The 161 acres at State Road 64 and Lena Road will include a government complex and increase the lifespan of the neighboring landfill.
Manatee County Utilities Director Mike Gore, who has worked for the county for 36 years, said he remembered a time in the mid-1990s when county commissioners decided not to purchase about 100 acres adjacent to the Lena Road Landfill.
Gore said the price was in the $3 million range, but he said commissioners had no real interest in the Charles Adams-owned land, which would have helped expand the landfill's capacity. He said it never came to a vote.
So he was pleased Oct. 13 when commissioners voted 5-2 to spend $32.5 million to buy 161 acres from Musgrave Real Estate Holdings at the corner of State Road 64 and Lena Road, adjacent to the Lena Road Landfill and the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant. The land will be home to a new county operations center to serve the fast growing areas of Lakewood Ranch and Parrish.
Among the features of the operations center will 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.
“The fallout of not buying that property (in the 1990s) is that we're in our last cell at the landfill,” Gore said. “Obviously, land values are significantly different now than they were in the early '90s. So, in hindsight, had we purchased that property, we would have a longer span of life there at Lena Road without having to go and start purchasing more property and creating a new landfill.”
The land will be purchased for $187,488 per acre. The money will come from county reserves ($16.8 million) and the utility department ($15.7 million). The commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of the purchase with Vanessa Baugh and Stephen Jonsson voting against it.
County officials said the solid waste transfer station originally was planned to be built on the landfill site. With it now going on this new land, it clears up the way for an additional 1.875 million tons of solid waste at the landfill. Multiply it by the $40 a ton the county receives in tipping charges, and it comes to additional $75 million in revenue.
Despite those numbers, Baugh said the price for the land still was too high.
The county’s own market appraisals came in between $20 and $22 million, but Gore said the agreed-upon price was the best he could negotiate with the seller.
“We're spending a fortune, millions upon millions of dollars, to buy this property to build three department buildings,” Baugh said. “And yet, here we are asking our citizens to increase millage on themselves to pay to buy conservation land (the referendum that is on the General Election ballot)."
The commissioners who voted for the purchase (Priscilla Trace, Reggie Bellamy, Misty Servia, Betsy Benac, Carol Whitmore) along with even Jonsson agreed it is routine for the government to purchase land above its market value.
Gore said the land was chosen after researching more than 20 sites and he said it is uniquely suited to fit the county’s needs because of its size and central location. It is also near major highways and away from dense residential areas. Its position next to the Lena Road Landfill was a major draw.
The new plans for the enclosed transfer station is expected to increase the landfill's lifespan from another 16 years to another 22 years.
Baugh thought the county had other options.
“The argument that this was the only piece of property in all of Manatee County that would work is hogwash," she said. "We don’t need 160 acres.”