The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 34 - June 12, 2013

reel time

Long Bar Pointe zoning changes ill-conceived

Reel time

Rusty Chinnis | submitted

Seasonal algae blooms come and go along the Long Bar shoreline.

My first introduction to the flats along what is now known as Long Bar Pointe was courtesy of G.B. Knowles, the late Island resident and Sun outdoor writer. Knowles told me stories of big schools of redfish that frequented the shallow grass beds along the undeveloped shoreline on the east side of Sarasota Bay. This was in the early 80s, long before flats fishing was a concept that had taken hold north of the Florida Keys.

I remember being skeptical, right up to the time I explored that part of the bay and experienced the very fish Knowles had referred to. Over the years, this has become one of my favorite fishing areas because of the great fishing for redfish, trout, snook and other species, but also because it is such a beautiful and natural part of the bay.

The reason it was undeveloped and has remained that way until 2013 is due the fact that the land was being farmed by the Manatee Fruit Company, which grew flowers there. The recent recession kept development at bay since 2007.

It was not the perfect natural habitat, suffering from the partially treated sewage produced by Manatee County and used to water the flower fields. Seasonal rains would drive the wastewater into the bay and cause massive algae blooms.

Although this was painful to experience, the unnatural conditions would disappear after the rainy season and the grass beds and schools of fish would return as if they never left.

Now the property is being developed and is poised to be changed forever. This doesn’t have to be a negative for the grass flats, mangroves and fish, but if currently proposed amendments are approved that very scenario may be realized.

The developer, Larry Lieberman of the Berrington Group, has owned the property for 13 years, and in 2008, the Manatee County Commission approved a residential community for the area allowing the maximum number of units under the property's current zoning. Now the developer has approached the commission and requested a map amendment change to allow mixed-use development on the property. he also has requested a text amendment to the coastal and conservation elements of the county's comprehensive plan to allow additional construction.

This is disquieting because what was originally approved as a residential community could become a mixed-use development that would include a resort-quality, 300-berth marina that could accommodate boats as large as 100 feet long. A marina of this size would rival Marina Jack’s in Sarasota.

The developer is now requesting zoning changes and altered countywide environmental regulations that would allow it to build 1,086 single-family homes, 1,687 low-rise multi-family homes, 844 high-rise multi-family homes, a 300-room hotel and marina. If approved the changes could lead the way for intense development, but more troubling, it could mean the destruction of 20 to 40 acres of mangroves and the dredging of two acres of grass beds.

The development of Long Bar Pointe as originally approved, if done with an eye towards enhancing the natural habitat, could actually improve the water quality in the bay. The requested changes would be counter to the ambiance of coastal Manatee County and the nearby historic village of Cortez.

Residents who care about the natural integrity of Sarasota Bay should voice their opinion to the Manatee County Commission. Tropical Storm Andrea forced postponement of the June 6 commission action, so residents will now have a chance to weigh in when the commission meets on Aug. 6.

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