By Dale White, Staff Writer - www.heraldtribune.com
MANATEE COUNTY — In case Braden Woods area residents refuse to tax themselves so Manatee County can buy nearby property for a nature preserve, developer Pat Neal intends to proceed with plans to build a 32-home subdivision on the site.
On Thursday, the County Commission voted 6-1 to approve rezoning and a site plan for Neal’s proposed Myara suburb on the Braden River. Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, whose district includes the undeveloped property, cast the dissenting vote.
Although he wanted his development plans approved, Neal assured the commissioners that “our hope and goal” is that the property will instead be acquired by the county, along with adjoining acreage, for a nature preserve.
When Neal initially proposed the subdivision, numerous residents from the Braden Woods area objected. They insisted the heavily wooded site is essential for diverse wildlife and should not be disturbed. They appealed to the county to acquire it.
In October, Neal, the objecting residents, and county commissioners eventually reached an arrangement on how to pay for the property. Neal and his business partner sons granted the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast an option to buy the more than 32 acres for $3 million by March 31.
The county is conducting a postcard poll of 1,400 households in that vicinity. The survey asks whether they would be willing to be in a special property tax district to finance that $3 million. The annual cost for each property owner will vary because it will be based on taxable values. The results are due Jan. 10.
If at least 50 percent of the households agree, the commissioners can schedule a public hearing to establish the tax district. The foundation will transfer its option to the county so the sale can proceed.
The intent is for the future nature preserve to include adjoining land to the west that belongs to the estate of Carl Bergstresser, who died of cancer in July 2016. Bergstresser not only supported the movement for making the property of his former neighbor, Albert Myara, a nature preserve but hoped that, after his death, his property would be preserved as well.
His will is currently in probate court.
The Conservation Foundation is also interested in acquiring the Bergstresser land, though without the county’s assistance.
With both the Bergstresser and Myara properties, the proposed Braden River Preserve would span 44 acres.
If the tax district idea fails, Neal will cluster the 32 proposed homes on the Myara site so that about 70 percent of the land remains untouched.
“You have smaller lots but a significant amount of open space,” Joel Christian, an environmental consultant for Neal, told commissioners.
If the foundation acquires the Bergstresser site but the Myara subdivision is built, Neal said he would add 13 acres from his property to that nature preserve.
The commission previously removed a proposed extension of Linger Lodge Road through the Bergstresser and Myara sites from its long-range plans. Neal’s site plan calls for a gated neighborhood with a cul-de-sac.