Commissioners say they want to stop growth simply "to make a dime."
Manatee County Commissioners, in voting against a proposal Jan. 7 to commercially develop 5.23 acres at the entrance to Savanna in East County, said they want to stop a trend of developing the front of every new neighborhood without regard to the residents.
Commissioners voted 5-2 against changing those acres from planned development residential to general commercial. Kevin Van Ostenbridge and Misty Servia cast the dissenting votes.
“To sit back right now and think about changing Savanna, which is so beautiful, to put in a strip center, when you've got strip centers going in so close to that area as it is, I can't fathom that,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. "I have to say, I can't believe it's for any reason other than to make a dime.
“What scares me on this is that it seems like we're hearing more and more of this.”
Savanna residents in attendance, such as Anna Gonnella, were thrilled by the commissioners' decision.
"It was total joy at the thought of not losing five acres that were promised passive recreational," Gonnella said. "We will not have to look at possibly 120 parking spots, box buildings in front of a private residential community. When I see this space, and I see the birds and I see the peacefulness of the wild grasses, and I see the green, it fills me with tranquility."
Savanna's builder, Meritage Homes of Florida, said it wanted to use the land, located near the southeast corner of the intersection of State Road 64 and White Eagle Boulevard, for community-serving businesses, such as a pharmacy. Opposed residents argued they already have access to all the local businesses they need within a convenient distance.
“Systematically going through and adding Starbucks and CVS and Walgreens in front of every single neighborhood because we're "running out of space," is just a terrible, terrible precedent in my mind,” commissioner George Kruse said.
About a dozen people, mostly Savanna residents, came to the meeting to voice opposition to the proposal for a number of reasons, including increased traffic. Many were concerned commercial development near the Savanna entrance off S.R. 64 onto Savanna Palms Court would lead to increased stress on roads owned and maintained by the community’s HOA.
Meritage had not yet reached an agreement to build an entrance and exit from S.R. 64 into the proposed commercial development, although attorney Ed Vogler said he was “very confident” it would have been granted. Baugh and fellow commissioner James Satcher were not completely satisfied with his assurance.
The entrance to Savanna is located on Savanna Palms Court, which intersects S.R. 64 about a quarter-mile east from White Eagle Boulevard. Without an entrance and exit on S.R. 64 into the commercial development, residents argued that traffic would be forced to use Savanna Palms Court or Prairie View Drive, which serves as a link between Savanna Palms Court and White Eagle Boulevard running directly along the 5.23-acre parcel of land.
Another sticking point was the elimination of open, green space at the entrance to Savanna. Residents said they value the land both for aesthetic and recreational purposes. Vogler said Meritage never made a commitment to residents that the land never would be developed.
Resident Michelle Rowe, however, produced an image of what she said was marketing material provided to her during the home-buying process that included an image of the large, open space in a map of the community.
“This may not have been explicitly labeled an amenity, but it certainly looks to me like it was implicitly labeled an amenity to all the homeowners who bought in Savanna,” Kruse said. “The preliminary site plan says passive recreation-open space. It doesn't just say open space or unknown, it says passive recreation. When I see that, my first thought — and I'm in real estate — is there's going to be trails, a place to take my dog walking, maybe go fishing with my kids. It's passive recreation.
"And we were told (by Vogler), ‘Well, we have to label it something.’ Well, future commercial is a label. You can label it that. Unknown could be a label. There's a lot of things you can label it. … Maybe it wasn't intentional, but it feels like maybe even an unintentional bait and switch to the homeowners of Savanna.”