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Proposed St. Stephen's neighborhood change has residents up in arms


J. Robert Darcy has lived in the neighborhood around St. Stephen's High School since 1958, and now Darcy fears that the neighborhood will change for the worst.

At the Manatee County board of commissioners meeting March 4 in the county administration center, commissioners discussed the future of the Sugg devise, now a 7-acre park by St. Stephen's High School that once was owned by the late Dr. William Sugg.

A county attorney presented the results of his report at the meeting, and concluded that the county has little influence over what happens to the neighborhood. Moreover, he said St. Stephen's will likely determine how the land is used. St. Stephen's has requested to the city of Bradenton to reconfigure their football and soccer fields, including the addition of lights around the football field.

Darcy, as well as five other St. Stephen's community residents, feared that the plan would lower property values, increase pollution and sound, and create overflow parking throughout the neighborhood.

"When the board of county commissioners approved this athletic field, they approved it on the basis of no lighting," Darcy said. "And now we have no rights."

The commissioners agreed with a county attorney's recommendation to take no legal action, but will write a letter of concern to the city.

A special use permit is pending and scheduled to go before city council for determination March 10.

The county had permit use of the land dating back to 1971. The county provided a compatibility standard to the property adjacent to St. Stephen's High School that included a permit for no structures or lights.

"I don't feel the compatibility is being met," said board of county commissioner Joe McClash. "And I think it's quite shocking."

Sugg, in his will, intended the land to be a park, but last month the city planning commission approved the school's request to build new fields, lights and a gymnasium on the land.

In 1982, the issue came before the board of county commissioners, but the board renounced its interest in the property, and so it went to the school.

In 2003, the land was annexed to the city with no negotiation from the county. An attorney said that because of the way state legislation wrote the annexation law, annexation is partial to the city, and so the attorney recommended the board to not take further action.

"I believe the game changed in 2003 during the annexation," said Commissioner John Chappie, regarding the county not trying to negotiate with the city on the annexation.

The commission moved to write a letter to the city expressing its concerns regarding parking, noise levels, pollution, lighting, and compatibility.

"The culture and aesthetics of our neighborhood are being negatively affected," Mary Gallen said at the meeting. "As the ball field and activities are today, it's barely tolerable. If they put in lights, and all of the equipment they're going to have for the Jumbo-trons, and speakers, I can't imagine where the noise levels are going to go."


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