A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Long Bar Pointe and Western Manatee's Mixed-Use Challenge

Well, there's a bunch of us eligible for tee-shirts reading: 


My main accomplishment, aside from staying awake, was being one of the last speakers and not repeating or re-phrasing any previous points.*

It is hard not to sympathize with Carlos Beruff when he pleads for "not another boring subdivision". The alternative apparently is Mixed Use, but despite Commissioner Benac's views to the contrary, I don't think this the Long Bar Point parcel is a very strong candidate for mixed use. You really want Mixed Use associated with significant transit, and definitely not in the Coastal High Hazard Area.

Kudos to Commissioners DiSabatino, Chappie, and Gallen for resisting the siren song.

From a development perspective Mr. Beruff and his partner, Larry Lieberman, have a very challenging (I was tempted to say crummy) parcel -- it is low, it is scrawny, most of the uplands have been trashed, and the coast happens to consist of the most significant, most easily impacted, and tallest mangrove section remaining on Sarasota Bay. But it was the last major hunk of undeveloped property on Sarasota Bay, so you can see its appeal. It has probably remained undeveloped for so long because the significant liabilities meant it would take a blend of clout, capital, vision, and hubris to attempt much of anything other than more McMansions. Enter Carlos Beruff. 

[And I have to say the development to the South of Long Bar is a textbook example of how destructive and sterile this development form can be - sorry IMG, but Legends Bay makes the case for Beruff's vision.].

With the Long Bar Pointe parcel that is pinched between El Conquistador Parkway (shortened to ElCon in the vernacular) and the Kitchen (a reliably productive section of Sarasota Bay), Mr. Beruff was hoping to implement a BOLD vision, but that vision was snatched away August 6th when the Manatee County Commission deleted reference to, and the possibility of, a marina in their approval of Mixed Use.

Mr. Beruff was quoted in the Sarasota Herald Tribune as saying the Hotel (5 or 4 star) depended on the marina (boat slips) that would require a channel through the seagrasses. "Without that water access, Beruff says, the destination hotel just is not feasible." Since it is possible the conference center hinged on the hotel, the entire vision may collapse. Or Mr. Beruff may have more strategy to employ.

The key challenge for environmentalists and those seeking to protect the bay, its Kitchen, and the adjoining seagrasses will be protecting the mangroves. Pruning 40 foot mangroves to 6 feet is a recipe for disaster.

But now that Mixed Use has been approved, the solution to Mr, Beruff's problem is simultaneously obvious, elegant, and quite probably impossible. But let's review it anyway.

1) All of the Long Bar Pointe property (basically what lies between ElCon and the bay) should be a mix of protection, restoration, and low impact/minimal infrastructure recreation/education -- sort of a mini Robinson Preserve. The density should be transferred off the Long Bar Pointe parcel and moved to the East on the other side of ElCon.

2) Mssrs. Beruff and Lieberman should joint venture with IMG and Manatee Fruit who control virtually all of the other undeveloped land in the area -- land that also has different flavors of mixed use.

3) Manatee County should get out of their way and let the three parties optimize their blend of real estate and capital to create outcomes that would benefit everyone. In other words, lift the different current MU in the area, and let the joint venture troika redeploy it.

What might all that look like?

 • Remaining natural areas set aside -- exotics removed

 • Long Bar Pointe property as suggested above - a public park/preserve. Some canopy walkway overlooks, but no mangrove piercing or water access.

 * Healthy  (wide and vegetated) buffers adjacent to existing residential areas.

 • A mix of agriculture and playing fields adjacent to the sewage treatment facility (for obvious olfactory reasons)

• Created wetlands designed to remove the nitrogen from stormwater- this may involve active harvesting of floating aquatic plants

 • Shift from single species vegetable production ag. to Community Supported Ag or diverse farmstand ag.

 • A curtain of residential towers paralleling the bay on the east side of ElCon (these would need to be taller (more stories) than Manatee citizens think they can stomach, but it is not an unreasonable tradeoff.)

  • Dense retail adjacent to additional walkable multi-family housing to reduce trips.

 • A great hotel/resort to support IMG

 • New IMG-related facilities - including possibly an event destination -- a arena/stadium of some kind?

 • All of this done in a manner that makes nearby residential and commercial more valuable rather than draining surrounding areas as people flock to the hot, new thing. (think Seaside adding value to Seagrove Beach).

I think you can click on the image to enlarge it - shows various MU.
Well that's it. Could it be done? A bunch of rules would have to change. But if they could be, the outcome would be far closer to the values claimed than what is likely if they are not changed.

There are two ways a developer can claim success. The first is to make a bunch of money for those involved, and that's hard enough to do (although locally Pat Neal seems to have figured it out). The second is to create places that create new community value and opportunities (beyond construction jobs and nail salons). Few ever reach this goal, in part because it involves welcoming, rather than repudiating, the public. Taken at face value, Mr. Beruff's vision was an attempt to get to the second goal. Mixed Use notwithstanding, that is probably impossible if he is confined to his challenging bayfront parcel. 

It will be interesting to see what happens next.



* My main points in my three minutes of testimony:

Long Bar Point area was already spared a terrible fate in 1959 (see clipping below).

There are no guarantees with MU. Res9 may not be great, but it is known. The MU proposal provides maximums, but no minimums -- ceiling but no floor. Staff clearly stated that all the MU features "could be deleted or revised significantly". It would work better for the green hat 'yes' crowd if in addition to no more than 300 motel rooms, there was at least 250. It's like trading a utility infielder for a player to be named later-- you really have no idea what you are getting. 

Does a conference center make sense? Not in an area most vulnerable to hurricanes as Isaac taught the Republican National Convention last year and Donna demonstrated in Cortez in 1960. Who is going to book with confidence for the six months of hurricane roulette?

I have watched what washes up on a shallow bay shoreline five days a week for 32 years and sometimes there are large quantities of dead seagrass, small decomposing marine organisms and, occasionally, dead fish all of which smell somewhere between "like the bay" and god awful. There is no practical way to keep that stuff out of 2.8 miles of mangrove roots. And then checking into a hotel or walking an esplanade becomes a challenge.

Therefore the worst case scenario is not the project kills the bay, but, in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, the bay could also kill the project.

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