MANATEE COUNTY — A hush fell over the Manatee County Commission Chambers as residents of Tara anxiously awaited the verdict they’d been waiting for nearly a year to hear.
Several made their way to the back of the room, quietly raising their “30 years residential” and other signs as a final plea to protect their community from commercial development on the southwest corner of State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard, behind the community’s entrance sign.
And in the end, Tara’s sea of red shirts did make waves. After more than five hours of public testimony and debate Oct. 7, the board voted 6-1 to deny the rezoning of the parcel in question and any entitlements on it, holding to the Manatee County Planning Commission’s Sept. 9 recommendation.
The commission did approve a land-use equivalency matrix, which would give Lake Lincoln a mechanism by which to use its existing entitlements for commercial development. Future development in Twelve Oaks Plaza, however, would be limited to the east side of Tara Boulevard.
“It’s kind of euphoria on the part of the people,” said Bill Pastori, leader of the 12 Oaks Advisory Committee, the group that spearheaded opposition efforts.
Only commissioner Donna Hayes, the East County’s district representative, dissented, saying she wanted to accept the developer’s offer of $100,000 for the county plus about 30 acres of submerged land as mitigation for impacting one-acre of wetlands and to allow development of a church or daycare-type facility on the site.
Hayes was so adamant in her efforts to secure the land and money for the county she dismissed several attempts by other commissioners to refocus her attention and force a vote that would nullify her proposal.
“These are all my constituents,” Hayes had said, gesturing to a packed commission chamber as commissioners began their discussion. “Talk about pressure. But, pressure’s never bothered me. We’re getting $100,000 to help us.
“You may not agree with me, but that’s why you elected me to decide what I think will be (best),” Hayes told the crowd.
Tara residents have been fighting the developer’s request since early this year. Although they opposed approval of a land-use equivalency matrix, their primary concerns were with the parcel at the community’s entrance. Residents said they feared development of the property would amplify traffic problems at one of the county’s worst intersections. Residents also said building on the site also would ruin the aesthetics of Tara’s entrance, and the proposal violated county codes, among other issues.
Patricia Petruff, attorney for the applicant, said the developer was not requesting drastic changes to Twelve Oaks Plaza as residents indicated.
“We just need a little flexibility,” Petruff said of the request. “We aren’t trying to build this out the way it was implied.”
After the hearing, John Agnelli, Lake Lincoln’s senior vice president, said he believed commission members focused on the wrong issues.
“We’re very disappointed,” he said. “It’s a major intersection, and it’s prime commercial property. Right now, it just sits there.”
Agnelli said he was not yet sure whether Lake Lincoln would consider litigation.
Although excited about last week’s vote, Pastori said he and other advisory board members remain cautious about the future.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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