Neal Land Ventures purchases land, attempts to remove road from county's plans.
Members of the Friends of Keep Woods Inc. group have been scrambling since Neal Land Ventures purchased 32 acres in December near the western end of Clubhouse Drive, where the River Club and Braden Woods neighborhoods meet.
That tract originally was dubbed the Myara Project, where developer Pat Neal proposed to build a 31-home private, gated project. The project, vehemently opposed by the Friends of Keep Woods, was scrapped by Neal in November after the Manatee County Planning Commission recommended denial of the project.
At the heart of the issue, Neal wanted to remove a planned Clubhouse Drive extension from future transportation maps. Neal’s plan clustered residences
away from the Braden River, which the property borders, and preserved open space. However, he saw a proposed Clubhouse Drive extension as unnecessary and actually as a detriment to the development.
County planners, however, said removing the Clubhouse Drive extension from future transportation maps could not be done as part of the development proposal and instead would require a separate approval process. Neal walked away.
Friends of Keep Woods could take down the signs, or so they thought.
Now it appears the “Woods in danger” signs, used in opposition to the original Myara Project, need to be modified. Brenda Russell, one of the group’s members and a homeowner in the area, said the new signs will read, “Woods Still in Danger.”
Whether he will submit another development plan for the area has not been decided, Pat Neal said.
“As we are not homebuilders in this entity, we have no immediate plans for the development,” Neal said of the purchase by Neal Land Ventures. “The investor is ‘passive.’ We are focusing on the Linger Lodge extension. The bottom line on the practicality of the road is pretty clear.”
The Friends of Keep Woods group is worried the Myara Project will resurface.
“People think it’s over, but it’s not,” Russell said. “Our goal remains the same as it’s been from the beginning. We want to preserve that property, protect the river, protect the wildlife that’s there. We’re moving forward on several fronts.”
Neal will work to prove to Manatee County that the future roadway segment offers no significant benefit to the area’s transportation network, and as such, it should be eliminated. Neal Land Ventures, a partnership between Pat Neal and his son, John Neal, has filed a comprehensive plan amendment to remove the road from the county’s future roadways map. The process likely will take about eight months and costs $20,000.
A transportation analysis by Stantec states traffic congestion levels with or without the road segment, running from 93rd Street East to Pine Meadow Way, are “essentially identical.”
Manatee County maintains the road is needed in the future.
“Removal of a roadway from the county’s comprehensive plan would eliminate the interconnectivity of the road system,” Manatee County spokesman Nicholas Azzara said.
Meanwhile, Friends of Keep Woods has begun work with foundations to raise funds to buy the land from Neal Land Ventures. The acreage would be combined with another 12-acre parcel, on the other side of the river, left for conservation by the late Friends of Keep Woods member Carl Bergstresser.
The group is seeking an environmentalist to buy the land, build one home on the site and put a conservation easement on the rest of the property. Russell calls this the “angel investor” scenario.
Another avenue would be privately raising the money, by working with foundations so donations are tax deductible.
Also being investigated would be the creation of a Municipal Service Benefit Unit. Homeowners in the surrounding area would agree to be assessed for the purchase and maintenance of the property. The group is talking with Manatee County about the concept and does not yet have any estimates for assessments. However, it would allow the land to be conserved as a park with nature trails, or other minimal uses.
The Friends of Keep Woods group is meeting with Manatee County commissioners and officials this week and next to promote their ideas and discuss opportunities for collaboration.
“The kind of park we envision would be very low impact, not baseball diamonds and grills,” Russell said, “closed after dark and part of the Municipal Service Benefit Unit. The county would maintain it.”
Russell said the group is working on renderings for a proposed park, but none is available.
Like Pat Neal, the Friends of Keep Woods group does not believe the Clubhouse Drive extension is needed. However, it believes once accomplished, Neal will move forward with plans to develop the area.
“We would not want to see a road going through there,” Russell said. “This is in the middle of two long established neighborhoods.”
To start, Russell said she will concentrate on getting the signs changed.