Some taxpayers were angry to learn that the county only charged developers half of what it seemingly could have for the applications for a future use map change and countywide text amendment related to the Long Bar Pointe development on Sarasota Bay.
The reduced fee, which still should have come before the county commission for a vote, was probably a fair price considering the work that was performed, which of course, represents the real problem.
The battle over the Long Bar Pointe proposal was probably the most hotly-contested land use issue in Manatee County history. A development team who were major sponsors of a majority of county commissioners deciding its fate, were asking to profoundly change the way we do coastal development in Manatee County, while also seeking major exceptions to the existing county comp plan specific to their project.
The potential environmental, recreational and quality-of-life impacts were significant to say the least, which is probably why somewhere around a thousand people showed up to the public meeting, which had to be relocated to the convention center. But among the many disappointing aspects of the whole ordeal was the staff presentation, which seemed to be little more than a rehashing of the applicant’s own argument.
Staff failed to acknowledge policies that were inconsistent with current rules regarding mixed use designations and coastal evacuation areas, echoed the claim that there weren’t any known habitats for endangered, protected or special concern species and didn’t properly describe the adjacent properties to note that they included a national estuary or shellfish habitat.
The dangers to Manatees and sea grass were not studied – which I feel obliged to note again, could have been successfully augmented by a white paper from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, had they not been standing on the sidelines, conspicuous is their silence.
Staff didn’t get into the ways the proposed changes might contradict the Comp Plan’s goal of stabilizing shorelines, protecting coastal water quality or limiting development in coastal high hazard areas, while directing development away from areas that are prone to flooding.
In some ways, the staff presentation sounded like it was coming from a hopeful applicant – and in some ways, maybe it was.
But while “bundling” the application fees may have represented a fair price for the work, it’s not the way the process is designed. Only the county commission can approve a fee reduction of this sort – in a public vote and at a public meeting.
Had that happened, perhaps staff would have explained that since the applicant did most of the work, it might not be fair to charge them the full freight. At that point, perhaps at least a few of the commissioners would have voiced concern toward such an applicant-driven process and insist that a more thorough vetting be performed and better information given before they vote on such a momumental matter.
Recalling what I mentioned about the applicants having sponsored most of their political careers, one might justifiably view that hopeful assertion with skepticism. But at the very least, the whole process could have taken place in the open where it belongs. Then again, maybe that was the point.
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