MANATEE -- With six weeks to go before the Manatee County Commission takes up controversial plans for Long Bar Pointe -- a resort, marina and housing development along Sarasota Bay -- environmental groups are gearing up, planning protests and education efforts.
Developers Larry Lieberman of the Barrington Group and Medallion Homes' Carlos Beruff have introduced plans to build a resort and housing development on about 500 acres in southwest Manatee County along Sarasota Bay, near El Conquistador Parkway up to Tidy Island. Plans include a 300-berth marina that can accommodate 100-foot vessels, rivaling Marina Jack in Sarasota.
But little has been heard from the developers since the commission last addressed the plans June 6. Calls and emails to the Barrington Group and Carlos Beruff seeking comment for this report were not returned. Visitors to the advertised website for the development, www.longbarpointe.com, are greeted with a page saying "This Account Has Been Suspended."
A smaller version of the project was approved in 2008. But now, the developers have asked for more changes in zoning and county environmental regulations to allow for removal of 20 to 40 acres of man
groves from the shoreline and dredging a canal for the marina through two acres of seagrasses.
The changes as last proposed would require amending the county's comprehensive plan -- and opposition to that could send developers back to the drawing board.
Along with the 300-room resort hotel and marina, the new vision for Long Bar Pointe includes:
1,086 single-family homes
1,687 low-rise multi-family homes
844 high-rise multi-family homes
Two 36,000-square-foot offices
60,000-square-foot shopping center
60,000-square-foot specialty retail space
84,000-square-foot conference center
The county commission was supposed to hear presentations and a public hearing on Long Bar Pointe and a related countywide comprehensive plan text amendment June 6, but opted to delay the hearing until Aug. 6 because Tropical Storm Andrea was approaching the area.
County staff has recommended commissioners approve a map amendment because some proposed uses could be clustered, but staff recommended against altering the comprehensive plan because it would open development in other environmentally sensitive areas across Manatee -- not only in the coastal flood area on Long Bar.
County planning and zoning official John Osborne said the comprehensive plan has been developed with input from county officials, environmentalists and developers since the 1980s.
"The comp plan is working very well and we want to leave it alone," Osborne said.
The proposed changes Long Bar Pointe is seeking could allow environmental degradation with the loss of mangroves and seagrasses, he said, not just at Long Bar Pointe.
"If one developer is allowed to do it, then other developers will want to do the same thing," Osborne said. "We can't change it for one without changing it for all."
Manatee County has a high standard for environmental protection, he said, adding, "We have a beautiful place to live and we want to protect it."
Sandra Ripberger, the chair of the Manatee Conservation Committee of the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club, says the development is stirring up a lot of interest.
"People are up in arms about lifting the rules," she told the Herald this week. Ripberger said the revised plans, destroying mangroves and seagrasses, shocked her. "It was rushed up. It took us by surprise."
She said the dredging of seagrass to create a channel for large boats would be a tragedy.
"It's an area where the seagrass is doing very well and needs to be protected," Ripberger said. "People who fish know that Long Bar is a nursery for many of the fish we catch and eat. It's a very rich area."
The Sierra Club is participating in a protest July 20 where boats will congregate in the bay near Marker 17, south-southeast of Long Bar Pointe, in deep water in order not to disturb the seagrass.
The club is also inviting the public to its Conservation Committee meeting at 1 p.m. July 15 at the Bradenton Central Library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd. W., where the Long Bar Pointe project will be discussed.
They are also circulating written and online petitions, urging county commissioners to vote against changing the comp plan.
County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said she has not seen any new information from the developers since the commission last discussed the matter June 6.
DiSabatino said her constituents have been voicing their opinions.
Most of the people she's heard from are against the project, she said, but added she won't make up her mind just yet.
"We'll reserve judgment until we hear everything," she said.
Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JimDeLaBH.