- July 29, 2015
Manatee County commissioners voted 5-1 May 24 to approve three applications that will allow Carlos Beruff’s East River Ranch development to move forward.
However, getting approval to build a road that would service the new neighborhood could be a major roadblock to getting the project started.
The East River Ranch property includes approximately 1,381 acres south of S.R. 64, west of C.R. 675 and east of Taylor Ranch. Beruff has plans for 5,378 residential units, plus commercial and office space, in an area previously zoned for agriculture that only allowed one dwelling unit per five acres.
Neighbors bordering East River Ranch and their attorneys attended the commission’s land use meeting to voice concerns over issues including the location of the proposed thoroughfare and the project’s impact on residents.
“Quality of life — that’s my theme. The people in the neighborhoods, we’re there because we chose that kind of life,” Panther Ridge resident Steve Barbash said. “I’m asking that whatever plans do or don’t come sooner or later that people will try to take into account what you would like to live in, what kind of environment, if you can separate the higher density from the existing families.”
Each application was voted on individually, but all three votes came out 5-1 with Commissioner George Kruse opposed and Commissioner Jason Bearden absent.
The applications requested the following three changes:
Some concerns were addressed by commissioners prior to the vote.
“I want it to be clear where we’re at and what we’re actually voting on,” Commissioner James Satcher said. “We’re not putting a road over anybody’s grave. We’re not putting a road through Panther Ridge, or the applicant is not, and we’re not closing down the drag strip.”
Tim and Carla Tralick, who live on 222nd Street, attended the meeting, saying the proposed thoroughfare would run through their backyard, where their son is buried. Their neighbor Richard Williams said a new road shouldn't even be allowed to be considered because the developer doesn't own that land that runs through the Tralick's property, and therefore, can't develop it.
After hearing the Tralicks would not sell to Beruff, Kruse questioned if a thoroughfare could be built at all to service the new community. He said the issue made voting on an application to add the proposed road to the county's thoroughfare plan premature.
“One, I can promise you, you’re not taking (the Tralicks) land. And two, the only other way you’re going to build that road is to work with Cleetus McFarland (of the Freedom Factory race track). He doesn’t want your development there anyway, so he’s not giving you any of his land, so you’re not building that road,” Kruse said to the developer's team. “You’re asking us to approve a million and a half square feet of commercial space plus a multifamily (complex) of almost 1,400 units, all contingent upon activity nodes that are no longer going to exist (without the road).”
Kruse told Beruff’s team to come back once they figure out how to make the thoroughfare work. Patricia Petruff, the attorney representing East Manatee Preservation, Inc, a nonprofit corporation formed by concerned residents, agreed. Petruff has a long history of representing developers, so is not vehemently opposed to development.
“Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath, and I think this was one of those times,” Petruff said. “I wasn’t asking them to decide this, I was asking them to table it and do it the right way.”
One change to do things the right way stemmed from Commissioner Vanessa Baugh’s comments after hearing the exceedingly vague verbiage used to describe McFarland’s Freedom Factory racetrack in the Notice to Buyer.
“I thought we were pretty clear before, the board was, on how important the racetrack is in this situation. It’s been there 50 years,” Baugh said. “This is in my district, and so I don’t mind the development being there. I think we should develop west of 675. I think it’s very appropriate, but I’m not going to take a 50-year-old business and just demolish it because of it.”
The notice will now specify that there is “an active drag strip and racetrack facilities that are producing noise.” McFarland told the commission, even with barrier walls, it will probably be waking thousands of homeowners up every Sunday morning because of races.
That image of thousands of homeowners is the main issue for current residents. East River Ranch is located beyond the Future Development Area Boundary, as is Taylor Ranch. But the intensity of this project exceeds that of Taylor Ranch.
Kruse cited a Florida Department of Transportation study that stated the development would cause both S.R. 70 and S.R. 64 to fail. If a two-lane thoroughfare is built and doesn’t meet the volume of traffic, then the county and taxpayers are on the hook to widen it to four lanes.
Satcher, who represents the most rural portion of the county, offered a different perspective. His district consists of smaller developments that don’t require developers to build roads, which can be a difficult demand to meet after the fact.
“Like him, don’t like him, whatever, but (Beruff) has built some roads that get you places. From Upper Manatee River Road, and you want to get to Costco, this developer built that road. The county didn’t build that road,” Satcher said. “(Developers) are able to do it much more efficiently because they don’t have the same regulations that the government has.”
Moving forward, Beruff’s team has to find a solution for the thoroughfare. If a solution is found, the project still has requirements to work through with the building department, and construction will depend on Taylor Ranch’s timeline because the two developments are coordinating on roads and utilities to bring infrastructure to the area. East River Ranch will build off what Taylor Ranch puts in first.
Panther Ridge residents aren’t willing to back down just yet. Attorney Kimlyn Walker, representing the Panther Ridge Homeowners Association, said her clients would appeal if the motions were approved.
Petruff hadn’t discussed the next steps with her clients yet, but equated an appeal to pushing a big rock up a steep hill.