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East County Monday, Jul. 25, 2022 2 months ago

Land use change proposal moves forward for Lena Road property

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The Manatee County Commission will decide whether to change the land use designation on its controversial East County parcel for resale.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Manatee County's controversial purchase of 161 acres from Musgrave Real Estate Holdings in 2020 is likely to cause more commission drama.

After the Manatee County Planning Commission voted July 14 in favor of a change of land use category for approximately 98.6 acres of that parcel, which is at the corner of State Road 64 and Lena Road, a transmittal hearing will be held in front of commissioners Aug. 4 to send the change in land use to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review.

The next step would be an adoption hearing where commissioners will make a final decision on the proposal on Sept. 22. 

The July 14 vote was in favor of changing the future land use category of the property from Urban Fringe 3, a category that supports lighter uses including neighborhood commercial and agricultural, to Mixed-Use, which supports community and regional retail with uses including warehouses, hotels and motels, as well as residential.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said Manatee County is in the process of selling at least the portion of the property that is set for a transmittal hearing.

Whitmore said the land use change was initiated at the request of a prospective buyer, though that individual had later withdrawn from the purchase. Nonetheless, she said, there were “a lot of interested people,” and the rezone had the potential to serve another buyer.

When the county acquired the 161 acres of land adjacent to the Lena Road Landfill and the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant for $32.5 million ($187,488 per acre), it was intended as the site of a Manatee County operations center that would serve the eastern part of the county. Among the features would be a new district office for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, a county fleet garage, a storage facility for 100 Sheriff's Office cruisers, a field operations facility for the Utilities Department, a warehouse and a solid waste transfer station.

Commissioners approved the purchase 5-2, with Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and former Commissioner Stephen Jonsson opposed.

At the time, Baugh said the price of the land was too high. The approval came just before the election in 2020, which saw new commissioners George Kruse, Kevin Van Ostenbridge and James Satcher campaign on fiscal responsibility. All three questioned whether the land purchase was a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Then County Administrator Cheri Coryea drew criticism for the land purchased and eventually signed a separation agreement with the county in February 2021.

Whitmore said now that the county's plans for the property have changed, it is important to sell portions of it.

"We don't need to be holding on to property of this value,” she said.

However, the county would retain a portion of the property for the transfer station.

Kelley Klepper, vice president and senior planner at engineering firm Kimley-Horn, speaks at Planning Commission meeting. (Photo by Ian Swaby)

Kelley Klepper, the vice president and senior planner at engineering firm Kimley-Horn, said during the Planning Commission meeting that a subsequent request was forthcoming to rezone 159.49 acres to Planned Development — Mixed Use. This would be necessary to achieve the hoped-for range of uses, beyond suburban agricultural uses.

Bill Logan, a county public information officer, said that rezone plan was tentatively scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on Sept. 8, and before the County Commission for adoption on Sept. 22.

Klepper said during the Planning Commission meeting that studies carried out by the firm indicated the rezone would bring the property more in line with current development in the area.

“We didn’t think the UF-3 was necessarily appropriate, given the adjacent development,” he said, citing the existence of the county’s solid waste disposal facility on the east side, a shopping center on the northeast side and proposed developments along the west side, as well as the nearby I-75 and State Road 64 interchange.

“Mixed-use provides the most flexibility and provides that actual mix of uses that we desperately need within this portion of Manatee County.”

The site is currently vacant, though Klepper said there were agricultural activities occurring there “from time to time.”

Areas located to the south and to the east belong to the solid waste facility. A cell tower in the southwest is immediately adjacent to the property. Property immediately to the west is classified as mixed-use, as is property to the northeast.

Klepper said the firm would like to consider the land as “an infill type of project." He said it would be served by the roadway network that was being created through Manatee County's Capital Improvement Plan, including the extension of Lena Road which would connect a southern stretch of the road to the area bordering the property, and also includes planned projects such as the widening of Upper Manatee River Road.

The proposal also included a request separate from the rezone itself — a self-imposed, site-specific amendment that would limit the amount and type of development on the site to 390 dwelling units and 992,142 square feet of nonresidential uses. He said studies indicated this provided the best fit with the surrounding infrastructure, and that it would make the project predominantly industrial rather than residential in nature.

Klepper said the rezone was consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

During commissioner comments, Planning Commissioner Paul Rutledge, who opposed the rezone, raised concerns about the planned residential uses due to the presence of the landfill west of the rezoned area. 

Planning Commissioner Mike Rahn, who voted in favor of the proposal, said Ruteledge had voiced “a genuine concern.”

Klepper said he did not think the landfill would pose an issue.

“I will say that this is probably one of the better run facilities that we've seen working across the state of Florida and other communities, with respect to the airborne and also the waterborne components,” he said. “It's very well contained and encapsulated. There is enough room for continued growth, as well as significant buffers."

Whitmore called the sale of the land a win-win due to its ability to provide additional funding to the county and said the future of the property is "very promising."

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