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Boat dealership expansion plans upset Whitfield neighbors. Developers cut them a deal

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Following a long process of public hearings and neighborhood meetings, developers found compromise with residents concerned about a new commercial development on U.S. 41.

The project originally came before the Manatee County Planning Commission in January as a plan to build up to 134,165 square feet of commercial space and 38 residential units on 8 acres of land. However, concerns about flooding, traffic impact and how far the project would extend into the Whitfield Estates neighborhood prompted some changes.

The site is located at 7045 N. Tamiami Trail. The land has been vacant since 2017, when a drive-in church was demolished. The commercial portion of the project had been pitched as an expansion of the Sara Bay Marina boat dealership that is directly across the street.

“It goes so deep into the neighborhood that in the back, you’re surrounded by three sides of residential,” one neighbor said at a previous meeting. “It doesn’t make sense to me that they’re going to do that in the middle of a neighborhood.”

“It’s a lot of area and any development would have to raise the level of the land. You see it happen across the county,” another resident added. “Any time you raise the level of the land, the water has to go somewhere, as you know.”

But the developers pitched a much more amenable plan at Thursday’s planning commission meeting. This time, the parcel has been split in half, and only the first 4 acres along U.S. 41 will host commercial uses. There are plans for two buildings and a reduced 66,625 square feet of commercial on the front 4.37 acres, according to Brian Smith, a planner representing the project.

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A 8-acre parcel of land on the east side of U.S. 41 is proposed for an expansion of the Sara Bay Marina at 7040 N. Tamiami Trail. Planning commissioners approved the rezone and a general development plan for the front 4 acres of the land after Whitfield Estates neighbors protested the previous plan for a more intensive use of the vacant land. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Smith explained that there have been a number of conversations with the neighbors about what would be best for the community, which led to updated plans. Commissioners did not consider plans for the back half of the site.

A general development plan submitted to the county appears to indicate that boat sales are still planned for the parcel along U.S. 41, and the only access to the site will be from that street. The diagram depicts a sales display area and parking near the road and two standalone structures.

To reduce potential noise impacts on the neighborhood, the developer has agreed to increasing the buffers along the edges of the property.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezone and general development plan. The Board of County Commissioners will make a final decision on the project at a later date.

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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