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Sale of Musgrave Property would be Beyond Short Sighted


Manatee County is currently looking to sell off 160 acres of former dairy farm land it purchased in 2020. Such a sale would not only be poor planning on the county’s part, but it would also saddle future generations of taxpayers with enormous costs to support the rampant, poorly planned growth that has been occurring in east county for the better part of two decades.

The purpose of the land acquisition was multi-dimensional. Since it was adjacent to the county’s Lena Road landfill, it would allow the county to extend that facility’s life cycle, the savings of which would be more than double the land's $32 million purchase price. It would also be able to fund much-needed east county utilities infrastructure, and nearly half of the funding of the purchase was to be paid for by user fees, something that had been built into the county’s Capital Improvement Plan. There would also be space for a facility for the public works department, fleet support services, and a new east-county Manatee County Sheriff’s Department station that would be needed in the near future.

In 2020, I spent considerable time researching and reporting on the proposed purchase and its somewhat isolated opposition. While the county administration had spent 18 months researching and negotiating the deal with direction from the county commission, two developer-backed commissioners (Vanessa Baugh and Stephen Jonnson) suddenly became uncomfortable with it.

Meanwhile, developer-backed 2020 candidates Kevin Van Ostenbridge, George Kruse, and James Satcher were campaigning on the issue, alleging that the purchase price was inexplicably high. This opposition was supported by a considerable amount of PAC campaigning that strongly implied not only waste but also corruption. Nevertheless, these tactics managed to generate practically zero public opposition.

Things finally began to make sense when developers Pat and Michael Neal showed up at a BOCC meeting urging commissioners to reconsider the deal on the grounds that it would be a wasteful use of taxpayer money. This was hilarious, considering that the Neals had been all too happy to be paid questionable amounts by the county for land on deals like Neal Preserve on Perico Island and land acquired for another preserve on the Braden River.

Once the new board was elected in November, Commissioner Van Ostenbridge immediately used the purchase as grounds to demand former county administrator Cheri Coryea’s resignation and, when she refused, to call on the board to fire her. That plan took several months to come to fruition, as Commissioner Kruse initially wavered before flipping the vote and calling for Coryea’s ousting himself.

Once the board had installed Scott Hopes, an unqualified developer lackey, as administrator, the land was declared surplus, and the wheels were set in motion for it to be sold to developers who had long wanted the property for housing but could not convince the Musgrave family to sell it to them for that purpose. However, by then, the original deal had only been sweetened by the unexpected skyrocketing of Manatee County land prices that took place during and immediately after the pandemic.

The Musgrave property was already a good deal because it not only more than paid for itself, but it allowed the county to secure land that was certain to be needed for future use at current prices. There is simply not a lot of compatible land available in that part of the county, and attempting to secure sites for all of the aforementioned uses piecemeal at whatever prices land is going for when you seek to develop those facilities will be monumentally more expensive.

It is only a better deal today when not only have land prices shot up, but this board’s evisceration of the Future Development Area Boundary has saddled us with tens of thousands of homes in addition to those that could be expected when the county purchased the property. None of this even begins to consider the many headaches that would be associated with allowing residential development so close to a county landfill.

This board likes to talk about fiscal conservatism and will no doubt include it in empty pontifications as to why this is the right thing to do for Manatee County taxpayers. However, I can give you countless examples of them being anything but mindful of the public dime. The one most relevant to this issue would be when the board spent upward of $6 million buying land from a developer for an unneeded “park” that didn’t even have public access and was not in the Capital Improvement Plan, while better suited, nearby county-owned land was already slated for one. In other words, they appear to only care about taxpayer money when it goes toward something other than their benefactors' bottom line.

This sale is not being driven by a desire to do what is best for the taxpayer. It is not being driven by a desire to do what is best for the future of our community. It is and always was a matter of developers wanting to get their hands on this property. If county commissioners sell off this land, it will be but one more example of the people who bought their seats using the influence that gives them to transfer public-sector wealth into private-sector coffers.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


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  • Removetheplantburglar






    Sunday, January 21 Report this

  • magstarwire

    Thanks for bringing the background of this to light. Mitch. Unfortunately, most of our Manatee County citizens are in the dark about the disgraceful behavior of our county commissioners.

    Sunday, January 21 Report this

  • rjckeuka4

    Scott Hopes hiring was the single most destructive thing that has ever occurred in this County. And who engineered it?? KVO of course! Does that make him the second worst thing?? Well, Baugh and Satcher are challengers! Turn out to VOTE!!

    Sunday, January 21 Report this

  • bbenac

    Thanks for the very thorough report on the Musgrave acquisition. This Board is beyond incompetent-they are criminal. The story of this acquisition and the toll on staff and the commissioners forced out of office by this cabal of developer/elected officials needs to be told as often as possible. The purchase was a far-sighted effort by staff to address growth pressures, and the 2020 Commissioners took a huge political risk to agree with staff, knowing the price was slightly higher than the “market appraisal” (Pat Neal was furious with me for contradicting his position- how DARE I suggest I knew more about land acquisition than him when I said we were buying the property for the future of the county, not development). The new BOCC have entitled this property for 100 ft. Tall Buildings (apparently so that people have a better view of the landfill), and a huge amount to residential, commercial and industrial development. But still no plans to expand the landfill, and no facility for the sheriff. VOTE THEM OUT.

    Sunday, January 21 Report this

  • ruthlawler

    When this vote to move this land as surplus by the Board of County Commissioners right after several were JUST elected in Nov. 2020, AND firing Cheri Coryea shortly thereafter, I was APPALLED. The acquisition of the Musgrave property by Manatee County in 2020 was well researched, and was carefully and thoroughly studied and evaluated by staff. The intended usage and NEED for Manatee County's growth justified this. This property would allow Manatee County to extend the life of the Lena Road landfill, provide the need for County utility infrastructure, Public Works facility space, County fleet support AND an East County Sheriff's station. As our population and development growth has exploded east, the purchase of the Musgrave property by Manatee County was logical and forward thinking. It is in fact the highest and best use of the property. Anyone knowledgeable in real estate would know this, as the County staff in 2020 were. The decision to sell this property by our current Commissioners will cost our taxpayers for decades to come, as the needs of the intended use of the property still exist and will certainly cost much more and will be disjointed in future County development.

    Ruth Lawler

    Monday, January 22 Report this