2014 Second-place Lucy Morgan Award for InDepth Reporting, Class B, Florida Press Club, “Long Bar Pointe” series
In May 2013, I was assigned to take a look at a massive coastal development being proposed. It initially was a county government story but the editors thought I should take a look at it because it involved commercial, retail and residential construction.
It wasn’t just a rezoning request anymore. The initial story, which was out before any major competing outlet had anything, turned out to be quite the journey during that summer.
I learned a lot about what Floridians valued on that stretch of Sarasota Bay. The coastline is not built up with major waterfront high rises on this stretch. For as much as it can be, folks call this a piece of Old Florida. And it included neighboring Cortez Key, which is Florida’s oldest continuing working fishing village. I learned much more about seagrass and what it does than I ever thought I would. (And its differentiation from seaweed.)
On the flip side, you have a very powerful co-developer with connections to the governor. That developer, Carlos Beruff, formally announced on Feb. 29, 2016, that he is running for the U.S. Senate.
Florida is also a state where private property rights are held in high regard, and they had a special case to make because they had rights that extended into the water. The development team wanted to offer something that cannot be found in Manatee and Sarasota counties. They wanted to have a one-of-a-kind project with a promise of jobs, tourism, meeting space, and services. The drawings were beautiful, it looked like an amazing development, but was it compatible? Could they even get the permits to do things like dredge a canal and make an inland marina or boat basin—depending whose term you use?
All of this came to a head to a public hearing on Aug. 6, 2013. The hearing ended in the early hours of Aug. 7, 2013. More than 1,000 people turned out to give their thoughts–both sides. It was so big, the county had to book the convention center to hold the meeting. By that time, all of your local outlets covered the issue.
The development is now in the court system as the developers lost a court case against Manatee County and is now appealing the decision. Long Bar Pointe, as the development project, is now called Aqua.
Here is a rundown of the links to the coverage:
- Long Bar Pointe vote split: Commission OKs map amendment, rejects text amendment
- Long Bar Pointe plans would alter appearance of Sarasota Bay
- Interactive Graphic: Long Bar Pointe Proposal (Robert Dorrell and Melina Yingling executed the graphic.)
- Consideration for Long Bar Pointe hearing can be confusing
- Manatee commissioners to weigh Long Bar Pointe plan
- Developers say Sarasota Bay will not be destroyed by seagrass, mangrove removal
- Audubon chapter wants birding tourism preserved by limiting development at Long Bar Pointe
- Long Bar Pointe developers donated $46,500 to commissioners
Long Bar Pointe vote split: Commission OKs map amendment, rejects text amendment
MANATEE — After more than 13 hours of presentations and public comment — drawing more than 1,000 people to observe and weigh in on the debate — the vote was split.
Manatee County Commission voted unanimously against a countywide text amendment tied to Long Bar Pointe, but then voted 4-3 in favor of a map amendment — only after removing language referencing a 300-berth marina. Commissioners Robin DiSabatino, Michael Gallen and John Chappie dissented.
A large crowd showed up at the Bradenton Area Convention Center to watch the great land-use debate in Manatee County swirling around Long Bar Pointe, some sporting green baseball caps with “Yes” on them, others with inflatable dolphins with phrases such as “Save Our Shores” written on their bellies.
Commission Chairman Larry Bustle told the Bradenton Herald after the meeting’s adjournment at 1:56 a.m. Wednesday that there was no option in his mind that the commission would not leave without voting. The meeting started at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“We had all of them here, and we wanted to try it now to get it done,” Bustle said of the crowd.
The crowd’s energy and patience waned as eight hours into the hearing, about 100 people remained waiting for a conclusion or at least a chance to speak, as the public got to speak starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The public comment period ended at 11:44 p.m., more than 10 hours after the meeting began.
It took 6 hours to get through everyone who wanted to speak, with many leaving before their name was called. A final vote on the map amendment was not taken until a little before 2 a.m.
Two items were up for a vote:
A map amendment to the comprehensive land-use plan, with the developer’s request to change the use from residential-9 to mixed. Some of the developer plans could be considered.
A text amendment to the comprehensive plan’s coastal and conservation elements, designed to open certain coastal areas to more development. Any plans for the Long Bar Pointe site could not be considered because this change would affect similarly defined properties across the county.
The 463-acre property considered for the map amendment included plans by developers Larry Lieberman and Carlos Beruff for a waterfront resort with a hotel, conference center, upland marina/boat basin and office and retail space. A parcel owned by the developers that is zoned residential-6 was not part of the map amendment request, but would be affected by the countywide text amendment.
The developers had to prove either a change in circumstances, a mistake in the language or that the policy is no longer in the best interest of the public for both comprehensive plan changes to be approved, according to staff.
With the commission voting to deny the text amendment, the developers will have to start from scratch and reapply, said John Osborne, planning and zoning official for Manatee County.
The developer wouldn’t have an opportunity to challenge any issues until a state land planning agency review.
The map amendment now goes on for state review before an adoption process kicks in with additional hearings. State planning agencies have 30 days to comment and review the request. The land is already approved for 258 homes and 150,000 square feet of neighborhood retail space so developers could start construction.
Marina Confusion The hang-up for several commissioners over the proposed map amendment was reference to a 300-berth marina, and whether it was legally entitled or if language staff proposed to state that any marina or other use would need subsequent approval would be enough.
Ed Vogler, attorney for the developer, told the commission he would be willing to have the commission vote on the map amendment as the discussion moved past 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, and have the county consider the text amendment another time.
“There’s no way we could rebut these things so we’re going to focus on what is right and what we are asking for,” Vogler said. Deputy County Attorney Sarah Schenk told commissioners that the map amendment should be all or nothing and staff shouldn’t tinker with the language.
Citing a Supreme Court case that recently affected the Bert Harris Act, Schenk said case could be made that the county is placing too much of a burden on one piece of privately owned property.
“If you want to avoid lawsuits, the easier way is to deny the whole thing,” Schenk said. “If you want to take the next step, we’ll hire experts to defend your actions.” Commissioners and Vogler expressed concern that Tuesday, near the start of the meeting, was the first time they heard about those concerns raised by the attorney. “Board members said you learned it tonight from county attorney’s office,” Vogler said. “I learned it tonight, too, and I don’t agree with it at all.” More than 12 hours after the marina issue was broached by county attorneys, Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague clarified that the concern over removing the marina from the map amendment was with commissioners motioning to take out marina. Clague said he was fine with the applicant requesting to remove it.
That comment visibly changed the demeanor of commissioners weighing the map amendment, particularly of Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who implored Beruff to create Long Bar Pointe without a marina.
“Carlos, I know everything you do is first-class, but it’s 1 a.m. I just can’t support the map amendment with the marina,” Whitmore said, praising the developer who is suing the county over a land rights issue related to El Conquistador Parkway.
Commissioners DiSabatino, Whitmore and Vanessa Baugh all expressed concerns of having the marina mentioned in the map amendment.
“I’m not crazy about a marina,” Baugh said. “I can’t believe everything after I investigated and heard that I don’t know that I could handle dredging.” Baugh added that the measures make sure that Sarasota Bay isn’t disturbed by dredging for a marina. “We’re not approving anything pertaining to the water. We don’t want the water touched. It’s beautiful, we love it,” Baugh said. “At the same time, we can have a very beautiful place built there on the water for not only people coming in and staying at the hotel but also for Manatee County residents to enjoy.” Whitmore said what the developers propose doesn’t fit with her vision of the waterfront. “I did not want to interrupt that shoreline,” Whitmore said. “There are other ways you could work with that property.”
Commissioner Betsy Benac, a former county planner and past consultant for Lieberman, said she “doesn’t necessarily support a marina” and doesn’t support the text amendment, but is comfortable with the language by staff that says uses are subject to regulatory approval. “I think changing to mixed-use is a good thing and that we will not be violating any of our comprehensive plan policies to do so,” Benac said. Before the commissioners reached the vote, DiSabatino put up a motion to deny the map amendment, but that failed 3-4, with DiSabatino, Gallen and Chappie voting in favor. “I’m very cautious about putting in jeopardy a way of life we have in the village area with the commercial fishing community out there,” Chappie said.
The county is already being sued over a land taking by the same developers over building the $2.2 million El Conquistador Parkway extension. The suit was filed July 25 in Circuit Court. While the lawsuit is not supposed to affect Tuesday’s proceedings, according to county attorneys, a local development agreement tied to the project and referenced in the suit would not be used as a supporting document, Schenk said.
One key stipulation for the approved Phase One of Long Bar Pointe included prohibition of docks and mangrove trimmings. However, county staff said kayak launches and observation decks could be constructed.
Jane von Hahmann, a former commissioner and a main organizer against development of Long Bar Pointe, said the developer could come back and not have restrictions against docks and mangrove trimmings in a local development agreement for later project phases.
County staff unveiled Tuesday 42 properties in Manatee County possibly affected by the proposed Long Bar Pointe text plan amendment.
The properties include land on Cortez Key; Terra Ceia; freshland waters inland north of Parrish on the Hillsborough County line, east to Lakewood Ranch; Myakka City; Duette along the Manatee River; Little Manatee River; Gamble Creek; and even smaller bodies of water.
The proposed text amendment aimed to limit development in environmentally sensitive areas to mixed-use projects on lands 200 acres or more next to arterial roads, along a coastal line and navigable waters.
Doug Means, planning division manager, said the map is open to interpretation because of vague text amendment language for the terms “coastal line” and “limited exception.” Staff used the federal standard for “navigable waters” since the waterways were not defined.
“Some navigable waters are literally streams,” Means said.
Vogler, attorney for Long Bar Pointe LLLP, said changing the language to “a bay” to define the water would limit it further.
“If it was a bay 500 feet wide, it would dramatically change,” Vogler said. He said he would be open to working collaboratively with staff on changing language earlier but was not afforded that opportunity.
Means countered that staff identified nine policies that would be affected by Vogler’s vision, but those policies were apparently dropped. “The language we see now we never collaborated on that,” Means said.
Long-term traffic plans for El Conquistador Parkway call for an additional two lanes for the road. The traffic impact statement provided to the county is based on a four-lane El Conquistador, according to county staff.
DiSabatino wanted to know when the road would be built in relation to the phasing of the project and who would pay — taxpayers or the developers.
“You’re going to have all that traffic on that one lane,” DiSabatino said.
The developer submitted the following maximum intensities for the traffic report:
1,086 single-family homes.
2,351 condos/apartments (high-rise and low-rise).
300-berth wet slip marina.
72,000 square feet of office space.
120,000 square feet of commercial space (half shopping center, half specialty retail).
84,000-square-foot conference center.
Bob Argusa, project engineer manager for Manatee County, said while 11 roadway links would be deficient with the proposed use, only one would be considered critically deficient: 34th Street West.
“How much they are exceeding is not significant on the whole,” Argusa said.
Vogler said staff told his client to submit maximum uses, which is a misrepresentation of their proposal, which has not been submitted yet for county review.
“Traffic has been a question this morning and that really surprised me,” Vogler said. “We didn’t believe a traffic study should have been done at this stage.”
Roads are paid for by a mixture of impact fees and taxes, but Vogler trumpeted all the revenue the county could net by the development. Annual sales tax could generate $335,000, he said, in addition to more than $925,000 in bed taxes paid by hotel guests.
Schenk said the mixed-use Manatee Fruit Co. land to the north has language referencing to “water-enhanced” and “water-related” uses but no mention of a marina. If the commission opted to use that language instead, “it may not be the type of uses the applicant has a vision of intent for.”
The mixed-use plan also calls for a water taxi service, which would open the coast to commercial water uses instead of the residential water uses allowed today, according to county staff.
The developers came with scientists and planning experts in tow to support their arguments.
Doug Robison, senior vice president of water and environment for Tampa-based Atkins Global, addressed key issues regarding seagrass and mangrove mitigation.
Beruff acknowledged some seagrass would be dredged to create a 60-foot-wide channel 2,100 feet long, as well as trimming several acres of mangroves to cut into the land for an 80-boat basin. Mangroves would be trimmed in measured steps, and the taller, black mangroves would be left alone, according to the developers.
“We can absolutely guarantee it’s going to work,” Robison said about mangrove mitigation, citing a 90 percent success rate.
“Seagrass is not so easy,” he said.
Extensive studies of nitrate content, existing seagrasses and other water studies would determine the viability of transplanting seagrass that would survive, he said.
Robison said the developer could salvage and transplant the seagrass, create a tidal lagoon and establish a pole-and-troll zone to prevent propeller scarring to offset the dredged seagrass.
These strategies are similar to what Port of Manatee uses, which exceeded state mitigation credits. But the state rewards mitigation credits whether seagrass grows naturally or is transplanted, opening up a cycle for developers to replant seagrass to replace other failed seagrass.
John Henslick of Eco Consultants pledged 98.5 percent of existing coastline and 90 percent of all existing mangroves of Long Bar Pointe would be protected.
Much of what the consultants said is moot, according to county policy. Clague, one of the county’s staff attorneys, said the comprehensive plan states the county will not approve development requiring dredging along that area, and it’s a policy other counties along the Gulf and Central Florida have adopted.
Consideration for Long Bar Pointe hearing can be confusing
MANATEE — When the Manatee County Commission faces the public Tuesday, the scope of what it has to consider depends on the amendment of the moment.
It will be up to the commissioners to keep the issues in order.
Two items are up for a vote:
A map amendment to the comprehensive plan’s future land use plan, with the developer’s request to change the use from residential-9 to mixed use. Some of the developer plans can be considered.
A text amendment to the comprehensive plan’s coastal and conservation elements, designed to open certain coastal areas to more development. Any plans for the Long Bar Pointe site cannot be considered because this change will affect similarly defined properties across the county.
The public hearing itself is not as restrictive for commenters who may talk about both issues, County Attorney Mickey Palmer said.
“It’s certainly possible that the board can entertain comments on either item from any person and consider the totality of the comment when acting on the comments at the end of the day,” Palmer said.
Commission Chairman Larry Bustle will decide the hearing’s structure, Palmer said.
Staff is recommending approval of the mixed-use designation, but denial of the text amendment to the comprehensive plan.
County staff is still investigating several questions regarding the amendment and its effect.
As of Friday afternoon, county staff was also working on a map to show all properties affected by the comprehensive plan amendment, Means said. Staff hopes to distribute the map to the commission by Monday afternoon, but it might not be unveiled until shortly before the hearing.
What would Long Bar Pointe look like if the commissioners approve the first amendment but deny the second?
“They could still build a mixed-use community, residential, apartments and a variety of other things,” said John Osborne, planning and zoning official for Manatee County. “They wouldn’t have ability probably to do the marina or impact the seagrasses or impact the mangroves.”
The commission will first consider changing the future land use designation of 463 acres that make up Long Bar Pointe between 75th Street West, El Conquistador Parkway and Sarasota Bay from residential-9 to mixed use. A total of 294.7 acres are in the Coastal High Hazard zone.
The commission already approved a housing development amended in 2008 to allow 258 homes, 150,000 square feet of neighborhood retail space and stipulations that prohibit docks and mangrove trimming. A development agreement limited future expansion to a total of 1,658 dwelling units based on the now completed El Conquistador Parkway. Being zoned residential-9, which allows nine units per buildable acre, opens the entire tract to allow for 4,168 homes, which could bring nearly 10,000 people to the area, according to county documents.
The mixed-use designation would allow a developer, according to county staff, to build at Long Bar to these maximum uses:
1,086 single-family homes
2,351 condos/apartments (high-rise and low-rise)
300-berth wet slip marina
72,000 square feet of office space
120,000 square feet of commercial space (half shopping center, half specialty retail)
84,000-square-foot conference center
Those figures were submitted by the developers’ consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, for a traffic impact study. Developer Carlos Beruff contends it will not be built to the maximum for the marina, with an 80-slip “boat basin” in the upland area constructed instead.
The marina also is contingent on a comprehensive text amendment to the county’s conservation and coastal elements. The other maximum numbers could be pulled down to smaller numbers based on other regulations and comprehensive plan policies.
Commissioners also have to take into account the development’s worst-case scenarios, Osborne said.
If the county approves the amendment, state agencies have 30 days to review and comment, and if the agencies sign off, the amendment then becomes part of the county comprehensive plan.
One of the key areas to consider is traffic impact, which is tied to those maximum use numbers submitted by the developer.
When the original Long Bar housing project was approved, a development agreement tied traffic limits for future residential development for up to 1,658 units or 9,716 daily trips on county roads, according to a staff report. The development agreement doesn’t nail down numbers for commercial and office space, so county staff is relying on a limited traffic impact statement submitted by the developer’s consultant.
The consultant reported deficient roadways in that area under worst-case scenarios would grow from three in 2035 with the current plan to 11 with the requested plan.
The county would have to amend the local development agreement to provide for the new figures.
Some debate occurred over building in a Coastal High Hazard area and the insurance rates for buildings in that area. Development is encouraged to be clustered in the Coastal High Hazard area, which includes the areas along Sarasota Bay prone to storm surge and flooding during hurricanes, according to the comp plan.
Requirements for a FEMA Velocity Zone call for elevated first floors using columns or pilings, and only allow parking and storage on the ground level and access to the first floor, said Sandy Tudor, a floodplain investigator for Manatee County.
The builder could install breakaway walls on the ground level to enclose the space, Tudor said, where the walls would break down if a wave would crash into it.
The project doesn’t indicate the need for more density in that zone.
Conceptually, a developer could elevate the land to bring it out of a Coastal High Hazard area, said Doug Means, a planning division manager for Manatee County.
The buildings are supposed to be 1 foot above flood level elevation in these areas, Tudor said. Grading the land to meet that height is possible, Tudor said, as the developers have proposed. But the county can regulate how much infill is added in a Velocity Zone.
“You can’t drain onto someone else’s property,” she said.
Developer Larry Lieberman said between the fill and the elevation of El Conquistador Parkway, developers are essentially “building a dam” to protect other properties from flooding.
Developers could not obtain public flood insurance if the development is in the land covered by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. Long Bar Pointe has a 67-acre area zoned residential-6 that partially falls within a CoBRA zone not being considered for the map amendment but affected by the countywide text amendment.
The developer could build in the CoBRA Zone, but would have to find a private land insurer such as Lloyd’s of London, Tudor said, resulting in a pricey premium. Maps shown by the developers appear to place a cluster of condos near the CoBRA zone, but the exact location is unclear.
Developers also included language in the text amendment that buildable projects would have to have “material public benefit.” County staff said the language is vague as to the specific benefit.
The developers along with their attorney Vogler contend nearly 1,000 jobs created, enhanced tourism and proposed ecological mitigation would provide a public and environmental net benefit.
Some details would not be hashed out until a site plan review when the developers would have to indicate where and how much mangroves and seagrass they would replant and on what property. Additionally, the existence of a channel would have to be determined then.
If Beruff and company want to channel through seagrass, it would be difficult to obtain an Army Corps of Engineers permit, said Kevin O’Kane, permitting section chief with the Corps of Engineers’ Tampa Bay office. Developers contend they have a channel, but are uncertain how much seagrass would be dredged.
“It’s a small amount of seagrass, and I am confident our experts in the field of seagrass mitigation will do as well a job as they did at Port Manatee,” Lieberman said.
The comprehensive text amendment was initiated by the developers and not by county staff or the commission.
The Coastal Management and Conservation elements would be amended to create two new policies with the same language.
The developer wants to alter the county’s vision by changing the environmental policies to allow mixed-use development on land 200 acres or more that enhances use/access of waterways, demonstrates a “new, substantial and material public benefit” and allows mitigation of environmental damage. The land would have to be located along a “coastal line adjacent to navigable waters and an arterial roadway.”
The definitions of “coastal” and “navigable waters” are up for debate, Means said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines coastal counties, which means that all of Manatee County would be a coastal community, Means said.
“If we’re talking about a specific site, it could be interpreted as anything in the county,” he said.
If coastal line means bordered by tidally influenced waterways, that could restrict the defined land, Means added.
Navigable waters also mean the waterway has to be big enough for a canoe or kayak to travel, Means added. A 1909 Florida Supreme Court case, Broward v. Mabry, had to spell out that a navigable water is a permanent body of water that can be traveled upon for “purposes common to the public in the locality where it is located” and that capacity and not usage defines navigability.
Long Bar Pointe plans would alter appearance of Sarasota Bay
MANATEE — Plans to develop Long Bar Pointe are quite a change from the residential community that county commissioners approved in 2008.
Today’s blueprint turns the Sarasota Bayfront community into a bustling resort.
A marina that could handle 100-foot boats, ripping out 20 to 40 acres of mangrove forests and dredging a canal through seagrass are all part of the new plans along Sarasota Bay and El Conquistador Parkway. Two components that would guide the project’s future are up for approval Thursday by the Manatee County Commission.
The project is led by Berrington Group’s Larry Lieberman, who has owned the property for 13 years, and he brought Medallion Homes’ Carlos Beruff on board last year to help.
Developers want a map amendment change to request mixed-use development on the property, and also want a text amendment in the county’s comprehensive plan to allow more construction in the coastal and conservation elements of the
plan. But environmentalist groups are already preparing to put up a fight against the proposed changes.
Long Bar Pointe received approval in 2008 to build the maximum number of units under the property’s current zoning:
1,667 single family homes
2,501 multi-family homes
150,000 square feet of commercial
Here is what Long Bar Pointe wants to build under new zoning and the comp plan amendment:
1,086 single-family homes
1,687 low-rise multi-family homes
844 high-rise multi-family homes
300-berth marina and canal
Two 36,000-square-foot offices
60,000-square-foot shopping center
60,000-square-foot specialty retail
84,000-square-foot conference center
Staff is OK with recommending approval for the map amendment change, but the text amendment request raises red flags.
“We thought it was too vague,” said Planning Division Manager Doug Means. “It wasn’t specific how they would accomplish this stuff.”
The “stuff” that the text amendment cites for the property to qualify for development in environmentally sensitive areas includes:
Offers enhanced water-related uses
Demonstrates new, substantial, material public benefit
Must increase public access to waterfront
Mitigate all environmental impacts
Innovative design for mixed-use
Land mass must be at least 100 acres
Adjacent to navigable waters on coastal lines
Adjacent to arterial roadway
One of the reasons staff recommended to deny the text amendment is that it affects the entire county, and the justification provided by the applicant only talks about why Long Bar Pointe would be good for the new zoning, Means said. Some of the qualifications are open for interpretation.
The map amendment would allow more development on the property, changing the zoning from Residential 9 to mixed use, which is one of the most intense uses under the county’s comprehensive plan. Residential 9 zoning allows nine units per acre to be built. At least three types of uses would be needed on mixed use property, meaning the property could see any mix of homes, offices, hotel, resorts and retail.
If approved, the commission’s vote would send both the map and text amendments to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for a 45-day comment period. An adoption hearing by the county would be held a month later, and after adoption, the state has 30 days to provide a report, Means said. If the state does not challenge the amendment, it then can go into effect.
The neighboring IMG Academy is undergoing its own major expansion, including a 5,000-seat multi-sport stadium designed to bring more professional sports and entertainment events to Bradenton. As a result, Beruff has said, IMG supports the Long Bar Pointe development.
IMG Academy also welcomes the addition of a resort, according to a letter sent to the County Commission by Chip McCarthy, vice president of finance and operations of IMG Academy. McCarthy wrote that he thought the project aligned with the county’s How We Grow report that analyzed future land use planning and infrastructure support.
“We think it’s just good fortune that they are perfectly aligned and we support the concept, subject to your further review when the property comes before you for further approvals,” McCarthy wrote.
McCarthy and Lieberman were both unavailable for interviews for this report because they were traveling. Beruff did not return calls seeking comment.
The nitty gritty of the project, like how long the proposed canal would be and what the buildings look like, has not been submitted yet, but some details have been shared with the community and county staff.
What the developers envision, Means said, is to remove 20 to 40 acres of mangroves and remove more than two acres of seagrasses for dredging to create a waterway for 100-foot-long boats to come into a canal and harbor in the upland area of the property.
That mangrove removal is no secret by the developers, as released in the plan and on the Long Bar Pointe website.
The project’s website labels the mangrove area as an exotic area that will have “nuisance clearing completed along Bay.” Brazilian peppers from the Manatee Fruit Farms operations are “choking off” the mangroves, according to the paid environmental consultant, and would be removed.
“They got some environmental consultants that assured owners they could get enough mitigation credits to allow for removal,” Means said.
Yet staff reported that the developer’s plan lacked information on how it would mitigate impacts on the 117 acres of privately owned submerged land where a significant chunk features “some of the most significant seagrass beds in all of Sarasota Bay” and is a fish and shellfish harvesting area and area frequented by manatees.
The proposed dredging would also be prohibited, according to staff, because dredging that would “adversely impact seagrasses” is not allowed, according to the comprehensive plan.
The only way dredging would be allowed is through a maintenance dredging permit that would re-establish old channels, but none exist from staff studies and aerial maps, Means said.
The dredging would be necessary for the envisioned marina, as Sarasota Bay is at the most 6 feet deep by Long Bar Pointe, Means said.
“You could probably walk 200 feet out,” he said.
Environmental groups are rallying against the proposed development and the related text amendment that would significantly change the county’s environmental policy and the appearance of Sarasota Bay.
A group of concerned residents and environmentalists gathered last week at Fishermen’s Hall in Cortez to talk about their opposition of Long Bar Pointe.
Aside from the environmental issues brought up in the proposals, the loosely organized group is planning to make its views known to the county this week.
Former County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann says she doesn’t understand why politicians would want to approve changes to the comprehensive plan that county staffers have recommended against and don’t meet guidelines for county and state comprehensive plans.
“Why would we want something that’s inconsistent with our present comp plan and inconsistent with the state of Florida’s comp plan?” von Hahmann said. “What is the overriding public interest?”
Environmentalists also point to the 263 acres of the project that is in a designated Coastal High Hazard area, where construction is encouraged to be clustered because of the amount of public resources that would have to go into responding to that area during severe storms and hurricanes. Some of the property is also in a FEMA-designated high velocity zone, leading to higher insurance rates for buildings there.
“The hazard of storm surges is significant given the site is low in elevation and would likely be completely inundated in a Category 1 hurricane,” according to environmentalist organization ManaSota-88, headed by Glenn Compton. “A storm surge is the most dangerous hazard from a hurricane. A Category 5 hurricane could produce an 18-foot storm surge and would likely place Long Bar Pointe at least 13 feet under water.”
Countywide impact feared
The attorneys for Long Bar Pointe contend that qualifiers in the text amendment create a narrow scope that may apply only to Long Bar Pointe, and maybe two or three other properties in Manatee County.
Means isn’t as convinced.
“We are currently, probably be presenting Thursday at the hearing, our understanding of what that text amendment could allow, and identify properties that could potentially meet that criteria,” he said. “It’s certainly more than one or two.”
Local Sierra Club members also oppose the plan.
“It is disrespectful and presumptuous for a developer to try to change the county’s comprehensive plan to suit his private development of Long Bar Pointe. We are very concerned about the environmental impacts of the proposed changes,” said Manatee-Sarasota Chair Linda T. Jones. “The changes would apply countywide and allow exceptions to protections of water and air quality, wetlands, seagrasses, upland habitats, fish and shellfish harvesting, and natural disasters.”
If the County Commission approves the changes, von Hahmann plans to take the matter up with state officials.
“I think we have an excellent comp plan that protects our quality of life and protects the ambience of Manatee County,” von Hahmann said. “We’re not St. Pete, and we’re not even Sarasota. We are different. We are ourselves, and why do we want to change that?”
Long Bar: Developers say Sarasota Bay will not be destroyed by seagrass, mangrove removal
MANATEE — The developers of Long Bar Pointe are trying to make the case that their vision for 463-acres along the Sarasota Bay will be better for the environment.
Developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Leiberman say their team of experts, which includes former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, are working on a written report on how they will save the bay. As they make their promises, Beruff and Lieberman have trickled out details of mitigation plans.
While the county commission will vote on a countywide text amendment that would give permission to build in certain environmentally sensitive waterfront areas now restricted, the developers are trying to show how their plan fits in to the proposed language, keying in on providing a “net benefit” to Sarasota Bay.
http://media.bradenton.com/static/media/html5/LongBarPointe/LongBarPointe.htmlAs worded now, the comprehensive plan doesn’t allow for certain projects in environmentally sensitive areas that provide net positive benefit to the environment, and the developers have requested that language to be inserted in the countywide amendment. The County Commission will vote on the matter at 1:30 p.m., Aug. 6 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd, Palmetto.
County government staff has recommended that the county commission vote against the text amendment because it is inconsistent with the state’s and county’s comprehensive plans, and the developer hasn’t shown any material public benefit that staff could use for guidelines for proposed developments.
While the 463-acre mega development is at the heart of the requested changes to the comprehensive plan, the Aug. 6 vote will help shape Manatee County’s future, setting a vision for the entire county.
The developers’ attorney, Ed Vogler, said that environmental protection is important, but those policies need to be changed for their project.
“The policy limitations that are in here today are not well thought-out and tailored. They were placed there and nobody objected to them because there wasn’t a project and there wasn’t a constituency,” Vogler told the Herald during a recent editorial board meeting. “There’s nothing wrong with high level of environmental protection. It’s perfect. It’s wonderful. When it doesn’t work right, when the words say the wrong thing, you have to change the words.”
But local scientists say there is a constituency that wants to protect seagrass and mangroves.
“We have to be very diligent of protecting our mangroves because of their importance to fisheries production,” said John Stevely, a marine biologist with the Manatee County Marine Extension Service, speaking in a Sierra Club YouTube video.
All of these factors would go into pushing forward the mixed use development featuring an 80-boat basin, five-star hotel, conference center, office, retail and enough residences to accommodate nearly 10,000 people.
Sights on Seagrass
One area of contention is the dredging of seagrass. Seagrass provides areas for birds to eat, fish to spawn and develop and for shellfish to start out, too. It also feeds manatees, an endangered species. The county’s coastal element of the Comprehensive Plan has an objective to increase the seagrass acreage in local waters through protection and restoration, as well as a policy to prohibit new boat ramp areas that have insufficient depth or are built in sensitive habitats. Sarasota Bay has about a five-foot depth in parts around Long Bar Pointe.
To construct Long Bar Pointe’s 80-boat basin, or an upland marina, 2,100 linear feet of seagrass would need to be dredged for a 60-foot wide channel at a maximum depth of five feet, Beruff had told a crowd at Cortez’s Fisherman’s Hall. That width has since been revised to 15 yards, or 45 feet, Lieberman said.
County staff reported that the developer’s plan before the planning commission in May lacked information on how it would mitigate impacts on the 117 acres of privately owned submerged land where a significant chunk features “some of the most significant seagrass beds in all of Sarasota Bay” and is a fish and shellfish harvesting area and area frequented by manatees.
The proposed dredging would also be prohibited, according to staff, because dredging that would “adversely impact seagrasses” is not allowed, according to the comprehensive plan, unless the dredging is considered maintenance, which can be obtained through a maintenance dredging permit to re-establish old channels.
The channel debate will not be resolved until after a site plan is filed and reviewed. While Beruff has shown plans depicting a channel, county staff has not found any existing channels, said Doug Means, planning division manager for Manatee County Government.
“I can tell you based on our limited research of the area in general, we don’t see a channel that has previously been dredged,” he said.
If Beruff needs a new channel going through seagrass, it would be difficult to obtain an Army Corps of Engineers permit, said Kevin O’Kane, permitting section chief with the Corps of Engineers’ Tampa Bay office.
“New channels through seagrass areas are difficult to permit,” O’Kane said. “Seagrass areas are pretty much recognized as an aquatic resource of national significance.”
The seagrass provides organic matter as food for marine life, stabilizes bottom sediment and improves water clarity, he said.
If an existing channel is the option, the Army Corps of Engineers has several options and limitations to consider.
One, is whether there are other channels in the area that would minimize impact. When boating activity would increase in the area, the Army Corps of Engineers have included stipulations to provide signage to alert boaters of shallow water and seagrass beds, he said.
“With hopes being that with signage up, the public would be aware of seagrass areas and take measures to avoid running aground,” O’Kane said.
Mitigation is another option, where seagrass can be planted in other areas. The success of seagrass mitigation depends on the location and how the seagrass is being mitigated, said Paul Carlson, research scientist for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
A seagrass mitigation plan is being worked on, Lieberman said. Where the seagrass would be planted is unclear as of yet, he said.
“We have hired three teams of environmentalists. One team we have hired is the same folks that did mitigation of seagrass at the Port of Manatee,” Lieberman said. “They won national awards for what they did there at the Port of Manatee. We have hired that same team to oversee mitigation for seagrass for us, and we would expect them to do the same type of award-winning design.”
Lieberman also argues that the area of seagrass that will be affected is minimal.
“There’s also misunderstanding of all the seagrass that we are supposed to be impacting,” he said. “We are only going to increase, or dig, a channel only 5 feet deep by 15 yards wide, just out to the existing 5-foot channel. It’s a small amount of seagrass, and I am confident our experts in the field of seagrass mitigation will do as well a job as they did at Port Manatee.”
The 2,100 linear feet the developers are requested to remove of seagrass is small compared to the 621 acres of seagrass being restored near the Port of Manatee through the widespread dredging there.
“To mitigate those impacts, [the Port] excavated a large upland area and turned it into a shallow water basin and created a condition where seagrass could be established and flourish,” O’Kane said, adding that the area is working out well.
While some areas found success, namely Piney Point, a 2003 report published by Lewis Environmental Services in Valrico, focusing on the success and failure of seagrass restoration at Port of Manatee showed that “field observations during the sampling over the last two years demonstrate clearly that most planting units were unable to survive long enough to become securely anchored through expansion of their root system.” Another site that was mechanically replanted had to be replanted at least three times unsuccessfully, according to the report. Overall, the seven mitigation attempts during the study largely failed, at a cost of spending more than $6 million, according to the report.
To further protect current seagrass, the developers plan a pole and troll zone where boats aren’t allowed to use their motors, Vogler said, to avoid propeller scars.
“That means that boats would not be able to use power in grass flats that are shallow. Then we would be able to control and eliminate prop scars,” he said.
Those scars happen when boats move through water that’s shallower than their draft, according to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Institute that published in 2004 an in-depth report on prop-scarring in the Charlotte Harbor region from Venice to Bonita Springs, one of the worst places for prop scars in the state. Manatee County’s environmental policies include coordinating and implementing policies from the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.
“The rate at which prop scars heal varies with location and the species of seagrass affected,” Carlson said. “Under favorable conditions, shoal grass can recolonize prop scars within one to two years, but turtle grass can take five to 10 years because their underground stems grow slowly. In areas exposed to wind and waves, prop scars might never heal. In fact, without intervention, they can expand into large ‘blowouts.'”
According to the FWC’s prop scar study, turtle grass, which is the slowest Florida seagrass species for recovery, takes 10 years to recover.
Establishing a channel will not limit or eliminate prop scarring. The FWC wrote in its prop scar report that “channel edges are often locations of severe scarring because a high percentage of boats travel the channels with a minority of them actually missing the deepwater and scaring the channel edges.”
The team flashed a placard to Herald staff showing an infrared map of prop scarring, explaining how the purple lines zigging and zagging through the waters are from boaters who already use the area, and their plan will help prevent further damage.
Another part of the plan includes destroying 225 linear feet of mangroves and trimming other areas.
“We’ve heard from multiple experts from Mote Marine Laboratories that trimming mangroves properly done does not hurt the environment, does not hurt the mangroves,” Beruff said. Army Corps of Engineers permits can be acquired for excavating and dredging mangroves, O’Kane said. Using a saw to remove mangroves or trimming would be permitted under state and local guidelines, he said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has strict guidelines on the type of cutting, and how much trimming can be done. For instance, hedging is not recommended for red and black mangroves.
“Each species has different physiological strategies for dealing with salt water,” Carlson said. “If the capacity of the tree to extract the water it needs from salt water is impaired by excessive pruning, the tree might die.”
The trimming would be done to provide views of the water from the shoreline, and for boardwalk trails, Beruff said. Wedges of mangroves would be cut out for channel offering a clear view of Sarasota Bay, while another section would be removed for the boat basin and flushing channel, he said.
“They have to come down, depending on different areas, about six to eight feet, and you do that in measured steps,” Beruff said. “There are some you can’t do that. … This is the deep part of the mangroves, the taller ones, the black mangroves, which are taller — we won’t touch that at all.”
Lieberman said that the roots should be the focus.
“Remember, it is the root system of the mangroves that does the cleansing and treatment of the water, so we are actually going to make the mangroves healthier,” he said. “The science and the experts know how to do that, I have read a lot of letters to the editor of people espousing knowledge of mangroves that don’t have any knowledge. If the State of Florida and the federal government trust these experts enough to license them, then why don’t we?”
The Manatee County Audubon Society is taking a top-down view of the mangroves, and said trimming is not a good idea. The Audubon Society is also making a list to inform government entities of threatened and endangered species their spotters have noted, which could potentially halt development on mangrove areas. Two species identified by the Audubon at Long Bar include the brown pelican and roseate spoonbill, which are both listed as state species of special concern.
“The birds that are nesting in those, they need to nest higher than six feet because they would be too close to the water,” said Lorie Roberts of the Audubon Society. “Their little chicks are going to be bait.”
The county has already approved development at Long Bar Pointe, including more than 4,000 residences and a shopping center, so the landscape along the Sarasota Bay is likely to change. Whether the project includes more intense development to attract boaters and tourists could depend on how the County Commission defines and weighs public benefit and net benefit to the environment. Of course, state and federal officials are also likely to weigh in as well, given the permits still required.
— Herald reporter Sara Kennedy contributed to this report.
Audubon chapter wants birding tourism preserved by limiting development at Long Bar Pointe
MANATEE — While much of the environmental debate has focused on the fishing industry, another segment of environmentalists wants Long Bar Pointe to go to the birds — literally.
Jim Stephenson, president of the Manatee Audubon Society, fears the mixed-use development project featuring a boardwalk, boast basin, hotel and commercial development will devastate birding tourism.
Birding and wildlife watching is a $3 billion economic driver in the state, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Florida also has more people visiting to see wildlife than any other state.
“We have an extremely special place here. We get species during migration that you don’t see anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line,” Stephenson said. “They’re on
their way through and stop at Long Bar, especially, because it sticks out.”
The opposition against Long Bar Pointe is a passionate group that has delivered dozens of letters every day to commissioners — well more than 100 pages in the latest packet for the commissioners to read and far outnumbering letters supporting the plan. Opposing organizations include the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, Manatee Coalition for Responsible Government, Manatee Fish and Game Assocation, homeowners associations and even the Holmes Beach City Commission.
Developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman are seeking approvals to open up development to build a waterfront resort between Sarasota Bay and El Conquistador Parkway that would feature a hotel, conference center, a marina/boat basin, homes with docks, office and retail space.
But the developers say they will repair any damage they cause to the environment and that the effects of the construction, dredging and mangrove trimming will not be as drastic as the opposition claims.
The county placed several restrictions on the amended housing development in 2008, including no docks being constructed in Sarasota Bay and no trimming or cutting of mangroves. The developer also must plant trees at least 30 feet tall along Sarasota Bay to block the appearance of the buildings from the bay.
To complete the latest incarnation of Long Bar Pointe, however, the developers say they need to dredge a 60-foot wide channel through seagrass that would be 2,100 linear feet and 5 feet deep. The developers have flip-flopped on the number, citing both 15 yards (45 feet) and 60 feet in recent weeks.
About 5 percent of the mangroves would be removed, and in some areas trimmed.
“They have to come down, depending on different areas, about six to eight feet, and you do that in measured step,” Beruff said. “There are some you can’t do that. This is the deep part of the mangroves, the taller ones, the black mangroves, which are taller, we won’t touch at all.”
Lieberman said the development will feature a boardwalk atop remaining mangroves with signage to educate the public.
“You can actually take a walk out in the mangroves, out to the water, and along the way there are signs about what mangroves do,” Lieberman said. “It’s an educational process and people learn why we must protect the mangroves because the state of Florida says it’s a good public benefit.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Bradenton Herald last week that there are ways to cut the mangroves that wouldn’t have any negative effects on the water and soil. But birders are focusing on the health of habitats.
For Robert Dean, a member of Manatee Audubon, he can’t believe that a mangrove trimming is being considered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service details in its mangroves information that different birds nest in mangroves at different heights.
“To say they’ll all nest in one area is the stupidest remark I’ve heard in my life,” Dean said. “Birds take different areas because they have different needs. Some of them are close to the water, and some of them are up high. If you start trimming them, you start destroying a large habitat for birds.”
Documenting the birds for the project consideration can come from a variety of sources.
The county’s staff report shows that the county is relying on the developers’ consultant, EcO Consultants, to report whether there are endangered or threatened species on the land or any onsite habitats for nesting or breeding.
Within 12 months of development for any phase, the site is required to be surveyed for those species, according to county documents.
Governments ask for Audubon data on a case-by-case basis, but no long-term data exists for Long Bar other than a recent boating trip, said Mark Rachal, a sanctuary manager and staff scientist with Audubon Florida, who works on monitoring the Cortez bird habitat. The data he maintains focuses on nesting colonies.
On that trip, Rachal spotted a reddish egret, considered an imperiled species, and the roseate spoonbill which is on the state’s threatened list, he said. The shallow waters make birding a challenge in that area, he added.
Complicating the case for the local Audubon is that Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is reviewing its list this year of protected species, and certain species could be removed from the list, which is expected to be approved in 2015. FWC has proposed adding the Roseate Spoonbill to the imperiled list.
Manatee Audubon has spotted tropical King bird, brown booby, razorbill, common goldeneye and roseate spoonbills in preserves and secluded areas on the region’s shoreline, said Lori Roberts, who is in charge of strategic alliances with Manatee Audubon. Those rare and protected birds need the mangroves and shoreline trees intact, according to the Audubon, because development along the Gulf has been shrinking those habitats.
Manatee Audubon doesn’t have a list of birds at Long Bar Pointe because it’s private land, and the only legal way to view is by boat, which most birders might not attempt to do, Roberts said. The shore birds would prefer those mangroves to be untouched, she said.
“Birds in general and shore birds don’t like to be around humans. They want their own space,” Roberts said. “That’s why the birds want to be in these secluded areas where there isn’t human traffic.”
Long Bar Pointe, under current approvals, could build homes and a shopping center on the flat grassy lands, but those birds impacted have a much wider area for relocation, Roberts said.
If Long Bar receives approval to build a five-star hotel, conference center, channel, boardwalks and an upland marina that would mean removing mangrove forests, then it’ll be bye, bye birdie, Manatee Audubon contends — the birds won’t stay for gawking tourists hanging poolside at the hotel.
“We want family tourists, we want birding tourists, we want conservation tourists, but you can’t stop development. People have to live,” Stephenson said. “But leave a little bit of room for the birds.”
Tourism is exactly why Holmes Beach wants the county to deny the plan. Mayor Carmel Monti told Beruff during a meeting in July at Fisherman’s Hall in Cortez that Holmes Beach has too many tourists and can’t handle the traffic and people now. Monti wrote to the county commission that there isn’t anywhere left for tourists to park, the infracture is overburdened on the island and he expressed concerns over the environment.
The League of Women Voters of Manatee listed eight objections to the proposed comprehensive plan amendment, including the effects on unknown future projects countywide, the inconsistency of the language with the county and state plans, potential interference with intergovernmental agreements to protect the bay and an erosion of public confidence.
The map amendment objections include the county’s reliance on traffic impact numbers submitted by the developer instead of a site plan and identifying uses proposed for mixed-use, such as the marina, that would be inconsistent with current regulations and local development agreements.
The developers’ attorney Ed Vogler discounted the environmental groups’ concerns.
“Those voices are loud, and those voices are unfocused and they’re emotional, but they’re not really responding to the technical, professional effective responses that we have to do as part of the development committee,” Vogler told the Herald.
Some opponents admit they are ardent amateurs, but say they rely on professional studies easily accessed on the internet. One resident attached a 46-page United Nations report on the importance of protecting seagrass, along with a 20-page report “The Ecological and Economic Failure of Florida’s Mangrove Regulatory Scheme” from the Ocean and Coastal Law Journal for the commissioners to read. The journal is published by the University of Maine School of Law.
The opponents of Long Bar Pointe said hiring a certified scientist to bolster their opposition is costly. But they encourage commissioners to listen to the experts that work for the public: county staff.
“Staff reports are critical for the public,” said Glen Compton, chairman of Manasota-88.
“This is the only way we have to obtain information about the project.”
County staff said they take Manatee’s environmental policies seriously.
“We’re very strict about ‘don’t mess with the mangroves’ and ‘don’t mess with the seagrass,'” said John Osborne, county planning and zoning official. “And if you’re going to build near them, there is a buffer to abide by.”
Osborne said it “wouldn’t be responsible for us to go the other way,” after the county has worked years and years to put the environmental policies residents wanted in place.
Revisiting comments made by staff early in the review, Doug Means, a planning division manager for Manatee County, called the conservation and coastal elements of the comprehensive plan the “backbone of our environmental protection policies in Manatee County.”
Long Bar Pointe developers donated $46,500 to commissioners
MANATEE — Long Bar Pointe’s developers have not been shy about donating to the Manatee County Commissioners’ past campaigns.
All but one commissioner received campaign contributions from companies owned by Berrington Group’s Larry Lieberman and Medallion Homes’ Carlos Beruff, who are partnering to receive county approval to turn Long Bar Pointe into a coastal resort. The sweeping proposal requires zoning changes and altered countywide environmental regulations.
The two developers gave a combined total of $42,500 to the current county commissioners for their latest campaigns, according to campaign finance reports.
In Florida, politicians do not have to claim a conflict of interest when voting on matters connected to campaign contributions, but do have to disclose conflicts when it comes to income. Each donation in Manatee County is capped at $500 per instance, and Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill this year allowing local races to raise up to $1,000 at a time.
One commissioner, Carol Whitmore, received $500 each specifically from Long Bar Pointe LLC and Long Bar Pointe Seagrass Phase I LLC in August 2010, according to campaign finance reports. Commissioner Michael Gallen is the only county commissioner who did not receive campaign contributions from Beruff, Lieberman or related companies owned by the two developers.
As with most large companies, the campaign contributions are assigned to limited liability corporations that are owned by developers, as with the case for Long Bar Pointe.
Here is the total for each commissioner from Lieberman’s and Beruff’s companies:
Commissioner Larry Bustle: $4,500 from Beruff and $5,000 from Lieberman
Commissioner John Chappie: $7,000 from Beruff
Commissioner Betsy Benac: $8,500 from Beruff and $1,000 from Lieberman
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh: $500 from Beruff
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino: $7,000 from Beruff and $2,500 from Lieberman
Commissioner Whitmore: $9,000 from Lieberman and $1,500 from Beruff
Commissioner Michael Gallen: $0 from Lieberman and Beruff
As part of the Legislature’s ethics overhaul, financial disclosure forms are now required to be posted online to tell the public where public officials’ incomes come from. The site is now up at http://public.ethics.state.fl.us, but no reports are available yet for Manatee County officials.