Aqua by the Bay review continues

Aqua Bay - View from Bay
Opponents of Aqua by the Bay have circulated this rendering of what the shoreline would look like with high-rise buildings. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON – Some county residents feel the Aqua by the Bay developers’ ever-changing plans are creating an elusive and moving target for county commissioners to rule on.

The Manatee County Commission will continue its review of the Aqua by the Bay general development plan and rezoning requests on Wednesday Aug. 23. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m., and another large turnout is expected.

During the Wednesday, Aug. 16 meeting that lasted more than eight hours, developer Carlos Beruff’s attorney, Ed Vogler, said his client was willing to remove from the plans, for now, four proposed 145-foot tall condominium buildings. Vogler said the developers and the commission could address those buildings as a separate request at a later date.

Vogler also said Beruff and his team would commit to a non-variable 50-foot wetlands buffer, instead of the variable wetlands buffer they presented at the Manatee County Planning Commission on Aug. 10.

The developers have still not presented the commission and the pubic with a diagram that indicates how many buildings over the allowed 35-foot height limit they are proposing, or where those buildings would be located.

County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino asked the developers to provide more specific information about traffic impacts, the proposed estuary enhancement retaining wall, the type of businesses that would be included in the proposed 78,000 feet of commercial space and whether the proposed 2,894 residential units would be owned and/or occupied by single families, seasonal residents, renters or vacation rental guests.

During public comment, Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board member and former county commissioner Jane von Hahmann said, “Wow, this is such a moving target. This is incomplete. It’s really hard to know and understand because basically we walked into a new design today, which is very frustrating to me.”

She also cited the land development code and said the developers have still not met its requirements.

“They’ve provided you with architectural drawings, but they haven’t provided you with relationships for all of the buildings on the property. And now that they’ve removed the 145s, I’m not sure how many additional buildings will be needed.”

Sierra Club representative Andy Mele also referenced a moving target. He held up a large poster board illustration that represented the skyline view he said would be the view from Sarasota Bay. He also held up a poster board that represented his estimate as to where all of the buildings over 35 feet would be located.

Native concerns

Native American Bobby Billie raised concerns he had not heard addressed yet: Native American burial grounds located on the Aqua by the Bay property.

Aqua Bay - Native Burials
Native American Bobby Billie, of the Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Regional people, says that Native American burial grounds are located on the Aqua by the Bay property. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Representing the Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Regional people, Billie said development in Florida is disturbing ancient burial grounds.

“There’s two burial sites here,” he said of the Aqua by the Bay property.

He also addressed the need to protect the environment and the animals and birds that occupy it for future generations of humans to enjoy.

“They only protect their own interests,” he said of developers.

Surprise speaker

At one pointing during the meeting, Vogler told the commission he’d subpoenaed someone to testify. This turned out to be former county Environmental Planning Section Manager Joel Christian. Christian supported the project as a county employee, but resigned in June after he was clocked going 80 mph on Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach, and then arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Speaking as a civilian, Christian reiterated his previous support for the project.

During the meeting recess that followed, Christian was seen smiling and chatting with Alec Hoffner, Beruff’s contracted environmental expert.