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Residents of Elwood Park Fight to Preserve the A1 Community

MANATEE COUNTY – Residents of a small rural agricultural community in Manatee County are hopeful county commissioners will hear their concerns next week and deny a developer’s request for rezoning. If the rezoning is approved, Jordan Creek at Manatee could bring 56 attached (duplex) villas to roughly 19 acres near the intersection of Elwood Park Road and 39th Street East.

Applicant William Monroe Rowlett Academy for the Arts and Communication, Inc., and engineering firm, Morris Engineering & Consulting, LLC, has requested the property be rezoned from its current Agricultural Suburban (A-1) to Planned Development Residential (PDR). A review of the application by county staff found that while the planned development complies with the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code, the density is higher when compared to the surrounding area. Staff notes, however, that the proposed design meets buffering requirements providing "adequate separation" from the residential homes on large lots surrounding the project site.

A neighborhood meeting held in March at the Elwood Baptist Church was well attended. Hosted by the developer’s engineering consultant, the meeting drew the attendance of around three dozen concerned Elwood residents. No county staff was in attendance for the neighborhood meeting, although Linda Stewart, AICP of Morris Engineering & Consulting, did tell residents that county staff had been invited.

During the meeting, residents were assured that the development would include a landscape buffer and the duplexes would not be rental units, but privately owned dwelling units sold for over $400,000 each.

Summary notes from the meeting described angry residents who made clear their opposition to the development. Residents added that they would be "out in full force" for the future public hearing.

At a Planning Commission meeting held in October, Elwood residents pleaded with commissioners to deny the rezone. Despite county staff's opinion that the development would be consistent with the Comp Plan, residents insisted that Elwood Park is unique to Manatee County and has existed as a truly rural agricultural micro-community since its establishment in the early 1900s.

"This subdivision has maintained a very rural feel despite development to the west and south," John Rachide resident of Elwood Park told the planning commission. "These 640 acres (that are Elwood Park) have 278 homes. This is going to be 56 units on 19 acres, a 20 percent increase to the total number of units in the neighborhood."

Rachide was joined by several fellow Elwood Park residents who spoke in opposition to the applicant’s request for rezoning. Besides arguing that the planned development would not be in keeping with the historical character of Elwood Park, residents also voiced concerns about future flooding and runoff impacts, as well as the existing roadway being inadequate to support the increased traffic.

Photos shared with the planning commission during public comment illustrating residents' concerns about inadequate infrastructure to support increased traffic that may be caused by planned future development.

Photo of roadways that would sit along the northern boundary of planned future development. Images were shared with planning commissioners in October showing the existing narrow roadways.

When public comment concluded, planning commissioners shared their final thoughts before the vote.

"I just think it is too much for this area right now, maybe in another 10 years," said Planning Commissioner John Delesline. "I can’t vote for it," he added.

Like Delesline, other members agreed that the roadways were a significant issue that could not be overlooked or easily addressed. Delesline made a motion to deny the approval and received the second needed to carry the motion. The motion to deny was passed in a vote of 4-1. Planning Commission Chairman William Conerly was the only vote in opposition, stating his position that, despite the roadway issues, he believed the project was consistent with the county comprehensive plan and land development code.

Since the planning commission meeting, residents of Elwood Park have created a website to organize their efforts and to help inform neighbors. "We need YOUR HELP in saving our small, special community," the website’s homepage reads in part.

A separate page on the website is devoted to the history of Elwood Park and details 100 years of the neighborhood’s subtle changes and slow growth, before concluding:

"Today’s Elwood Park is smaller than what it once was, as development has started to encroach on this unique neighborhood. It retains its farming history with multiple horse & board farms, nurseries & landscapers, and many families that have homesteaded their propertyÉThis is a place where families can raise their children to learn the value of nature and playing outside. Where neighbors wave to each other because they have lived in the community for 20, 30, and 40 years or more. It’s zoned agriculture so families can grow their own food and raise their own animals, but also have the ability to drive 5 minutes to Publix for last-minute shopping needs. A community that is so desirable, sadly, even Developers are looking to take away our unique culture and community."

The rezoning request will now move to a public hearing before county commissioners at a Dec. 15 scheduled land use meeting. Submitted written public comments attached to the agenda item had already exceeded 30 pages ahead of the hearing–nearly all in total opposition to the rezoning.

"I beg you to maintain the standing A1 zoning and make any investor adhere to the 1 house per acre rule that has been in place for decades," wrote Elwood resident Jennifer Best in her written public comment to the county commission.

"You already have the adverse metrics of density, flooding, and road congestion to deny the Jordan Creek development," included Maryanne Owens in her comment.

In his written comment, Elwood resident Troy Blunden requested county commissioners visit the neighborhood and drive the roads that would border the future development. "All three bordering streets are extremely narrow, you have to slow down and sometimes get over when there is an oncoming landscaping truck, school bus, or anything of the sort," he wrote. "The roads, as they are, are not suited for this kind of development."

To read the written public comments that have so far been submitted in relation to the proposed Jordan Creek at Manatee development, click here.

Janyel Taylor, whose family has been residents of Elwood for nearly 40 years, told TBT by phone that she anticipates at least 30 of her neighbors will attend the Dec. 15 land use meeting. Several intend to address county commissioners in opposition to the requested rezoning, while others will attend in solidarity with their neighbors.

"Elwood Park is a community of homesteaders that dates back over 100 years," Taylor told TBT, speaking about the mission of Elwood residents. "Our goal is to keep that heritage and history by denying a development that is not compatible with our unique community."

A sign posted near vacant land in Elwood Park which is the site of proposed future development reads, "Stop 56 Duplexes. Keep A-1 Zoning. Submit your public comment now."

Taylor said she and her neighbors are focused on keeping their "close-knit" community intact. "This builder is looking to leverage our quiet and beautiful neighborhood for profit and offers no benefit to the surrounding area."

Taylor told TBT that she plans to join other Elwood Park neighbors on Dec. 15 in the BOCC chambers, and will address the county commission during public comment.

To rewatch the presentation, public comments, and planning commission discussion and vote from the October planning commission meeting for Jordan Creek at Manatee, click the video below. To jump ahead to public comment from the meeting, click here.

To access the Dec. 15 Manatee County Commission land use meeting agenda, click here. Jordan Creek at Manatee is item 30.

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


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