BRADENTON -- A sand-filled, rolling former golf course that sits at the hurting heart of the large Village Green community near 75th St. and Manatee Ave will be transformed into a 160-unit subdivision of duplex "patio villa" homes under two approvals granted to Neal Communities Wednesday morning by the Bradenton City Council.
While several residents of Village Green, a well-maintained community whose only issues seem to be an occasional under-watered lawn and many underwater homes, came forward to express approval for the revised 2006 plan that called for cookie-cutter single-family homes, there was opposition from a trio of men and several other neighbors whose properties ring the former golf course.
The main changes to the property between 2006 and now are that the single-family homes will become what Neal calls "paired villas," or duplexes, with separate owners. While only single-family homes were built around the former golf course, a contractor pointed out numerous duplex homes in the Village Green community, but closer to Manatee Ave.
One owner near the former golf course, James Johnston, said he paid $305,000 for his home there five years ago and has seen its value plummet to $150,000 today. Homeowners who bought 20 years ago don't feel that pain, he indicated.
Johnston said he fears the duplexes may further depress the values, but would not guess by how much.
Neal, however, addressed that concern in his closing remarks to the council. He said recent sales of homes in Village Green have been as low as $89,999, while his homes will be selling "in the $150,000 range." Other Neal Communities recently approved in a remote part of Manatee County were initially offered for as low as $110,000 and were derided as "sprawl" at a recent Manatee County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Other residents unrelated to Johnston, including a man across the street from him he hasn't met before named Sam Johnston, and a third man named Fritz Johnson, all addressed the council in opposition.
Neal's landscape architect and Manatee County School Board chairman Bob Gause was one of five or six who spoke in favor of it. He called the empty lot a "nasty golf course." He praised Neal as a thoughtful and detail-oriented developer who keeps his promises.
Gause gave a Bradenton Times reporter a tour of the eyesore of a golf course that has been a frequent source of complaints for at least two council members since it was abandoned six years ago. It had recently been mowed but remained singularly unattractive.
There will be no on-street parking, and some homes will have zero property lines and "variable buffer" back yards. The overall effect, council members said said, seems to be a much more interesting, spacious site plan. The old plan was "unattractive, uncreative and unsightly - and I voted for it," Ward IV councilman Bemis Smith said.
An existing gateway on 11th St. will be used for construction access, while an emergency exit and access is on 18th St. That tiny access road won't be used, Neal said, in keeping with a promise he made to a woman who owns property beside it.
A drainage ditch and tall power lines will also have to be changed. It is too expensive to underground the lines, Neal aide Lisa Weintraub explained. Gause said that burying the lines can also cause heat issues with the 138kv transmission lines, so only the smaller distribution lines are usually buried. He said several large, old trees with vast, leafy green canopies at the side of the golf course may have to be bulldozed due to state ground water rules.
In his first project 40 years ago, Neal - who has now built 53 communities and sold more than 8,000 homes - zealously guarded existing trees. In his Tanglewood project on 59th St, West, Old Florida-style homes were constructed with native trees left standing and roads built around them. Gause said state planners have made certain such communities can never be built again due to new regulations involving fill, drainage, ponds and ground and storm water. Tanglewood solved those problems with a drainage ditch.
Dale Weidemiller, a Neal VP, was loaned to the city's Downtown Development Authority tax-increment district by his boss to help it develop River Walk, the big new $6.7-million project the city hopes to bring new attention and economic vibrancy to the downtown.
Weidemiller brought professional development expertise to the authority, where artists and the Manatee Players theater group have played significant roles. Asked if the unanimous approval for the Seasons at Village Green project stemmed from his help to the DDA, Weidemiller demurred.
"It's always good to help the community," he said.