Long Bar Pointe: Showdown at the Convention Center
BRADENTON -- What do you get when you fill 1,200 seats with 12 hours of greed vs. common sense? A civics lesson: to the victor go the spoils.There is, however, reason to revel in celebration of the citizens who showed up at the Bradenton Area Convention Center for the marathon land use meeting that journeyed from Tuesday afternoon into early Wednesday morning. They demonstrated that they too were a force to be reckoned with.
The BOCC moved the Aug. 6, land use meeting from the county administration building to the convention center in order to accommodate a predicted thousand or so citizens in opposition to the Long Bar Pointe (LBP) project. The county failed to make adequate seating arrangements, however, and more than 100 were left standing.
The applicants, Carlos Beruff and Larry Liberman, got the approval for the future use map amendment change (res-9 to mixed-use) they had requested, but only after removing language about a marina. The Comprehensive Plan change they had also solicited, a text amendment regarding the development of coastal waterways, failed.
Most of the commissioners had agreed to keep the sea grass and mangroves protected, and building a marina would require dredging and mangrove removal, so that became the only deal breaker and enough for a majority of commissioners to sign on for more aggressive development than the project had previously been approved for.
The map amendment was approved, 4 to 3, DiSabatino, Gallen and Chappie dissenting.
As for the Comp Plan Text amendment change request, there wasn't any compromise. The vote was 7 - 0 to deny, but that doesn't mean those commissioners beholden to Medallion Homes owner Carlos Beruff didn't try to give him all he asked for, attempting to redefine each term to fit Beruff's dream design.
Commissioner Betsy Benac, whose 2012 election to the board was sponsored chiefly by Beruff, quickly filled that role.
But the admiration for Tuesday goes to a force that isn't seen often enough at the BOCC: an organized, well informed and articulate public.
Of the nearly 150 citizens who signed up to comment, only a few failed to deliver an astute perspective that related to their concerns surrounding projects like LBP and the health of Sarasota Bay. Four out of five speakers were against the proposal, citing traffic, noise, pollution, regulations, wildlife and a rainbow of environmental issues.
Here are just some of the comments by concerned citizens:
Glenn Compton (Manasota 88): "This should be a project that addresses the original Comp Plan. Changing the plan to fit the project is a real travesty."
Matt Bower (Boat Captain): "Fishing enthusiasts and charter captains like myself can't even entertain the idea of dredging the sea beds - it's unacceptable."
Terri Wonder: "Fishing needs to maintain its rural character to survive. Urbanization not only destroys natural property, but also causes competition for property and increases property taxes."
Kathy Pepper: "Manatees don't have a voice. It would be a shame for a county named Manatee to not have any."
Nancy Rowse Dean: "It is not in the public interest to destroy natural habitats that support wildlife, the existence of which is a major tourist draw and source of business income for Manatee County, as well as a vital element to the quality of life."
Dr. Karen Hensel (Career marine educator): "At some point we have to acknowledge that humans are not capable of restoring or improving upon what nature has taken millions of years to develop."
Jim Stevenson (President local Audubon): "Sarasota county makes $350 million annually from eco tourism. Beruff is like a very smart camel getting his nose under the tent, and given the chance will take over the town."
Kathe Fannon ( Boat Charter Captain Guide): "Not one time in my 14 years as a guide did anyone request to see a five star hotel."
Joe McClash (former-Manatee County Commissioner): "The amendments would destroy environmental protection policies in our Comprehensive Plan that has allowed a balance of development and protection of natural resources." Click here to see the slide show presented by McClash regarding the map amendment.
Jaime Canfield (Realtor): "How do you know when you hit the tipping point, a pivotal moment or the fork in the road? It is crazy. The only thing environmental regulations do now, is regulate environmentalists?"
The heartfelt notions and wisdom that kept echoing through the room were inspirational, and appeared to come from a sense of duty by many who spoke. At no other time have I seen so many, from so many lifestyles and occupations, armed with genuine concerns and factual data; in unity, in solidarity, against a project.
Chairman Bustle appeared to be in competition with Commissioner Benac over who could be more generous to the applicants (Beruff & Liberman). Benac came to Beruff's defense at nearly every opportunity.
Bustle had a more obvious technique to his kowtowing. He let the applicants and their team parade their wares for over an hour, never suggesting they hurry up or restricting what they said. But when those objecting to the project would speak, he was quick to interrupt when the timer buzzed, telling many to cut it short. Not something he practiced with any of the speakers who supported the project.
Bustle went so far as to scold opponents for mentioning another project in comparison, saying, "Lets keep it about and on this project, not some other one."
Yet the applicants mentioned, displayed and used the figures of several projects to describe their own in comparison frequently during their presentation. The term double standard comes to mind.
Nancy Dean was cut off by Bustle four times for mentioning other projects, or for displaying a picture that wasn't the project before the board.
Ironically, one of projects Dean mentioned was a Destin project the applicants had referred to earlier.
Bustle had no problem allowing the applicant to display pictures from locations all over the world, and artist drawings that didn't belong to any set of plans. There was also the questionable order of speakers. Some of the most strongly supported members of the public like Manatee 88's Glenn Compton and former county commissioners Jane von Hahmann and Joe McClash were all called to the dais late in the wee hours of the meeting.
Tuesday night's meeting tortuously struggled to find a way to get Beruff and Lieberman approved for the map change, so much so that Commissioner Whitmore all but begged Beruff to drop the idea of having a marina.
Seeing the possibility of being denied, the applicant finally said they would drop the marina references from their request.
At just after 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, the commission voted to approve the map change for the LBP project, sans the marina language.
There are still a series of approvals to overcome, and it could take years before the project can be completed. Still, there remains a range of options that one day could return the marina to the mix. Only time will tell. Does Carlos Beruff get what he wants when going before the Manatee BOCC? Usually, but not all at once and not this time.
All hats off to Commissioners DiSabatino, Gallen and Chappie for not caving to the powers that have often guided the commission, and most of all to the teams of citizens who have now shown the BOCC, that they are the new kid in town.