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Bradenton finalizes $10.5 million deal to sell acreage near Bill Evers Reservoir

WCI was awarded to develop this  200 acres of property at Evers Reservoir, located south of State Road 70 and east of Lockwood Ridge Road, .File Photo-GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald
WCI was awarded to develop this 200 acres of property at Evers Reservoir, located south of State Road 70 and east of Lockwood Ridge Road, .File Photo-GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald gjefferies@bradenton.com

BRADENTON -- Minus the only councilman who has voiced opposition, the Bradenton City Council on Wednesday voted 4-0 to approve a $10.5 million contract with WCI Communities to sell more than 200 acres of vacant land adjacent to Bill Evers Reservoir for development.

Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo has opposed the deal, opting to reopen the bidding process for more money. The remaining council members favored the WCI Communities bid because it was competitive. Also, WCI's proposal promised only half the density of D.R. Horton's proposal and Taylor Morrison's bid, which was the lowest at $10 million.

While city officials dispute claims the development would have a negative effect on the reservoir or the 37,450-acre watershed that feeds the lake, council members favored the lower density option presented by WCI for 350 units. Councilman Bemis Smith said it was a strong factor in his decision.

"People have said it's not in the city so why worry about the density and let the county worry about it," said Smith. "This proposal indicates a better environment around the reservoir."

Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. agreed, noting, "We have to do what's best to protect the reservoir as we make a responsible decision in looking at what type of development and I think we are talking about the best proposal here in looking at quality."

The city acquired the property in 1996 under the leadership of former Mayor Bill Evers for $800,000. The land was listed as surplus in 2005 and the city sold off some nearby property for $648,000 for road extensions and donated property to Manatee County for Jiggs Landing. About a year ago, the city began receiving unsolicited offers for the remaining 200 acres.

The city received six bids and the three top developers were invited for presentations in June. The council opted to negotiate with WCI after the presentations.

According to City Clerk Carl Callahan, WCI has 120 days of due diligence and the contract is dependent on county approval, since the city will no longer own the property.

City Attorney Bill Lisch said in discussions with the county, as well pre-application meetings between WCI and county staff, "I fully expect it will go through."

Callahan said it would be a minimum of 18 months before the city receives the funds and council members are expected to "vigorously debate" how it is used, according to Vice Mayor Gene Brown. Councilman Patrick Roff is already lobbying to use half of the funds for road repairs.

"We've fallen way behind because of the recession on our road maintenance," he said.

Smith said he would rather create a reserve or a capital fund to address a variety of issues. Roff said there has been a lot of misinformation and unwarranted concerns from the public about how the development will affect the reservoir and the city's water supply. The land was initially purchased should the city ever have the need to expand the reservoir, but aquifer storage recovery well technology has made traditional reservoirs obsolete and ASR wells are considerably more cost effective.

Public Works Director Claude Tankersley said work has begun on the city's first ASR well and two more will eventually be constructed.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.

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