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After a long fight, East Manatee preserve is reborn with a new name

Neighbors organize to protect wooded area in East Manatee

Friends of Keep Woods, a nonprofit, has formed in response to a proposed infill development that would be built in the wooded area behind Braden Woods. Local residents speak against the proposed housing development.
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Friends of Keep Woods, a nonprofit, has formed in response to a proposed infill development that would be built in the wooded area behind Braden Woods. Local residents speak against the proposed housing development.

The 44.5-acre Braden River Preserve that was a long fight for its supporters and an annoyance to its opponents has been christened with a new name: The Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer Johnson Preserve at Braden River.

Johnson Preserve at Braden River, for short.

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and Manatee County announced the name change and the closing of the $3 million transaction between developer Pat Neal and the land conservation nonprofit on Tuesday.

The name comes from the Sarasota-based Floyd C. Johnson and Flo Singer Johnson Foundation, which donated $500,000 toward purchasing the land. The foundation supports local organizations by "enriching the human experience through targeted funding of the arts, education, environment, animals and wildlife," its website states.

“This is a true community success. We are humbled by the resounding commitment of the volunteers and donors who responded quickly to our call to action,” Conservation Foundation president Christine Johnson said in a press release. “We are also thankful to Pat and John Neal of Neal Communities and Neal Land Ventures, whose flexibility, resources and dedication were immensely helpful in making this happen for the residents of Manatee County.”

For a little more than a year, a group that called themselves Friends of Keep Woods started rallying against a proposed 32-home development on a 33-acre plot of land in their neighborhood, located at 6804 Pine Meadow Way. They came up with the idea to implement a municipal services taxing unit to buy the land and turn it into a preserve. The late owner of an additional 11.6 acres adjacent to the property, Carl Bergstresser, indicated he wanted the land put into conservation.

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Manatee County commissioners asked people to raise their hands if they'd been to a park as they decide whether or not to tax 1,440 residents in east Manatee County that would be used to buy a 33-acre piece of undeveloped property for a passive park Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Of the 1,440 residents of Braden Woods and River Club neighborhoods included in the 30-year taxing unit, some wanted to be excluded from consideration or didn't think the land should be bought at all.

On March 20, instead of levying the tax on these residents, Manatee County commissioners decided to buy the land using tax money collected from the already established unincorporated municipal services taxing unit, which had a fund of $14 million.

The Conservation Foundation had raised $1,029,645 before the final decision was made. Since then, they have raised an additional $4,000 and are collecting donations through Sept. 30. The remaining $1.7 million would come from the county.

Manatee County officials previously stated it would take about $300,000 to turn the land into a passive park and $20,000 a year for upkeep.

"We appreciate the efforts to build a successful partnership providing for the acquisition of this important riverine environmental area," Manatee County parks and natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker said in a press release. "We look forward to working with the Foundation and the community in providing the kinds of passive recreation that respects Mother Nature and the many opportunities to learn much from her on this property."

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