Residents say a car dealership isn't a good fit for their East County neighborhoods.
It was 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and GreyHawk Landing resident Dave Raterman and his wife, Arlene, were headed eastbound on State Road 64 toward home after a quick dinner at Wolves Head Pizza and Wings.
As they waited in the turn lane to head north on 117th Street East, Dave Raterman glanced in his rearview window. More than six cars had lined up behind him.
“The entire turn lane was packed,” he said. “One of the cars was starting to bend out into S.R. 64.”
Ahead, on 117th Street East, there were about 15 vehicles trying to turn onto S.R. 64.
Dave Raterman said it is a scene he sees regularly, but he worries it will become even more congested — and dangerous — if Cox Chevrolet is successful with its application to Manatee County to construct a new car dealership there, at the northwest corner of S.R. 64 and 117th. Imagine if trucks carrying new or used cars used 117th Street East to access the site, he said.
“There are already a lot of traffic issues, and it’s only going to get worse,” Dave Raterman said. “I can see
nothing but chaos.”
Raterman is not alone.
He joined about 100 other residents of GreyHawk Landing, Osprey Landing, Windsong and other neighboring communities Dec. 5 to discuss the project, which is slated for review by the Manatee County Planning Commission on Jan. 16.
According to county documents, Cox Chevrolet intends to build a dealership and auto repair facility on the 18-acre parcel. Property owner Randy Giddens is requesting to rezone the land from agriculture to “urban fringe 3,” which allows up to three residential units per acre and other uses, including a car dealership. A general development plan for the site shows up to 150,000 square feet of commercial retail uses.
Cox Chevrolet President and CEO Kris Cox did not return calls for comment.
Paul Rutlege, a member of the Manatee County Planning Commission with 40 years development experience, declined to comment on any particular case or land-use application coming before the commission. He said every development application is unique, and approving them is part art, part science.
The science relates to having rules and regulations that spell out specific requirements, such as setbacks and buffers. The art applying those rules to each property and the needs of its user.
“It’s very, very hard to have static laws and monolithic ordinances and address the conditions at every location,” Rutledge said. “At the end of the day, that’s without any context of [application] submissions.”
Rutledge said he and other board members consider the nuances of an application to recommend approval or denial of a project.
“We’re trying to be fair about land-use rights for people who own land and the people next to it,” Rutledge said. “Hopefully, we exercise that with some reason.”
Many residents of GreyHawk Landing hope the Planning Commission and Manatee County Commission will take their side regarding the Cox Chevrolet project. They say it is not suitable for their residential neighborhood because of its heavy commercial use, noise and light pollution, traffic and issues with flooding on the property and surrounding area. They rallied about one year ago, at which time they gathered 1,500 signatures against the proposal. They are again organizing to oppose the project.
Jim Hengel, one of the residents leading opposition to the proposal, said residents do not object to all commercial development on the property. Doctor or dentist offices, restaurants or even a grocery store are other uses that directly benefit neighbors and would be OK. He said the use needs to be more neighborhood-serving.
Hengel said he considers a car dealership to be more of an industrial-type use. Manatee County’s development codes encourage neighborhood commercial projects to service the communities around them, and he does not believe a car dealership meets that criteria.
“It’s more of a regional service,” Hengel said. “We don’t see any direct benefit to any of the local communities. That’s part of the code — the compatibility is supposed to benefit the community.”
He also said the site plan needs to provide more green space to accommodate flooding that results from a tributary of Gates Creek that runs through the western side of the project.
John Rhodes and Rex Cowden, who have been researching county rules and regulations and will present a case for residents at the hearing, said they believe the project will adversely impact traffic and vehicular safety.
Residents of GreyHawk West, Osprey Landing and other communities that access 117th Street East use it as a back entrance into their neighborhoods. Rhodes and Cowden said they counted 1,700 vehicles turning in or out of 117th during peak traffic hours about one year ago. Since then, there’s been more development to south. During the five-hour period when they counted cars, they also counted 140 U-turns at 117th/S.R. 64. Trips were solely generated by people accessing their communities.
Preliminary project plans do not show a driveway access onto S.R. 64, which residents said forces more traffic onto 117th. Rhodes said any car-loaded trucks heading westbound on S.R. 64 would have to U-turn at 117th to access the site through a potential S.R. 64 entrance; otherwise, they would have to use 117th as the entrance.
Cowden and Rhodes also said the land in question is in a 25-year-flood plain. Rhodes said plans indicate Cox would fill in an existing tributary of Gates Creek that runs north-south through the western side of the property. Through engineering, water would be diverted into a pipe system into a retention pond.
Rhodes, an engineer, said water volumes will at times be too much for a car lot.
“You’ve got a huge drainage basin,” Cowden said. “You just can’t pipe those things.”