By Jessia De LEon / Bradenton Herald
Residents opposed to the proposed Long Bar Pointe development project gathered in boats on Sarasota Bay to protest losing the last piece of undeveloped shoreline in Manatee County.
Dozens of protestors gathered on a flotilla of boats, kayaks, paddle boards and jet skis in Sarasota Bay Saturday afternoon.
“This is tipping point for Manatee County, we got to make a decision which way we go,” protestor Jaime Canfield said. “Do we want to follow the rest of Florida and develop the coast or do we preserve it.”
Canfield is opposed to an ambitious project that threatens to remove mangroves and sea grass in Sarasota Bay to make way for a marina and five-star resort-style development. The project is proposed for an area that parallels El Conquistador Parkway where 75th Street West intersects with 53rd Avenue West that has long been agricultural.
Currently a project including condos and single family homes with docks is already approved but developers want to expand.
Developers behind the project — Carlos Beruff of Medallion Home and Larry Lieberman from the Barrington Group — however believe the project will be a welcome and much needed addition to Manatee County.
The new plans call for a mixed-use development — single- and multi-family units, hotel, marina, office and commercial space, and a conference center — on the 463.2 acres.
However nearly 295 acres is within the Coastal High Hazard zone, an area prone to flooding during storms. Because the land is vulnerable in a storm, developers must get the county to amend the comprehensive plan to allow for the more intense development.
Terri Wonder, one of the organizers of the protest thinks an amendment to the comprehensive plan is a terrible idea.
“We hope Carlos changes his mind now or before Aug. 6,” Wonder said. “If not, that the Manatee County Commission will not ratify his project.”
Wonder, a Bayshore, resident said she grew up on Siesta Key and saw how development changed the island. She moved to Bayshore Gardens to get back some of what she had lost and because Siesta Key became to pricey.
Many of the protestors including Wonder are concerned about the effects the proposed development will have on the bay, a breeding and feeding ground for dolphins and manatees.
The boaters gathered in a flotilla and shared banners and signs reading “Protect the bay” and “Save our Shore.” They even targeted the project’s financing, which is from Bain Capital.
“We want to preserve what is precious,” Wonder said. “Homeowners want to retire here and their children and grandchildren want to come here.”
Wonder fears that if the project is approved, development will reach a point of no return and that Manatee County will no longer represent the best of Florida.
“Well it’s interesting because last night we held a meeting at the El Conquistador Country Club and we received a tremendously positive reaction from people that would be thrilled that there would be some place to go, eat and enjoy the water,” Lieberman said. “They were thrilled that there would be a revitalization of Manatee County.”
Liberman says one of the project’s environmental experts was at meeting to explain how the project intends to have zero negative impact to the environment.
“I know there are a lot of people that are protesting, but these people have not seen the plan. They have not talked to the expert environmentalist who have guaranteed us that this would have a positive environmental impact on the environment and Sarasota Bay,” Lieberman said. “They are out there protesting and they don’t know the facts and that is dangerous.”
Longtime Bayshore resident Richard Nelson looked to the Sarasota side of the bay Saturday afternoon and then around him, fearful of the changes that could come.
“Look at this, they all want it to look like that,” Nelson said. “That actually looks more like the Bronx.”
Nelson moved to Florida from New York City nearly 23 years ago, and he says he hasn’t regretted it for a day.
“We have to try and preserve everything we got,” Nelson said. “You have to fight for it or else they are just going to try and do whatever they want.”
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her@JDeLeon1012.