A Palmetto neighborhood’s request to rezone their land could be too much of a slippery slope for Manatee County officials to approve.
Kristi Kita, of Palmetto, is leading the charge to switch seven parcels of land from residential single-family to A-1 suburban agriculture. Her opponents, as well as planning commissioners, said her plan would take the neighborhood in a backward direction during Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.
“We’ve never experienced this before,” said Planning Commissioner Mike Rahn said. “It usually goes from agricultural to residential with clear intent. I’m having a tough time with the down-zoning.”
The land in question is 25.13 acres of land at the corner of 43rd Street East and west of 24th Avenue East in Palmetto. County staff said they saw no issue with Kita’s request to rezone from residential single family to suburban agriculture, but her neighbors said they could find plenty.
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Sharon Kreuger called Kita’s proposal misleading. Her husband, Chris Wormwood, said he only purchased a home in the neighborhood because of its natural beauty. Their daughter, John Elizabeth Alemán, is a Miami Beach city commissioner, who highlighted a whole laundry list of issues with staff’s assessment.
“I understand how difficult it is when you have neighbors in front of you and on opposite sides, and I also know from my work on land use that you generally rely on the staff report,” Alemán told the Planning Commission. “So with all due respect to the staff, who I know work very hard, I’m going to pick on them a little bit.”
Alemán’s main gripe was that staff recommended approval of the rezoning, while stating that the character of the neighborhood would not change. She disputed that point.
“What didn’t come out in the staff report was a discussion of uses,” she said. “Some of the uses in A-1 come over and above the current RSF zoning. They include a breeding facility, heavy equipment sales rental and lease, kennels — so clearly, in a single family neighborhood, especially on 2-acre parcels, if someone had kennels or an animal breeding facility, that would change the character of the neighborhood.”
There are no laws on the books that limit the number of animals that are permitted on agricultural land. However, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has an agricultural unit that makes sure animals receive “sufficient care,” said Dorothy Rainey, a county planner.
A Bradenton business owner who lives on one of the seven parcels being requested for rezoning spoke to the fact that the area is already decidedly rural. A large portion of the surrounding land is already zoned A-1.
“When (Alemán) talked about the experience of the neighborhood and the experience of the place, that is very much what most of us who have been in Palmetto for a while — that’s part of why we’re there,” said Lauri Contarino. “You go past a bird sanctuary, you drive past an aviary as you go down to get on that private road. We have a neighbor who’s already part of the agricultural zoning who’s always raising one or two cows.”
Contarino said she and six other families fighting for the new land designation just want to be able to have the same rights as their neighbors. Alemán argued that she’s not worried about their intentions for the land, but for anyone else who might own the land after it changes hands.
“If any of the A-1 agricultural businesses are added, including heavy equipment sales, leasing and rental, which I’m sure none of the applicants intend to do, but if they sell the property to someone else, that person is certainly allowed to do, and that heavy equipment traffic will absolutely have an impact on the private single-lane road that’s on the property.”
Kim Holbrook has lived in the neighborhood longer than anyone else and says there’s no doubt the community is already agricultural. As a member of Manatee 4-H, her daughter raised a steer on the property for four years without any complaints from neighbors.
“When we think of agriculture, we are not thinking of providing industrial use to agricultural or raising multiple cows, horses and all of that,” Holbrook said. “We’re simply enjoying a lifestyle.”
Contarino re-emphasized to the commission that she and her neighbors aren’t trying to radically change the neighborhood.
“The type of farming or agricultural uses we’re looking for are a small flock of backyard chickens to improve soil quality for our homestead gardens This is very much like trying to make a mini food forest so we can eat our own papaya and mango on our own property,” she said. “This is not a massive agricultural operation, and nor would the property prices in that area make any sense in terms of doing a business investment because the area is residential with nicer homes.”
In a letter submitted to the board, the Wormwoods pointed out that the rezoning request comes after they raised concerns about the presence of roosters on land belonging to Kita and another neighbor, which is a violation of county code according to the current land zoning.
Conerly called the proposal a “difficult situation” and said that while he wouldn’t be comfortable with the rezoning change if he was living in the neighborhood, that’s not the call his board gets to make.
“Our recommendation is based on two tenets — Is it consistent with the land development code and is consistent with the comprehensive plan?”
His fellow board members disagreed. Rahn made a motion to deny the approval of the rezoning, even though it was recommended by staff. The Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend denial of the proposal, with Conerly casting the dissenting vote.
The Board of County Commissioners will make a final decision, weighing the Planning Commission’s recommendation, at a later date.