Manatee County commissioners say no to commercial development but OK residential building.
Residents of the Tara community might not have won a battle to stop development at the northwest corner of State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard, but they may have helped change what goes there.
Manatee County commissioners on April 4 voted 4-3 to reject a previously approved legal settlement that would have allowed commercial development on a 3.3-acre parcel there. Instead, commissioners voted to terminate that agreement and approve an alternative proposal for residential development on the property.
“I like the compromise better than just allowing them to build commercial there,” longtime Tara Golf and Country Club resident Nancy Prive said, adding she would prefer no development there at all.
Tara’s developer, Lake Lincoln, sued Manatee County in 2012, following a 2010 decision to allow development on other parts of Tara’s Development of Regional Impact but to limit that particular parcel “for open space and wetlands.” It had been zoned for residential and residential support uses, not the commercial zoning Lake Lincoln requested. Lake Lincoln alleged Manatee County had stripped the developer of its development rights for the land and the decision has been in litigation since.
After prior failed negotiations, Manatee County and Lake Lincoln in June 2017 came to a settlement agreement that would have allowed for Lake Lincoln to build up to 19,500 square feet of commercial on the 3.3-acre section of the larger 10-acre property.
Manatee County 12th Judicial District Judge Lon Arend was set to approve the settlement, but residents of Tara intervened, arguing it violated the county’s land development codes. Arend in August 2018 asked the board to reconsider its decision before he would rule on the matter.
Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Carol Whitmore, Reggie Bellamy and Misty Servia supported the change, while commissioners Betsy Benac, Steven Jonsson and Priscilla Whisenant Trace voted against it.
Servia was a county planner who worked on the development approvals and she said development never was intended for that section of property.
“I believe we have a responsibility and an obligation to the people who live there today to honor that,” Servia said.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she wanted to find a compromise.
“I don’t think we were wrong (in 2010),” Baugh said. “Part of the problem was we did not give the property owner alternatives. Now we are. That in itself is truly a step in the right direction.”
Benac said although she agreed residential was allowed per the land’s zoning, she believed commercial would be a better use of the property and was better aligned with county development guidelines and how the area has developed. She believed limiting the commercial property to 15,000 square feet would be less impactful.
“This is zoning and we have to comply with laws, not common sense,” she said. “These folks (Lake Lincoln) believe they were denied the right to use their property. It’s commercial at every other section of (this intersection).”
The board’s new proposal will terminate the court proceedings regarding the settlement itself, but does not end litigation, currently in the 12th Judicial Court, over Lake Lincoln’s right to use the property.
The Manatee County Attorney’s Office will initiate amendments to existing approvals for the land to allow residential development and it likely will seek a delay on the original lawsuit. Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague said the new direction is against the recommendation of the county attorney’s office.
Lake Lincoln’s attorney Bill Moore said, “We’re probably going to be amending our complaint and adding damages.”
Moore said the county’s decision will not hold up the existing lawsuit and Lake Lincoln opposes any delays the county may seek. The property has been unusable for nine years, he said.
“We’ve been delayed too long,” he said. “We’re moving forward as fast as the court will allow.”