After urging a developer to rethink its site plan to address traffic concerns in a congested area, the Board of County Commissioners voted to approve a large mixed-use project near the Ellenton outlet mall.
In the final meeting before their summer recess began in June, commissioners said they weren’t happy with the 37-acre development that would have dumped too much traffic on 60th Avenue East. On Thursday, the developer brought back a revised plan with less commercial space and more luxury apartment units.
Positioned on the southwest corner of 29th Street East and 60th Avenue East, Milwaukee-based Continental Properties originally sought to build 292 apartments and 150,000 square feet of commercial space. This time around, the company proposed 348 apartments and 125,000 square feet of commercial.
The most important changes, commissioners said, were the rearranged means of access to the site. At the previous hearing in June, nearby residents and commissioners alike decried the site plan for only designing two points of access — one on 29th Street and one on 60th Avenue.
“We heard the feedback and thought it was perfect to go back to the drawing board,” said Aaron Konop, a Continental Properties representative. “We think it’s a much better plan and we’re excited about it.”
Those updates relieved some of the board’s worry. Konop presented a new design that makes the 29th Street access a gated entrance exclusively for residents and added two separate means of access that lead to on 60th Avenue — the one closer to 29th Street is a main entrance that provides access to both the residential and commercial areas and the one closer to Factory Shops Boulevard to the south leads to the commercial area.
The Springs at Ellenton project features 13 apartment buildings, mostly on the west side of the property. The strip of commercial will be situated along 60th Avenue East, and may include a direct southern connection to the proposed 330-room hotel and 50,000-square-foot movie theater development that commissioners approved in December.
But neighboring residents weren’t impressed with the changes, and argued that the county needs to construct its planned improvements to the intersection of 60th Avenue and Factory Shops Boulevard with a roundabout before approving a huge project in the area.
“There’s a lot you can do to slow this or change this, to take into consideration the constituents,” said Chad Stockton, a resident of the Oakley subdivision just north of the proposed development.
“It’s not just traffic,” Stockton added, pointing to an increased strain on the school system and emergency first responders.
Manatee County has funded a $15 million project to improve the flow of traffic in the area. Several commissioners said they thought the project’s improved layout combined with the planned roundabout would improve traffic in the area.
“I know the traffic is a problem, but I’m confident that it is going to get better,” said Commissioner Misty Servia.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she believed the timing of both projects will mesh with one another, causing less of a headache for residents than if they came at separate times.
“The closer we can try to get (the roundabout) done along with the development, the easier it’s going to be and the shorter amount of time you’ll be inconvenienced by the construction,” Baugh said.
Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, however, was firmly against the development. Trace, whose district includes the proposed development site, also voted against the movie theater and hotel project that is planned just north of Factory Shops Boulevard.
“I recognize that we’re going to do improvements, but I think we’re only putting a Band-Aid on it,” she told her fellow commissioners.
Construction on the 60th Avenue improvements isn’t set to begin until December 2022, but Commissioner Betsy Benac called for the county to make them a higher priority.
Those improvements should bring substantial upgrades to traffic congestion, according to Clarke Davis, the county’s deputy director of traffic management. He noted that one of the main issues on 60th Avenue is traffic backup, but the roundabout should allow for a steady flow of traffic.
“It’s always going to be a busy intersection. We can’t build our way out of that,” Davis told the board. “We just manage the traffic the best we can.”
Commissioners voted 6-1, with Trace casting the dissenting vote to approve the Springs at Ellenton general development plan. Project representatives said they expect to open the first apartment unit in early 2021.