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East County Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 1 year ago

Opportunity knocks for creation of park in East County

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Friends of Keep Woods go door-to-door to establish Braden River Preserve.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

River Club’s Peggy Klimek walked up the sidewalk to a home at the end of her street, Spyglass Lane, and knocked on the front door.

Becky and David Friedman answered, and Klimek began reciting information about a proposed tax on neighborhood residents and how it could fund the creation of park called Braden River Preserve.

The Friedmans, who moved to the neighborhood in June, have seen the “vote yes” signs on the neighbors’ lawns.

“We wanted to learn more,” Becky Friedman said as she held her 11-month-old son, Maxwell, on her hip.

Klimek wants to protect a nearby parcel of land from development, and her neighbors have to agree for that to happen.

“I’m not shy about the door to door. It’s a canvasing effort,” she said. “It should have an impact.”

Klimek is a volunteer with Friends of Keep Woods, a group formed to conserve a 33-acre parcel, along the Braden River, at the western end of Clubhouse Drive. It is advocating for River Club and Braden Woods residents to approve a proposed Municipal Service Taxing Unit, called an MSTU, to fund the purchase of the land and allow it to be conserved in perpetuity.

Property owner Myarra Property Joint Venture, which includes Neal Communities,  has agreed to sell the property for $3 million. The purchase would be funded by the MSTU. Property owners would be assessed on the taxable value — not market value — of their property each year for the next 30 years. More than 500 of about 1,442 property owners would pay less than $100 annually, with some assessments as low as about $30. Only 10 would pay more than $300 annually.

If the acquisition is successful, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast would place a conservation easement over the land, protecting it from development. Manatee County would invest about $300,000 in trails and improvements and be responsible for ongoing maintenance of what would become Braden River Preserve.

Peggy Klimek rings the door of a neighbor in River Club as she and Cheryl Atkinson go door to door to educate neighbors about the proposed Municipal Service Taxing Unit and how it could fund the creation of Braden River Preserve.

Manatee County mailed ballots on the issue Nov. 17 and is requiring a majority of property owners support the initiative, meaning at least 721 owners must not only respond to the mailing, but also vote “yes.”

About 15 Keep Woods volunteers, including Klimek, have been going door to door to talk with neighbors about the MSTU initiative. If someone isn’t home, they leave a flyer. Brenda Russell, the lead organizer of the drive, said those individuals are counted as “untouched,” meaning their homes will be revisited.

Proponents say neighbor response has been mostly positive, particularly after they clear misconceptions about costs and other questions.

River Club’s Sy Inwentarz, who moved here from New York six months ago, visited 225 homes and handed out information on Braden River Preserve in the River Club Golf Course parking lot.

With homeowners in River Club and Braden Woods knowledgeable about the MSTU and Braden River Preserve, securing actual votes is a priority.

“We have to make sure people don’t get complacent,” Inwentarz said.

He and other volunteers have held signs at major community entrances, but Inwentarz said he may take it to the next level — dressing in a deer costume to help make it memorable.

Russell said volunteers will continue their educational efforts, and more community meetings may be coming, depending on what needs are identified.

Manatee County Deputy County Administrator Dan Schlandt said the county hopes to have votes tallied by Jan. 10, the deadline to vote on the issue. Results would be presented to the Manatee County Commission at a Jan. 23 hearing, and if it decides to move forward with the MSTU, it would set a public hearing for March to formally create the MSTU.

The deadline for purchasing the property is March.

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