A section of Manatee County's property along Lena Road and State Road 64 drew another step closer to its return to the private sector.
On Sept. 22, Manatee County commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a rezone of about 98 acres of the 161 acres it had acquired from Musgrave Real Estate Holdings for $32.5 million in 2020, expanding the range of uses it will accommodate once sold to developers by changing its classification from Suburban Agricultural to Planned Development/Mixed Use.
Among the allowable structures will be offices, warehouses, hotels and motels, and residential developments.
“This will be rezoned, it will create value, it will create opportunity to do things for an area that could use some more employment base, an area that could use more higher-density residential,” said At-Large Commissioner George Kruse. "It’s a plan we have been discussing for months, if not over a year now, and now we’re just finally enacting it.”
Kruse said the rezone would allow commissioners to parcel the property in a way that includes deed restrictions for affordable and workforce housing in certain portions before they are sold to developers.
The move follows a Sept. 1 unanimous vote by commissioners to designate the overall Lena Road property as “surplus,” a necessary step preceding a resale.
When the county acquired the land for $187,488 per acre, it was intended as the site of a Manatee County operations center that would include a district office for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, a county fleet garage, a storage facility for 100 Sheriff's Office cruisers, a field operations facility for the Utilities Department, a warehouse and a solid waste transfer station.
Rob Wenzel of Development Services said during the meeting that while there was formerly an interested party for the property, it is not currently being pursued for a sale, and he has no knowledge of an end user.
To make the rezone possible, the vote concurrently approved a change to the future land use category from Urban Fringe 3, which supports rezones among light uses including neighborhood commercial and agricultural, to Mixed-Use, which supports rezones among community and regional retail uses.
The rezone applies to about 98.6 acres of the 161-acre property and excludes a section along the western edge directly bordering Lena Road. It does not impact a separate, privately-owned property directly north of the Musgrave property and directly south of State Road 64.
Accompanying the rezone was a general development plan setting a maximum of 12 dwelling units per acre and a 0.35 floor area ratio for buildings, down from the usual 30 dwelling units per acre and 1.0 floor area ratio included in that zoning district.
"This is a logical transition from the mixed use to the west and the mixed use to the north, coming down to this property and then continuing to the east,” said Kelley Klepper, a vice president and senior project manager for engineering firm Kimley-Horn.
He said the rezone would provide opportunities for housing and employment.
Commissioner Misty Servia, who offered the only dissenting vote, raised concerns about the compatibility of the rezone with the surrounding area, including the presence of residential areas near the adjacent landfill beyond the south end of the site.
Klepper said the rezone had the ability to provide a logical transition from the landfill, to the surrounding spaces, as the county would have the ability to confine the southern areas to industrial uses. He said the boundaries of the solid waste facility are well-removed from the property, with the required buffering and setbacks.
He also said that building heights must be reduced along the edge of the property, which will prevent developments that are out of character with their surroundings.
Servia also said she was concerned about whether the infrastructure was in place to support development and did not think compatibility could be evaluated at this point.
“If approved today, this will never, ever, ever expire," she said. "We have no idea what this area will look like in 30 years, but today, if we approve it, it’s pretty much telling the area what it will look like."
District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she did not share Servia’s concerns, pointing to the fact that all subsequent requests to pursue projects on the property would still need to pass through the commission.
Klepper said the only negative aspect of the rezone was that while Lena Road is being extended and improved toward State Road 70, there are no plans to widen the road. He said the county's analysis did not support doing so at this time, but there is right-of-way to expand the road as needed in the future. He said future capital improvement projects are expected to provide further access routes.
According to Baugh, the county is still pursuing plans to build a transfer station on the area of the property it is retaining. This station would consolidate garbage from individual collectors for transportation by tractor trailers to a currently undetermined future landfill site.
Former Utilities Director Mike Gore said in 2020 that the landfill had an estimated 22 years of life remaining.
Interim Utilities Director Jeffrey Goodwin said last week there is currently nothing in the works regarding this station. He said the county has not made decisions yet about where at the landfill the transfer station would be placed if one were to be installed there.
He said the county is currently seeking a deputy director of solid waste who would be able to assist with such an initiative.
“Hopefully when we get that person on board, we will make great progress,” he said.