Lake Flores: Manatee County Considers another Massive Planned Community

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Whiting Preston. Photo by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie

While the Long Bar Pointe saga boiled over the summer of 2013, its neighbors were preparing another, maybe even competing, community.

I took the lessons learned from covering Long Bar Pointe and applied them to covering Lake Flores. Honestly, the developer, Whiting Preston, also took lessons from Long Bar Pointe. For the most part, he looked more favorable to residents because his family was part of the county for generations, even if some of his prior developments met some controversies as the family turned farmland into homeland.

He had a PR flak at the ready, an updated website looking for public input before any hearings took place and he was accessible from the start. Also, while in the neighborhood of Long Bar Pointe, it wasn’t waterfront. Well, not Sarasota Bay waterfront. Lake Flores (at one time called Crossroads), would mean that the developer would build a man-made lake to create some waterfront property.

The business desk decided to check out the communities in person Preston said inspired him to create this community. We find out that there’s more than just inspiration. There are business interests involved who is planning this community and one of the Orlando communities.

The main stories contained in this land use coverage are below:

March 2, 2014

Preston’s Crossroads: Manatee Fruit Farm on path to new West Bradenton development

Whiting Preston, president of Manatee Fruit Co., is ready to develop 1,300 acres in West Bradenton into a master planned, mixed-use community called The Crossroads featuring two hotels, 6,500 homes and 2.78 million square feet of commercial space.

WEST BRADENTON — In fields once famous for thousands of Gladiolus cultivated over the years, Whiting Preston is sowing seeds for an urban village — housing, retail and hotels called Crossroads — on 1,322 acres of his family’s land.

Until now, the Preston family kept its farming operation in an area surrounded by growth, unlike many other neighboring farmers who sold their land and moved their operation to East Manatee.

Today, roads and sidewalks intersect through the fields still managed by the 122-year-old family farming company.

Preston has decided to embrace the changing landscape but wants to hear from Manatee County residents about how his fields should be transformed.

“We’re sort of at a point right now where we need to put something down on the property that we can look back on and say it’s a great asset to the community,” Preston said. “Whether or not we continue to farm, we may have to move, but that will be it. My kids are too young to know what they’re going to do.”

Continue reading Lake Flores: Manatee County Considers another Massive Planned Community

Long Bar Pointe Watchdog Reporting

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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:

 Read more from these stories below:

Continue reading Long Bar Pointe Watchdog Reporting