Back to farm land: Palmetto residents successful after rare down-zoning request

A complicated “down-zoning” issue for a somewhat rural Palmetto neighborhood didn’t seem all that complicated to Manatee commissioners.

A group of seven homeowners in the 4400 block of 26th Avenue East previously asked the county to allow a rezone of their residential land to agriculture. The request came before the Planning Commission on Nov. 9, where commissioners voted 3-1 to deny recommendation of the change, even though county staff had given it a thumbs up.

“We’ve never experienced this before,” Planning Commissioner Mike Rahn said at the time. “It usually goes from agricultural to residential with clear intent. I’m having a tough time with the down-zoning.”

For the Manatee County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, the intent seemed pretty clear — homeowners on a total of 25.13 acres of land want the same right afforded to their nearby neighbors to raise farm animals.

“This is a very back-to-nature, very wholesome way of living,” said Lauri Contarino, one of the land owners pushing for the switch from residential to an agricultural zoning designation.

But not every neighbor is on the same page. A group of opponents said they’d rather not live next to loud roosters, pigs and cows that might be brought into the area.

“I grew up on a farm and was a 4-H kid, but there’s a big difference between a cow that’s football field away or a rooster sitting under your back bedroom window,” said Sharon Kreuger, who also owns property in the area.

Those fighting the change contended that these homeowners had a chance to own agricultural land somewhere in Manatee County before they chose to buy home in this quaint Palmetto neighborhood.

A home nearby a rural area in Palmetto has several pigs where residents want rezoning from residential to agricultural land. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“Six of these seven parcels sold in the last three years,” said homeowner Chris Wormwood. “At that time, they had the chance to figure out what they wanted to use their property for.”

Wormwood’s daughter, John Elizabeth Alemán, who is a co-owner of his property and a commissioner in Miami Beach, also joined in the fight. She said the proposal is clearly out of line, according to the county’s comprehensive plan.

“Nowhere in Manatee County is the community aspiring to take fully developed single-family home neighborhoods and turn them back to farm land. That is not what the community is aspiring for, and that’s why the A-1 definition is written that that it is,” said Alemán, who is the chair of her commission’s land use committee. “It says ‘the purpose of the district is to provide short-term agricultural use and to provide to areas transitioning from rural to suburban or urban. The words are important. They’re one-directional. It’s an up-zoning mechanism. A-1 is not a down-zoning mechanism.”

She also argued the possibility of the types of intensive land uses that might be allowed on agricultural land, such as animal breeding facilities, kennels and heavy equipment sales. County staff didn’t see it that way, though.

Dorothy Rainey, a county planner, explained that access to a public road would be required for those uses, which is not available in the subject area. Those uses would also need to meet certain criteria for a special permit, she explained.

In documents submitted to the record, Alemán contested that Kita has tried to skirt residential zoning rules by claiming her farm animals as emotional support pets. Discord between the neighbors began when Kita and another neighbor were reported to county code enforcement for possession of more than four roosters.

“This started out as a tale about two roosters,” Wordword said. “It’s going to stay that way, I think.”

A rural area in Palmetto where residents want rezoning from residential to agricultural land. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

In a Jan. 3 letter to Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, resident and rezoning advocate George Tatge said he hoped the change would “decrease the density of private property” and “resolve recent code enforcement cases regarding roosters and horses.”

County commissioners unanimously approved the request to rezone the neighborhood, citing the right for homeowners to be able to do what they want with their property and nearby land that is already zoned for agricultural uses.

“When property owners speak up about what they want to do with their land, I have to listen to that,” Commissioner Betsy Benac said.

While Trace said she’s fine with approving the change, she believes the issue of zoning in this area will be back in front of the board before long, due to a trend of growth and home development in that particular area.

“I look at this and it’s kind of going back, and I’ m fine with that,” said Trace. “But is that what we want to do in an area that we know is changing? All we’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on this.”

Disheartened by the board’s decision, Alemán questioned how commissioners could allow the will of a few residents to trump the rights of other established homeowners.

“The clever casting of the down-zoning application as an effort to reduce density in an already completed developed single-family home neighborhood gave the commission the needed cover for what really happened — repeat code violators, who had been keeping roosters to breed show chickens, denied their retiree neighbors their due process that should have protected their quiet residential lifestyle,” she wrote in a statement Friday.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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