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Eminent domain approved to get land for Tara Boulevard bridge


BRADENTON - Thomas Covey said a bridge over the Braden River on Tara Boulevard will ruin a beautiful area of Manatee County.

See a map of the site
of the proposed bridge

"I don't know anyone who's in favor of it," he said.

His wife, Barbara, said she felt the commissioners who voted to approve the bridge, especially Donna Hayes, did not pay attention to their concerns about the bridge and its effect on their community.

The Manatee County Commission voted 5-2 on Tuesday to pursue eminent domain proceedings against Pat Neal to acquire the land for the bridge that would link Tara Boulevard to Honore Avenue and cross the Braden River.

The county has been contending with Neal over the price of the land, which he wants to sell to the county.

Commissioner Ron Getman said the bridge would create more traffic and more noise for the surrounding communities, but he added that it would complete the grid system and allow people there to head south without having to use I-75 or some of the other north-south roads in the area.

"I do support this because it's been on our long-range plan," he said. "But if we do pass this, we're going to have a lot of upset people."

Getman said the board should remember this day because not providing for the traffic system in future approvals creates problems for future decisions.

Commissioner Joe McClash said he supported the bridge at one time. It was not something that was planned back then, but there is no need for a bridge now, he said, since the area is built out and the roads are not over their capacity and there are other roads that were not there when he originally voted for the bridge.

"What's driving your decision, other than the connectivity?" he asked. "It's certainly not a level of service issue that I'm aware of." Connecting the area will create a bigger problem.

"Just because it was on a plan years ago doesn't make it right," McClash said.

Hayes said the bridge was in the 1989 comprehensive plan, the studies have been done and the bridge would be an important connector to the south, improving access to hospitals and speeding fire response times.

Commissioner Larry Bustle said that voting against this would be "kicking the can down the street," he said, and delaying a project that's already been delayed many times in the past. "It's been on the comprehensive plan for a long time," he said. "If it's not needed, why hasn't the board changed the comprehensive plan?"

"It's time to move ahead and transfer the property," he said. "Let's move ahead with what the plan says. If the plan is not right, let's move ahead and change the plan."

Hayes said the bridge is "very important to the community." She noted that she lives in that area and drives on Honore and keeps an eye on what happens there.

"One of the first issues I had to address was the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70," she said. "I had several residents of the Tara community come forth, and wanted to something as far as the traffic light and so forth. This was also the result of that horrendous traffic light" which killed a father.

"This particular bridge is going to relieve traffic out of that dysfunctional intersection, and that's exactly what it is," she said. "People should not have the necessity of going on State Road 70 when they really want to go south to University Parkway."

Also, she said, the environmental issues that have been addressed.

As for the residents in the community, Hayes added: "These residents in the community have a responsibility to do their due diligence, and I feel that we have made these plans available to them over and over again."

With nearly $1.4 million spent so far, it's a project that needs to be done, she said.

"For the safety of this county, I will be supporting this," Hayes said.

Peggy Crist said that she supports the bridge, though she said she has not felt afraid traveling on Tara Boulevard. "I believe that this bridge would be a wonderful enhancement to the area" that would provide access to Sarasota without having to use the Interstate.

But other area residents were adamant that the bridge would be destructive to their community, the environment and the wildlife they say they've seen in the area.

The project is not on the Capital Improvement Plan, said Cathy Wooley, who said she was a director and board member of the Tara Golf and Country Club, and should not even be on the agenda. There are better uses for the money, she added, like block grants and other roads. Since the county has no plans to use the land, she said, it's not a good use of county money.

"We do not think the length of the plans still means that the action is needed," she said. "We believe the prior council, and the prior commissions, took this item off the CIP for a reason and that we are rehashing old history here."

Ray McCrae said that the bridge is based on a 20-year-old traffic plan in an area where much has changed in 20 years. Not only that, it might be 10 years before the bridge is built, meaning the traffic plan would be 30 years old by the time the bridge is built. By that time, I-75 will have more lanes, he said, so the bridge isn't going to be needed.

Property values would be affected, Maynard David said, and so would community life it Tara. A bridge might have been a good idea back in 1989, he said, but that changed because of the extension of Honore Avenue, Lockwood Ridge Road, Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road. "We are dealing with something that is no longer needed in this community," he said. People in the communities in the area all have great road access to go anywhere, David said, and don't need a bridge for better access. "Nobody is isolated in this particular area," he said.

Harold Sheridan expressed concern about the environmental impact of the bridge and asked that the commissioners vote no. "Nobody has taken into consideration the things that could possibly happen with the Braden River, which supplies drinking water to Bradenton," he said. "They just don't understand that this water is so close to Honore Avenue as it is that we don't need anything else to pollute it or destroy it."

In addition, there are "sanitation engineers" that keep the roads clear: in other words, buzzards, he said to some laughter in the chambers. We hope that this property could have other things happen besides development. "We would like to see it kept pristine," he said, citing sightings of gopher tortoises, whose burrows are used by other animals. Also on the property are eagles, kites, hawks, woodpeckers and other wildlife, including bobcats, he said.

The land should be a nature preserve, said Linda Jones, and it's the last little green space on Honore Avenue. "It's wetlands and heavily forested," she said. "It's beautiful, old Florida with enormous old growth trees."

"This land should be preserved in its natural and undisturbed state," Jones concluded.

People have opposed this project, she said, and they were told it would be put on a long-term delay. The University Park Country Club's neighborhood chairs voted to express their opposition, Jones said.

"What we would like is to create a Braden River nature preserve," she said. "It would be the ideal and best use of this land."

After the motion carried and the session was adjourned, Caroline Primus said the county was wasting its money. "It's very disappointing because it's going to lead to a bridge that's going to lead to the destruction of several neighborhoods," she said.

"All you have to do is walk through that area, and it is beautiful the way it is," Thomas Covey said.

So why did the commissioners vote for it? "I don't know. I think she's looking for more votes," he said, referring to Hayes. "But she's not going to get it."

Barbara Covey added that there is no longer a need for the bridge. "That use is long gone," she said.


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