by Pam Eubanks/yourobserver.com
Commissioners vote 4-3 to have proposed road removed from future plans.
Developers and conservationists have focused on a 32-acre site wedged between the River Club and Braden Woods communities, known as the Myara property.
Both have been in agreement Manatee County should eliminate from county planning maps a proposed road that would bisect the property. The roadway would be an extension of Clubhouse Drive west to Linger Lodge Road and it would cross the Braden River.
Now, Manatee County agrees the proposed road should be dropped as well.
On Aug. 1, commissioners voted 4-3 to send their request to drop the proposed road to the state for review. If the state agrees, the commissioners will have to confirm their decision with a formal vote, likely in two to three months.
“I don’t see how it’s going to provide an overriding public benefit to put it in,” said Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, who voted to remove the road along with commissioners Carol Whitmore, Stephen Jonsson and Charles Smith.
Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Betsy Benac and Priscilla Whisenant Trace opposed the change.
“I think we need the connection,” Benac said. “It’s not politically correct, perhaps. We need roads in this community. I want it to be preserved, too, but I also want connectivity.”
Myarra Property Joint Venture, which owns the property, and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast are finalizing an agreement that gives the foundation an option to purchase the property by a fixed date. The date and price have not been released.
John Neal, president of Neal Land Ventures, and a partner in Myarra Property Joint Venture, said after the county formally approves dropping the road from future plans, a developer will be selected and development plans will proceed to build 32 luxury homes on the site in a clustered development style to preserve wetlands and open space.
He said Myarra Property Joint Neal Land Ventures is willing to sell the property for conservation purposes, but it will not wait indefinitely.
“We’re home builders,” Neal said.
The Conservation Foundation, in partnership with a group of citizens working to preserve the property, will pursue avenues by which it can raise enough money to buy the property. It is accepting donations from citizens.
“The Conservation Foundation’s mission is to save land forever, by either owning it ourselves, by putting a conservation easement on a property, or to work with municipalities to conserve the property,” said Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. “This is all of that.”
The goal would be to combine the Myara site with an 11-acre parcel owned by the late Carl Bergstresser, immediately on the other side of the river. His estate is in the process of donating his property to the foundation.
If the foundation successfully acquires the land, it would place on it a conservation easement, which keeps it from being developed, and donate it to the county. The property would then be transformed into a nature preserve with minimal amenities, but possibly a kayak launch into the river and walking trails.
“Non-invasive things,” Jonsson said. “But we can’t do any of that unless we conserve it. It’s rare to have 45 acres on the Braden River. That would be spectacular.”
This timeline reflects plans for development of a 32-acre parcel along the Braden River, at the western end of Clubhouse Drive.
February 2016 — Residents learn of proposed development and begin to organize opposition.
October 2016 — The Manatee County Planning Commission recommends denial of the project to build luxury homes. Commissioners support the project design, but said elimination of a planned roadway that would divide the parcel should be done through a comprehensive plan amendment.
November 2016 — Neal Communities said it will scrap plans to develop the parcel.
December 2016 —Myarra Property Joint Venture purchases property.
June 2017 — The property owner applies to remove the road from the county’s comprehensive plan. The Planning Commission recommends denial.
May 2017 — Citizens group Friends of Keep Woods is formed and announces partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast with an interest in making the parcel a preserve.
August 2017 — Manatee County Commission supports removing roadway from county maps and moves the request to the state for approval.