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East County Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2018 8 months ago

Manatee County takes steps to conserve land

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Alternative funding solution makes way for Braden River Preserve.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

The fight for the Braden River Preserve is over. 

After enduring a months-long battle between residents of the River Club and Braden Woods communities over whether and how to save a nearly 33-acre property between them from development, Manatee County commissioners on March 20 decided to save the property at the western end of Clubhouse Drive from development and use general funds to pay for it.

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast will offset that amount with a minimum $1 million donation.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am this park is coming forward,” said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents the greater Lakewood Ranch area. “I hope we’ll get some continuity back. What you’ve seen here today is commissioners trying to do the right thing for everybody.”

Commissioners voted 4-2 to accept the Conservation Foundation’s donation — and any future donations it receives — and  use the summer-long budgeting process to identify alternative funding streams for the project. In the interim, Manatee County will use an inter-fund loan to purchase the property from Myarra Property Joint Venture by a March 31 deadline.

A planner by training, Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac suggested the solution.

“We’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time to try to raise these funds,” Benac said. “I’m asking us to not lose this opportunity.”

The board had been considering creating a controversial Municipal Services Taxing Unit, a special taxing district that would have assessed about 1,400 property owners a total of $3 million over 30 years. Manatee County would have then invested about $200,000 for improvements to the preserve, which would be open to the general public.

The MSTU proved controversial, with about half of homeowners supporting it and the other half opposing. About two-thirds of River Club residents did not actively support the MSTU, prompting the River Club Homeowners Association to seek legal relief March 14.

River Club HOA board member Larry Levin said he expects the lawsuit now will go away.

“It resolves the issues from River Club’s standpoint,” he said of the vote.

Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation, said her organization will continue its fundraising efforts to help fund as much of the acquisition.

Manatee County will own the preserve, but the Conservation Foundation will hold a conservation easement over it, guaranteeing it will never be developed. The Conservation Foundation also has committed to donating the adjoining 11.6 acres, gifted by the late Carl Bergstresser, to make the total Braden Preserve 44.53 acres along the Braden River.

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