently bestowed an adjacent 11-acre property owned by the late Carl Bergstresser.

MSTUs are established to help pay for specific projects within certain subdivisions. The other example in the county is the Palm Aire MSTU.

There are 594 residences in favor of the MSTU, 418 opposed and 428 remaining mail-in polls that have not been submitted, according to Jan. 3 polling numbers provided by Manatee County. The poll gives estimates on how much the tax would be based on each residence’s 2017 taxable values, and support needs to meet or surpass 720 votes. The MSTU would last for 30 years, if passed, and is projected to start in 2019.

The remaining mail-in polls must be postmarked to the county by Jan. 11, otherwise they will be considered “no” votes.

Friends of Keep Woods, the group that has led the charge in preserving the property, said they will keep canvassing the area to get more people to submit their polls. While they’re emboldened by the support, the group’s president Gary Hebert said it was “still a concern.”

“We’re optimistic that it won’t fall short,” he said.

The Myara property is split into three sections — two of them are appraised at $156,600 and the third is said to be worth $403,679, according to the county property appraiser’s website. Myarra Property Joint Venture LLC purchased each section for $1,637,500 in December 2016.

But now that the property was rezoned in December, Neal said it’s worth more than $3 million.

“We won’t take less,” he said.

Neal said his company has made “substantial contributions” in the past, including when Manatee County paid around $10 million for the land worth $17 million that’s now Neal Preserve.

If the MSTU fails to get adequate support, Neal plans to tailor the subdivision similar to his Wildgrass development off of Clark Road in Sarasota and sell homes in the $500,000 to $700,000 range.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse