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Guest Opinion

Boat Ramp Parking or Dense Development?


Do you enjoy the waterfront amenities that Manatee County has to offer? Did you possibly even move here because of them? Do you enjoy the regatta boat races, festivals, and fishing tournaments hosted by the city at Riverside Park?

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, especially a boater, you should know what’s going on in the City of Palmetto and how it affects you as a resident of Manatee County.

We are a community with over 25,000 registered boats (2021 FLHSMV statistics), yet we have a mere 250 permanent parking spaces at county and city boat ramps combined—an enormous deficit. The county’s only new boat ramp project on the books is approximately three years away and will add 88 parking spots with four launch spots in West Bradenton. The average boat ramp project takes four to six years. It has become more and more difficult to move forward with any new waterfront projects since our shores are shallow, most with sea grasses to consider. This requires multiple layers of government agency approvals and is timely and costly if obtainable.

Weigh this out against the amount of people moving into our county daily.

In 2011, Manatee County and the Palmetto CRA began planning to renovate and expand the Riverside Boat Ramp and Riverside Park. The Palmetto CRA also planned a mixed-use development, including 48 permanent parking spots for the boaters on the lot across from the boat ramp (834 Riverside Dr) via an inter-local agreement with the county.

In this inter-local agreement, the CRA would grant easement to the public for parking and the county would continue to maintain the boat ramp as a free recreational amenity for 30 years. The correspondence between the county and the city in October of 2011 clearly states the city of Palmetto acknowledged the parking shortage for the boat ramp, which was why they were anxious to move the project forward.

The inter-local Agreement did not get signed by the deadline.

The Palmetto Riverside Boat Ramp expansion was approved and completed in 2015 at a cost of $1.2 million. The cost was shared by Palmetto’s CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency), WCIND (West Coast Inland Navigation District), Southwest Florida Water District, and Florida Municipal Insurance Trust. The expansion added an additional launch (from two to three ramps), improved flow for the ramp, additional parking for Riverside Park, and 18 parking spots for boaters. The project was touted to be the best boat ramp in Manatee County, if not the state, and it has provided much-needed water access for the many families who depend on these ramps for recreational purposes and to put food on local tables.

The lot across the street from the boat ramp (834 Riverside Dr., 3.4 acres) has continued to be used for parking for boaters with up to 100 spaces and has allowed the city of Palmetto to host and profit from some of the biggest and best events in this area, as it costs $10,000/day to close the boat ramp and a minimum of $900 per day for the use of Riverside Park. There is also the the influx of people spending money at the city’s existing businesses.

Following the approval of the buyer for the lot in June of this year, the CRA fenced off the property. The diminished influx of boaters has caused one local business owner to cancel expansion plans due to an immediate 20-30% decrease in business.

The Palmetto CRA is in final negotiations to sell the land to a developer with a history of large high-rise projects. They have developed portions of Coral Gables, Miami, and Orlando, and currently have six projects underway in St.Petersburg with at least that many completed in St.Petersburg already. This developer doesn’t come into your town for one project, they come in to build it out.

In the developer's conceptual renderings, the project would bring to an already highly congested area seven stories of luxury apartments (not the multi-family units previously stated), 186 residential units, 4,000 sq ft of retail on 4th St. W with on-street parking, two restaurants adjacent to the boat ramp which plan to share the cities current parking on Riverside drive.

A parking garage that enters and exits into the middle of this block onto 8th Ave W. currently has no turning lane. This conceptual rendering included the .77-acre restaurant property at the corner of 8th Ave W. & 4th St W. However, it does not include the addition of the 1.1 acres they are trying to purchase at the corner of 9th Ave W & 4th St W. If the additional 1.1 acres are purchased, the project will encompass the entire city block.

With no conceptual renderings or written plans, should the city approve this plan?

Purchase Agreement Details:
Purchase Price: $2.95 million
Requires rezoning and comprehensive plan amendments for higher density.
8-12% tax credits of Total Construction Cost (Ex: $25 million construction cost @12% credits = $3 million, making the land essentially free.
Up to 80% reimbursement of the annual tax increment generated by the project upon issuance of a final CO (certificate of occupancy) for up to 15 years.

We have been told the tax revenue from this project would fund future projects and keep the city from raising taxes, how is this possible with these incentives?

The purchase agreement is making its way through the city (agreement link) currently and will be reviewed for recommendation by the CRA Advisory Board on January 4, then onto the January 8 Palmetto City Commission meeting for a vote by the CRA Board which is made up of the city commissioners (the city commission is also the CRA board).

What do you want to see for the future of Palmetto's historic district and its most valuable waterfront properties? Would capitalizing on Riverside Park serve our community better?

This feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath us. Imagine buying a home in a community because of the amenities they have. Then the amenities, maybe a pool, clubhouse, and pickleball courts are taken away, and the land is sold to a developer who comes in and puts up high rises.

After communicating with hundreds of residents, it is my opinion that this is how most of them feel.

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  • WTF

    Elaine, great comment, unfortunately our elected officials are brainwashed about development. They only look for what's in it form them in the short term, more real estate tax monies from over development. They have no vision in the larger picture of what we should be leaving to future generations to come. Slam, bam, done deal should be their mission statement. Have a boat protest peacefully and disrupt rush hour traffic a few days your results should have a better outcome than where the boaters are now.

    I believe that Gandhi was correct. Non-violent civil disobedience is the only way to bring about change that allows people to enjoy the change and not get killed in the process.

    Edward James Olmos

    Sunday, December 24, 2023 Report this

  • klmsinc

    This is a serious question.

    I've lived in Pinellas and Manatee my whole life thus far and I really can't recall when the County and Local Governments became Real Estate Companies. It seems that somewhere in the 90's officials started to buy, swap, and sell properties so that money could be made to fund projects at a later date. But now it seems to be done to manipulate development to be what the officials want ie Sarasota County and the Celery Fields.

    It has become such a practice that I think it is widely accepted. As a Business Man I know once said, "I pay taxes top put myself out of business. I pay for Manatee County to have employees that build buildings and add ons that the private sector should be building." The same goes for vehicle maintenance, etc.

    Sure it is good sense to be self sufficient but I really was under the impression that Government was there to police and direct rather than to be the almighty staff. Suggesting and pointing out what the Law is rather than swiftly rubbing somebodies nose into whatever the allegations are.

    Just an observation I wish to verbalize or attempt to verbalize so that I can understand a trend that seems to be getting out of hand. Thank you and Merry Christmas

    Sunday, December 24, 2023 Report this