Manatee County's plans for an operations center at Lena Road and SR 64 could be scrapped.
Current Planning for Premier Park has provided a hint that 2022 could include a different direction for the future of the 161 acres the county purchased in October 2020 at the intersection of State Road 64 and Lena Road in East County.
The county's $32.5 million purchase from Musgrave Real Estate Holdings was intended to be used to build a new operations center to serve East County and provide more space to prolong the life of the adjacent Lena Road Landfill. It was controversial in that the transaction was approved just before the election in which the incoming county commissioners — James Satcher, George Kruse and Kevin Van Ostenbridge — had been questioning whether paying $187,488 per acre from county reserves ($16.8 million) and the utility department ($15.7 million) was good stewardship of taxpayer money.
Then Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea was criticized by members of the post-2020 election commission for pushing for the purchase of the Lena Road land. Van Ostenbridge said he disagreed with the direction Coryea was steering the commissioner overall and he cited the $32.5 million purchase as a specific example.
Satcher said the purchase was a mistake and both Satcher and Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the county needed to be more conservative with taxpayer money. Coryea and the county signed a separation agreement in February 2021.
Baugh said the current commission can correct what she considers a land purchase error.
“I’m hoping that it gets sold,” Baugh said of the Lena Road land. “And I think there’s a good possibility that could happen.”
Since the purchase, nothing definitive has been presented on plans for the land while at Premier Park, plans have emerged to put satellite services and an EMS/Sheriff's Office fuel station. Could other services intended for the Lena Road land be headed for Premier Park land?
Manatee County field crews currently operate out of facilities in western Manatee County near GT Bray Park and another near Tropicana in the central part of the county, which covers more than 800 square miles, so services in East County are needed. That raises the question of whether only part of the Lena Road land would be sold by the county.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the county needs some acreage for a transfer station and to extend the landfill.
“If we use it, fine," Whitmore said. "If we sell it, that’s fine, too, as long as we can extend our landfill another 20 years and use some of that property, I'll be happy.”
A Manatee County release in October 2020 said the land purchase would help prolong the life of the landfill by six years and estimated that value at "$75 million in landfill air space."
In 2018, County commissioners had directed its staff to look east for a new government facility to help meet space needs and to more efficiently respond to service requests. The staff also was asked to search for land to serve as the site of a new landfill when needed. However, the staff came back in 2020 with a proposal that included land for a transfer station.
Baugh said in 2020 that it was an example of the staff trying to control the commission.
“It's my hope that the new board starts looking at things with a different perspective,” Baugh said in an East County Observer story in 2020. “The administrator handles the county. Well, it's gotten out of hand. We need to be looking at it from the standpoint of the taxpayer, not the staff and what it wants. That's irrelevant. It's really up to the citizens of Manatee. And that's who we represent.”
While the scope of what was needed overall grew after the staff began its search on the commission's initial request, Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said in the October 2020 release that land for fleet operations was needed.
“This is just about building something that should have been built 10 years ago,” Wells said. “The property itself is a good location because it will service the needs of our day-to-day fleet operations and it will be easier for my deputies to go to that location.”
Initial plans had called for a Sheriff's Office district office at the Lena Road site to replace its office near S.R. 64 and I-75. The site also would accommodate 100 cruisers waiting for maintenance.
Satcher said he isn't sure what will happen to the property.
“It's a good location on the one hand, but on the other hand, they paid an absolute premium for it,” he said. "It's still next to an active landfill. so I'm not sure what the county has planned for it at this time.”
Kruse said he’s “heard whispers” about some plans that could be on the horizon, but said he was not in a position to discuss those at this time.
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