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Manatee commissioners reject Ellenton rezoning request


BRADENTON - Members of the Ridgewood Meadows Condominium Association see their future as a bit more secure today.

Residents in red shirts in the County Commission chambers
Residents of the Ridgewood Meadows and Colony Cove developments in Ellenton wore red shirts to the meeting Thursday.

The Manatee County Commission voted 6-1 Thursday to pass a motion denying a zoning change for a developer who wanted to build an apartment complex in what was planned and advertised in the past as the third phase of a retirement manufactured home community in Ellenton. Commissioner Donna Hayes cast the dissenting vote.

Residents of Ridgewood Meadows were joined by people from Colony Cove, a nearby development of manufactured homes for ages 55 and up that is also on Victory Road in Ellenton. They all wore red to the meeting to protest the planned complex. They filled the commission chambers to overflowing and had to be warned a couple of times by County Commission chairman Dr. Gwendolyn Brown to not applaud or express derision during presentations and comments.

The mood after the vote was decidedly upbeat, and the residents let out a cheer after Brown announced that the motion to deny the rezoning had passed.

Other actions by the County Commission

As residents rushed toward the exits, James Tracy of Colony Cove North stopped to say he had opposed the project because of concerns over traffic and what he said are the problems being caused by people who are coming into his community but do not live there.

Still, he noted, "I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. I was surprised by the vote. I thought the council would be very much more split. We're very happy."

Todd Pressman, the attorney for J. Chris Scherer, the owner of the land, said residents let emotion trump facts.

"When we brought it through three or four months ago, it came to rave reviews," he said. "Nothing's changed, except red shirts. Unfortunately, sometimes these issues become emotion versus fact. Sometimes emotion wins, sometimes they stick to the facts."

The site on Victory Road
The site on Victory Road. Click on the image for a bigger view.

Mike Oatman, a resident of Ridgewood Meadows, said he thought the commission made the right decision.

"I think it was very appropriate," he said. "I think it was a decision that needed to be made. I don't think that is the location for the apartment building."

As for the property's future, he said, "I'm sure we're always worried what might go in there, but I think we will have to fight that just like we fought this. It's not appropriate and we came out to fight it for that reason."

The issue of whether the planned apartment complex was appropriate for the area informed most of the debate and presentations to the commissioners. Pressman, the developer's representative, said in his presentation that the apartment complex was appropriate and, showing pictures of the property and drawings of the proposed complex, said it would actually be less dense than the current developments.

Pressman told the commission that the land surrounding the site is Res-9, and in fact the change that they were requesting was for Res-8.6. He said that 25 percent of the land would be built on, and that 75 percent would mostly be left alone.

He said the developer has done everything that people in the Ridgewood Hometown development and the planning department had requested, and that there would be a "significant buffer between uses."

Richard Stiles, a traffic consultant, said that the county approved the traffic study for the site, and it would meet future level of service standards, even allowing for background travel on U.S. 301.

Steve Allison, an urban planner, said the complex would be "an appropriate form of infill development" and would help decrease sprawl in the area.

For the Ridgewood residents, attorney Keith Poliakoff told the commissioners that the new development would be a "life-changing project for this community."

He said that one buyer who bought his house in 1985 was persuaded to buy because of brochures that promised a second and third phase that would be like the first. It was developed in the 1980s as part of three senior-living communities, and the third phase was supposed to follow the pattern of being age 21-and-over at first, then 55-and-over in the mid-1990s, deed-restricted communities.

"How can you now violate that existing development pattern?" Poliakoff asked. "The people here bought into a particular lifestyle. Please don't change that lifestyle."

A map shows the site of the proposed development
A map shows the site of the development and the zoning of the surrounding area. Click on the image for a bigger image.

In addition to traffic concerns, residents in the public comment portion of the meeting expressed concern about crime and said they had seen problems develop because of a nearby apartment complex.

Another big issue was the feeling that faith was being broken with the plan to build an apartment complex, even if it wasn't an affordable development, and that the new development would destroy their community and lifestyle.

Kevin Smith of Colony Cove said the recent changes in the area have been negative for his community.

"I moved to this area from Orlando to escape congestion," he said, and then developers started building houses, leaving longtime homeowners with higher taxes and crowded roads.

"Now affordable retirement communities are a thing of the past," Smith said. "This change is a detriment to existing homeowners."

In their comment period, commissioners also brought up questions of suitability. Commissioner Joe McClash said that part of the county was intended as a place where senior citizens would live. What's more important than compatibility, he said, is keeping a promise to people.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the big problem for her was access to the property. "I like this project," she said. "I don't like where it is."

"It's not compatible," Whitmore said.

The big concern, she said, is that not approving the change would mean that something else could go there without the approval of the County Commission, and that could be 112 residential mobile homes.

Commissioner John Chappie said the increase in density concerned him. "I don't feel this project is the project for this location," he said. "This is a unique area. It is a major part of Manatee County history."

Commissioner Larry Bustle, however, said he didn't believe that higher density would necessarily mean more crime. "I also don't believe that the sound of a child's voice, even if it's coming across an eight-foot wall, is bad," he said.

The charge for the commissioners and citizens, he said, is to plan for growth, and not stop it, and that he wasn't in favor of stopping growth.

"I really believe that the people in the mobile home parks are not even going to know that that development is there," he said to a rumble of disapproval from the residents.

Brown expressed her concern that some people were spreading the message that apartments and children would lead to problems with crime and vandalism. "I think this is an excellent project," she said. "The problem is where it's going to be located. It's not the right place."

Hayes said, "Nobody likes change. I like the way things were 35 years ago. But it's not going to happen. No community is going to be identical to your community."

Chappie said the timing may be wrong and the complex is in the wrong location.

Commissioner Ron Getman said he thought the complex is in the wrong location, too. But he warned the residents, "You're not the first group to come in here to oppose something," because they might see something that they dislike more in the future.

As for the next step on the property, Pressman, Scherer's attorney, said the residents had control of the land's future, but they've lost it and the next use for the land will be less desirable for them.

"What's next for this site is probably a use that is going to be unfortunately most of the things the residents don't want, which is traffic through their main roadways and a type of people and development that they don't want," he said. "And they will have absolutely zero control on it."


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