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Elwood Park Residents Celebrate Townhouse Development Denial


MANATEE COUNTY — Residents of a small rural agricultural community in Manatee County are celebrating after Manatee County Commissioners voted 6-1 to deny a proposed townhome development in their community.

Elwood Park is a micro-community of homesteaders, farmers, business owners, and a small church, whose rural agricultural roots date back more than 100 years. Thursday’s land use meeting was not the first time residents of the neighborhood organized themselves in an effort to preserve the community they love.

In Dec. 2022, county commissioners denied a separate applicant request for Jordan Creek at Manatee which would have brought 56 attached (duplex) villas to roughly 19 acres near the intersection of Elwood Park Road and 39th Street East.

At Thursday’s meeting, applicant Stephen Novacki of Eastwind Development requested a rezone of just under 25 acres at the northeast corner of 44th Avenue East and 45th Street East in Elwood Park. The requested rezoning would change five parcels from Agricultural Suburban (A-1) to Planned Development Mixed-Use (PDMU). An approval of the rezoning request and proposed development would have brought at least 220 multi-family residential townhome units and a potential maximum of 20,000 square feet of commercial space to Elwood.

The presentation by representatives of the developer showed that the commercial space would “likely” be utilized for a future daycare or preschool.

Eastwind Development has developed at least 20 other similar townhome communities throughout the state, including in Juniper, Jacksonville, Davenport, West Palm Beach, Daytona, Kissimmee, and nearer to Bradenton in Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch.

The same request and proposal for the Townhomes at Westbridge development went before the county’s planning commission just two weeks earlier on Aug. 10, but the planning commission declined to recommend its approval to the BOCC in a 3-1 vote.

More than a dozen Elwood Park residents who made public comments during both the planning commission meeting, and Thursday’s land use meeting, said they believed that the proposed density and type of development was not a “good fit” for the AG community and threatened the neighborhood’s long-maintained rural culture.

On Thursday, representatives of the applicant told commissioners that the monthly rent of the proposed townhomes would be beneficial to the location during a time when the area is seeing an increased need for housing. Units would rent monthly at $2,890 with 10 percent of the townhomes guaranteed as workforce housing units (22 units) at a lesser rate of $2,300 per month, for 20 years.

Some area residents who spoke in opposition during the meetings' public comments portion, argued that neither the base rent nor the workforce housing rent was a suitable rent accommodation compared to the area’s median income.

The developer’s presentation also argued that recent and future improvements to 44th Avenue East, which borders Elwood Park, provide infrastructure improvement supportive of approval at the requested location.

Because 44th Avenue East has been upgraded to four lanes, the arterial road provided justification for compatibility, said the developer's representatives.

However, the argument appeared not enough to persuade commissioners.

District 2 Commissioner Amanda Ballard—Elwood Park lies within District Two—said her familiarity with the surrounding area and the community of Elwood Park meant she could not support an approval.

Ballard said that in her opinion, the development would not be a “reasonable transition” going from agricultural large lots to higher-density townhomes. Ballard said an approval would be in conflict with Elwood Park’s existing character and culture.

“The project is lovely, it's very pretty,” Ballard explained. “But if you know the neighborhood at all, it's completely incompatible. It doesn't fit. You have horseback riding, farms, small businesses, and horticulture. This is outside the realm of what would be appropriate and compatible.”

Ballard added that as the district commissioner of Elwood’s residents, she is committed to “preserving this gem in our community.”

Commissioner George Kruse agreed with Ballard while noting the project was “thoughtful” and a “good” proposed development in itself. Kruse, who has been a consistent advocate for the development of workforce housing, said he appreciated many of the details of the proposal but did not support its location in Elwood Park.

“While I like the project,” Kruse said, “I don’t like the location.”

Without hesitation, Ballard made a motion to deny the rezoning request, and Kruse seconded the motion. Put to a vote, the board agreed 6-1 on denial, with only Commissioner Ray Turner in opposition of denial.

A few citizens had appeared during public comment to address the board, speaking in support of approval. The lesser voices in support contrasted the concerns expressed by their many neighbors.

Residents React 

Following the meeting and vote, TBT reached Janyel and John Taylor via email to get their reactions to the commissioners' decision.

Janyel Taylor
, whose family has been residents of Elwood for nearly 40 years, gave a 10-minute presentation during Thursday’s meeting meticulously laying out the reasons she felt the commissioners should deny approval. John, her husband, also gave public comment on Thursday.

In an email, Janyel told TBT that she feels the denial “solidified that the county sees the value of what Elwood Park is, as much as the community members do.”

“Our community is based on relationships with others and the love of the land. We don't need a ‘luxury amenity center’ or governing HOA to bring us all together,” she added.

Referencing previous development proposals, Mrs. Taylor said that the last three years residents have spent advocating to preserve the Elwood Park neighborhood against incompatible development has further unified the small Ag-community’s residents.

“This amazing community of people took the torch from community members like Susan Weisenborn and Steve Brooks, who worked hard to preserve the community over twenty years ago,” she wrote. “That's the remarkable part, for generations Elwood Park has valued its root of community, love of the land, and agriculture. This vote is only the beginning for us.”

Taylor said Elwood residents are looking forward to the opening of a community garden and are working with county officials toward the creation of an overlay district to help protect and preserve the neighborhood. 

For his part, John Taylor told TBT that for him Thursday’s vote means the residents of Elwood Park—through their continued advocacy—might have an opportunity to have more input and control over the future of their neighborhood.

“Elwood Park isn't going anywhere and the community wants to connect with its neighbors, not build a wall to separate our living differences,” Mr. Taylor added in his emailed comments.

Another Elwood Park resident, John Rachide, also spoke to TBT via email. Rachide has resided in the Elwood Park neighborhood for more than three years and is a 40-year resident of Manatee County. He gave public comment alongside many of his neighbors on Thursday and had also appeared in person to speak last year against a similarly proposed higher-density development.

Rachide told TBT that he believes his and his neighbor’s organizing and advocacy efforts have played a significant role in preserving the neighborhood. Rachide said that residents understand that the county’s planning commission and BOCC need to hear from community members—whether from Elwood Park or Manatee County as a whole—on important development decisions that come before them.

Without input from affected residents, the Planning Commission and BoCC will only hear the story as told by the developer and the county planning staff. These are all good people, but they have singular perspectives,” Rachide explained.

“Being organized, working as a team, and advocating for logical development are the tools that citizens can use to protect their quality of life—learning the rules of development and the process used by the government to approve or deny projects is vital,” he added.

Rachide emphasized that the goal of the Elwood Park residents is not to stop development altogether, but rather to encourage development that “fits” well into their community. 

“Each area of the county has its own personality, the type of development that would be compatible with Lakewood Ranch or Oneco is not going to be the same kind of development that works for Elwood Park,” he concluded.

The residents of Elwood Park are recognizable during commission meetings, as they fill chamber seats and approach the podium in their matching blue shirts with red heart shapes over where Elwood Park can be located on a white outline of the state of Florida.

A community of less than 500 homes—nearly all on an acre of land or more—Elwood Park has a long tradition of annual neighborhood events. Currently, the Elwood Park Baptist Church hosts a Pumpkin Patch each October and a Christmas event in December, and there is a community Farm and Garden Festival in the spring.

As recent rezone requests and development proposals are brought forward on land within Elwood, the church has also become host to community meetings where residents can discuss concerns and organize a response. 

To learn more about Elwood Park's history and community, visit https://elwood-park.com/the-history-of-elwood-park.

To replay the developer’s presentation, resident public comments, and commissioner discussion for agenda item six, Townhomes at Westbridge, click the video below.


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  • Cwright

    While I’m happy for the outcome and I applaud the residents of Elwood Park who got up and spoke out against the townhome development proposal, they’re kidding themselves if they really believe the BoCC voted to deny it because they were swayed by public comments. It’s obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention that, were Eastwind Development sending Commissioners hefty checks like Beruff does, no doubt they’d have voted 6-1 to approve the townhomes without so much the blink of an eye. To think otherwise is simply- and sadly - being naive.

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this

  • barbaraelliott

    As a citizen I applaud the residents of Elwood Park fighting the good fight and winning. It may be that the developer hasn't padded campaign accounts. However what Mr. Rachide said regarding "Being organized, working as a team, and advocating for logical development are the tools that citizens can use to protect their quality of life—learning the rules of development and the process used by the government to approve or deny projects is vital,” IS extremely spot on.

    Everyone of us has a duty to learn and advocate for a quality life in Manatee County.

    Sunday, August 27, 2023 Report this