It’s been an arduous battle for residents of the Deer Run community as plans move forward to build a new 142-unit residential neighborhood on the former Palm View Golf Course in Palmetto.
Though the residents have conceded the development will likely move forward, new environmental concerns have changed the battle to one of zoning to concerns for safety.
A 2014 Florida Department of Environmental Protection Clean Sweep report cited the former golf course owner for a “sloppy operation” regarding storage of chemical materials.
According to the report, 800 bags of fertilizer and 22 gallons of herbicides and insecticides were improperly stored. Other DEP concerns note an unlabeled used oil tank and materials were improperly labeled and contained. Batteries were left outside and numerous pesticide and fertilizer bags were open and spilling onto the grounds.
The DEP report notes chemical mixing took place on an outside concrete pad with “likelihood of impacts” to the area.
Residents initially won a zoning change battle with the Manatee County Board of Commissioners, which narrowly voted not to allow the changes needed for development. The developer won a reconsideration hearing late last year and the vote flipped 4-3 in favor of the zoning changes from agriculture to residential.
The developer purchased the property for $1.4 million in January. Deer Run residents vowed to challenge the decision in court but, according to resident Leah Coleman, the price to fight the battle was too high.
“I’m a little worried how the public will perceive our latest concerns because we raised such a fuss in the zoning fight,” said Coleman. “This isn’t us being bitter or trying to find a new path to fight it. Collectively, we are all OK with building it and the previous owner has a right to sell his property. All we are saying is be more respectful and smarter in how they go about doing this.”
Coleman and her fellow residents are calling on the county or DEP to ensure that developer, Lakeland-based Highland Homes, does its due diligence with soil testing. Coleman said the conceptual site plan is under review by the county and it is expected to come to a final vote some time in July.
“There’s nothing in those plans that say any soil testing was done except for a level one test, which doesn’t dig deep enough,” said Coleman. “This was a golf course for more than 50 years and before that a cattle farm. Over the course of those many years a lot of chemicals that are now illegal was used on this ground.”
The concern is digging around the property could unleash contaminates, affecting not only Deer Run residents, but also future residents of the development.
The developer could not be reached for comment late Friday.
“If they dig up all that soil, it could make us pretty sick,” said Sophia Weaver, 9, who plays under dozens of century-old oak trees residents just learned will be cut down as part of the submitted landscaping plan.
Joel Christian, Manatee County environmental planning director, said the county does not handle the results of a DEP report.
“We typically ask developers to have the site evaluated for potential hazardous material locations,” he said, noting issues such as historical cattle dipping sites, underground and above-ground storage tanks and buried drums should be addressed by the developer.
“Should evidence of contamination be discovered, further investigation is required to determine the level of contamination and appropriate remediation and mitigation measures,” he said. “Soil contamination and cleanup is regulated by the state, so we will defer to them for compliance.”
A follow-up DEP report was never made because the property changed hands. Coleman said she is concerned no requirements are placed on the developer to ensure the land is contamination free.
“I just don’t want chemicals dug up that are going to hurt my children,” she said.
Residents are also upset with the proposed landscaping plan calling for the removal of 86 trees with a circumference of more than 30 inches, including the removal of dozens of century-old oak trees lining the border between Palm View and Deer Run — a favorite spot to play for neighborhood children.
“My concern is why would anyone want to cut down 100-year-old trees that give us oxygen and protects wildlife?” asked Cassidy Miller, 10.
Isabella Daymon, 12, said it’s where they play out of the heat of the summer sun.
“I don’t think I could stand the heat out here if it wasn’t for the shade,” Isabella said.
Sophia Weaver, 9, said: “The trees are super pretty. If they dig them up, they won’t be able to protect the wildlife and I don’t think that’s right.”