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East County Monday, Aug. 2, 2021 9 months ago

Panther Ridge residents continue to fight development project

Commission will decide whether to allow Concession Land Development to change its development plan to build 15 units on 17 acres.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Nikki Olarsch, president of the Foxwood at Panther Ridge Homeowners Association, said her community has few amenities.

Panther Ridge residents, she said, moved to their community because they wanted peace and quiet. But they have one important amenity that fits into their desired lifestyle — a wooded trail used by residents for horseback riding, walking, jogging, cycling and more. Samuel Barr, a 15-year-old resident of Panther Ridge, said the trail allows him to ride his bike for miles with friends and family.

The trail is now in jeopardy, as Manatee County commissioners will decide whether to approve an amendment that would allow Concession Land Development to remove 16 single-family villas within The Concession from its general development plan and reallocate them as 15 single-family lots on a 17.02-acre parcel of land at the southeastern corner of State Road 70 and Lindrick Lane. The parcel, which includes land where the trail sits, is owned by Concession Land Development but is outside the community called The Concession.

The hearing will take place at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Manatee County Administration Building. It was originally scheduled for May 6 but received a continuation.

Residents of Panther Ridge have other concerns besides the trail. Both communities are low-density neighborhoods east of the county’s Future Development Area Boundary, which prohibits development of greater than 0.2 dwelling units per acre, with a few limited exceptions.

Residents of The Concession and nearby communities such as Panther Ridge show their opposition to an amendment that would allow 15 homes on 17 acres near The Concession entrance. (Courtesy of Olga Zarlenga)

At almost one dwelling unit per acre, residents said the new development would not be compatible with their bordering communities, though the average of dwelling units per acre across Concession Land Development’s entire property would still meet the density limit.

“What they're looking to do is cram too many houses in a space that shouldn't be there,” Olarsch said. “You set a boundary that was not supposed to be crossed for this type of development. They need to hold their ground.”

About half the site is considered within a 100-year flood plain, according to Manatee County’s Braden River Watershed Study maps, and would have to be mitigated accordingly, per county guidelines. Olarsch said Foxwood at Panther Ridge already floods easily, and residents are concerned how much worse it would get if the land bordering their community was developed.

Panther Ridge residents Eamonn Barr, Samuel Barr, 15, Olga Zarlenga, Alice Barr, 12, Olga Ways, Danielle Lennon and Joseph Zarlenga oppose an amendment that would allow 15 homes on 17 acres near The Concession entrance.

As for the trail, it has been used and maintained by Panther Ridge residents since the community’s inception in the mid-1990s. It connects to trails that are owned by Panther Ridge. The trail is elevated because it was built on the site of a 1930s railroad track, which means it is still usable after heavy rains.

Panther Ridge resident Olga Zarlenga said a proposal to move the trail to a sidewalk closer to S.R. 70 wouldn’t be viable because it would drastically increase the chance of a horse being spooked by traffic noises and running into the road.

The Manatee County Planning Commission initially recommended approval of a similar plan, with 22 homes on the 17-acre parcel instead of 15, by unanimous vote in May 2020. However, the meeting was not properly noticed, so it was held again in June 2020. The planning commission then voted 4-2 to recommend denial of the project after hearing new information from nearby residents.

“I don’t think this is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and even The Concession property,” Planning Commissioner Mike Rahn said at the time.

County commissioners then voted 6-1 against the project July 1, 2020. Attorneys representing Concession Land Development then filed a petition for a dispute resolution, which required the county to schedule a mediation heard by a special magistrate. At the Jan. 11 mediation, Concession Land Development proposed to submit a modified development plan different from the one rejected by commissioners in July 2020, which resulted in the new plan now up for a vote.

Olarsch said the HOA has already spent thousands of dollars worth of attorney fees fighting the development. Eamonn Barr, the president of the HOA for The Pointe at Panther Ridge, said it’s difficult for residents to keep up with the legal battle while juggling jobs and other aspects of their lives.

“We have to stop at some point and be done with this,” Barr said. “It feels to me like a war of attrition.”

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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