DCA OKs comp plan change for Robinson Farms

MANATEE -- An amendment to Manatee County’s comprehensive plan that allowed a controversial northwest Bradenton development to move forward has received a state planning board’s approval.

The Department of Community Affairs issued a notice of intent, dated Dec. 3, that found the plan change for two parcels on Robinson Farms property in compliance with state law.

The change, approved by county commissioners by a 4-3 vote Oct. 12, permits developer Neal Communities to increase the density from one residential unit per acre to three residential units per acre on 28 acres.

The land is southeast of Robinson Preserve between Ninth Avenue Northwest and 17th Avenue Northwest. It is near Neal Communities’ Hawthorn Park development.

Opponents have 21 days from the Monday publication of the notice of intent to challenge the DCA’s ruling. If there are no challenges, the ruling becomes final. A challenge could lead to a hearing before an administrative law judge.

John Neal, president of John Neal Homes, praised the decision Wednesday. The developer hopes to build 105 residential units on the two parcels, with up to three units per acre on 28 acres and a single unit per acre on another 21 acres.

“I think the DCA should uphold local decisions as long as it complies with the comprehensive plans,” Neal said.

The county commission’s approval proved controversial. Opponents of the development, including 294 northwest Bradenton residents who signed a petition against growth in the area, left the Oct. 12 meeting thinking they had helped halt the plans after commissioners voted 4-3 in their favor.

But hours later, at the end of an eight-hour meeting, then-Commissioner Gwen Brown changed her vote after talking with a developer’s consultant.

County staff recommended commissioners deny the comprehensive plan change because the majority of the 28 acres is within a Coastal High Hazard Area, as defined by a new hurricane evacuation map drawn up by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Commission.

On Wednesday, planner John Osborne said the county will not challenge the DCA’s decision.

Neal said there is no timeline for the developer to apply for site plan approval and begin construction.