Manatee County: The year in review

Aqua by the Bay
Aqua by the Bay opponents Joe McClash and Kathe Fannon presented this 3D model of the Aqua by the Bay development to County Commissioners in August. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

MANATEE COUNTY – Aqua by the Bay, the loss of Manatee County’s beloved mascot, Snooty, the removal of a Confederate monument, the proposed Hunters Point development and Hurricane Irma were among the top county stories of 2017.

Aqua by the Bay

The commission approvals and the approval process are now being challenged in a lawsuit filed by Suncoast Waterkeeper Director Joe McClash and others in November. The commission approvals allow for 16 95-foot-tall condo buildings, an unspecified number of additional 36- to 75-foot-tall residential buildings and 2,894 residential units.

The plans include 78,000 square feet of commercial space and a man-made Crystal Lagoon with artificial beaches. The plans reference private docks but no longer include a man-made estuary enhancement area and retaining wall along the Sarasota Bay shoreline. After several public hearings and multiple plan revisions dating back to 2013, Manatee County Commissioners voted 7-0 on Oct. 3 to approve Carlos Beruff’s Aqua by the Bay development plans and rezoning requests.

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Aqua by the Bay approval challenged

Aqua by the Bay protesters voice concerns

Aqua campaign contributions to county commissioners

In December, McClash also asked the administrative judge presiding over a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings proceeding to recommend denial of Beruff’s request for a state-issued mangrove and seagrass mitigation bank that would allow the removal of coastal mangroves and seagrasses and potentially allow for the marina Beruff removed from his plans in 2013.

Snooty’s death

Manatee County’s official mascot, Snooty the manatee, was discovered drowned the morning of Sunday, July 23, the day after his gala birthday party and two days after his 69th birthday. He was trapped in a small area used to access the aquarium’s life support equipment, according to museum officials, who said he entered through a dislodged access panel secured by four screws and inspected daily by divers.

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Museum admits fault in Snooty’s death

Snooty cause may be headed for courts

Museum investigates Snooty’s death

Bye bye, Baby Snoots

After protests, South Florida Museum officials later admitted fault, saying Snooty drowned due to human error, including poor communication, deficient record keeping and lack of staff and volunteer training. Aquarium director Marilyn Margold no longer works at the museum.

Snooty lived in Manatee County since 1949, making thousands of people happy and teaching them about his imperiled species.

Confederate monument

In December, County Commissioners learned it will cost an estimated $41,500 to repair and relocate the Confederate monument removed from the courthouse square in downtown Bradenton in late August. Erected in 1914, the memorial monument was removed by order of the commission due to concerns about public safety after a large protest rally occurred near the monument.

Related coverage:

Letter affirms Confederate monument opposition

Confederate monument damaged in move

Monument will be moved

In October, the Manatee County Veterans Council declared its opposition to the stored monument being relocated to Veterans Park near the Bradenton Riverwalk. County officials are awaiting word from state officials about possibly placing the monument at the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton.

Manatee Confederate Monument
County commissioners ordered this Confederate monument removed in late August. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Hunters Point

In December, the Manatee County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of developer Marshal Gobuty’s plans to build his renewable energy-inspired Hunters Point Resort and Marina along Cortez Road.

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Canal ownership presents unique situation

Hunters Point plans revealed

On Jan. 11, Gobuty will present his plans to county commissioners in hopes of winning approval for a project proposing 86 cottage homes, 62 lodge-style hotel rooms, a restaurant, clubhouse, marina and 31 parallel boat slips along the canal he owns.

Hunters Point Cottage
The plans for the Hunters Point Resort and Marina development include 86 cottage homes. – Hunters Point Resort and Marina | Submitted

Traffic and bridges

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) recently reconfigured the traffic pattern at the intersection of Cortez Road and 119th Street West. The intersection now features a reconfigured left turn lane for west bound traffic and a reconfigured left turn lane for traffic turning left out of Harbour Landings.

In October, the U.S. Coast Guard reduced the openings of the Anna Maria Island Bridge and Cortez Bridge to twice an hour year-round.

Related coverage:

Bridges to open less frequently

FDOT changes 119th Street plans

No answer yet on Cortez Bridge

FDOT has decided a 65-foot-tall fixed-span bridge will one day replace the Anna Maria Island Bridge on Manatee Avenue. FDOT has not yet determined whether the Cortez Bridge will be replaced with a higher drawbridge or an even higher fixed-span bridge. That decision is expected early in 2018.

Cortez Intersection
FDOT recently reconfigured the intersection at Cortez Road and 119th Street West. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Hurricane cleanup

In September, Hurricane Irma left its mark on Cortez with downed trees and power lines and significant damage to the exterior facade at the Cortez Bait & Seafood Fish Market on Cortez Road.

Many residents and property owners in unincorporated Manatee County then experienced lengthy delays regarding the county-contracted removal of hurricane debris.

Related content:

Island escapes Irma-geddon

On Dec. 1, Utilities Deputy Director Gus DiFonzo informed county officials that 90 percent of the debris had been collected and the target date for completion was Dec. 18. DiFonzo estimated the cost of the debris removal to be $13.7 million and the county’s final cost after FEMA reimbursement could reach $5 million.

Irma Damage Cortez
In September, Hurricane Irma ripped the exterior facade off the Cortez Bait & Seafood Fish Market. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Hunzeker staying

In December 2016, County Commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of conducting a nationwide search to replace County Administrator Ed Hunzeker when his contract expires on Jan. 29, 2018.

In September, three of the four commissioners who supported that idea changed their minds and the commission voted 6-0, with one commissioner absent, to renew Hunzeker’s contract until Jan. 29, 2019.

Hunzeker renewed
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker is sticking around for another year. – Manatee County | Submitted

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Pier closure tops Anna Maria stories in 2017

A memorable year in Bradenton Beach

Looking back at 2017 in Holmes Beach





– Cindy Lane contributed to this report