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Manatee County will offer $15.5M to expand Emerson Point Preserve

If sold to the county, the 98-acre property will increase the size of the existing preserve by a third.

A concept map for the Emerson Point expansion.
A concept map for the Emerson Point expansion.
Courtesy image
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With a greater sense of urgency, Manatee County commissioners voted unanimously March 12 to offer $15.5 million for a piece of land that would expand the county's holdings at Emerson Point Preserve.

That offer came close to the $16 million that owners John and Keri Angelo asked for the 98-acre property in April 2023.

A year ago, commissioners were concerned the $16 million asking price was too far over the appraised value of $12.7 million. The current appraisal is $13.6 million.

The county's Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition committee had recommended the purchase of the property and the issue came up again at the Feb. 27 Manatee County Commission meeting, where citizens and environmental groups pleaded with commissioners to make an offer on the property before developers scoop it up.

Speaking for the Manatee Fish and Game Association, Nick Baden told commissioners at the Feb. 27 meeting that "the hammer's about to fall on this," meaning developers were going to make offers for the property. 

“We’ve got to let (owners John and Keri Angelo) know we’re serious," Baden said. "($16 million) might be too much money for (Manatee County), and it might be too much money for some of the opposition, but I don’t believe it’s too much money for a developer who can put 90 units on there. If that happens, it’s going to be bad for (Manatee County).”

After commissioners approved an offer, Merrie Lynn Parker, a treasurer for the Manatee Fish and Game Association, said the process “shouldn’t have been this hard.”

Manatee County and many of its residents want to buy 98 acres of land next to Emerson Point Preserve using the 2020 referendum funds.
Courtesy image

However, commissioners said they needed to protect taxpayers' money as ELMAC moves forward with potential purchases.

In 2023, commissioners were in favor of the purchase, too, but not at any cost. Several made objections to the asking price being millions of dollars higher than the appraised value.

“We had to close the gap,” Commissioner Ray Turner said. "We can't set these precedents where it's going to rain money when people do a deal with us." 

Of the 98-acre property, 44 acres are wetlands and water. 

The additional parcel would enlarge Emerson Point Preserve by a third of its original size, an opportunity residents told commissioners they didn't want to lose. 

In 2020, 71% of voters passed a referendum in which they agreed to pay, on average, an extra $29 a year per homeowner for the county to protect and purchase conservation lands.

“This is exactly what that money is for,” said Ruth Lawler, a Manatee County resident for over 60 years. “It’s not (the commissioners') money. It’s our money – the taxpayers.” 

About 30 residents submitted comments or emailed their district commissioner prior to the April 2023 meeting. Prior to the February meeting, the county received 198 pages worth of comments.

Several residents attend the Manatee County commission meeting in person on March 12 to advocate for a purchase that would expand Emerson Point Preserve.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

“I remember when we were discussing the purchase of the south end of Anna Maria Island for what’s now our biggest public beach (Coquina Beach),” Baden said. “Too much money – it was the same argument back then, so look at it today. And the same thing has happened with Robinson Preserve.” 

While Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge argued that there was no guarantee the state would reimburse the county for the appraised value, environmentalists argued there’s good reason to believe the state would reimburse the county through the Florida Forever conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. 

“It’s as much of a guarantee as you can get,” said Samantha Wassmer, a marketing and communications specialist for Suncoast Waterkeeper. 

Wassmer was holding a copy of a letter from Callie DeHaven, director of the division of state lands, that was addressed to Debra Woithe, the Environmental Lands Division Manager for Manatee County. 

In the letter, DeHaven wrote that the Division of State Lands supports the acquisition and is willing to purchase the property for the DSL-approved appraisal value. The purchase is subject to available funding and approval by the governor and cabinet.

Charlie Hunsicker, the Manatee County director of Natural Resources, said the property has been on the state’s “buy list” for 19 years. The Angelos never had an interest in selling the property before now. 

Woithe said the county hope to see a purchase contract “as soon as possible ... but to be determined.” 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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