By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
A week ago, I shared a post about a conflict involving Braden Woods homeowners, Manatee County, and developer Pat Neal.
A 33-acre wooded parcel, surrounded by a mature planned development of homes on one-acre lots, has been the subject of controversy for the past several years.
The land was owned by commercial developer Albert Myara, and purchased by Pat Neal and his son in 2016, for $1.6 million. At the time, Neal was trying to convince Manatee County to change zoning on the parcel from one home per acre to four homes per acre.
Thousands of homeowners in Braden Woods were opposed increasing the density of future development of the wooded wetland area that borders Braden River.
Many who hoped to preserve the land, formed a group call Keep Woods, also known as Braden River Preserve.
A 2016 video produced for Keep Woods provides aerial and closeup views of the woods and Braden River. The wooded area is part of the Braden River watershed, a primary water source for residents of Bradenton.
Manatee County eventually approved a proposed plan to develop a gated 32-home community on 33-acres, with homes clustered together on small lots. Plans for access roads were underway.
Then in 2017, Keep Woods approached Manatee County to distribute a postcard poll to 1,400 property owners in Braden Woods, in order to determine if a majority would be willing to establish a municipal services taxing unit (MSTU), so they could purchase the land from developer Pat Neal for $3 million, thereby preserving it.
That divided the Braden Woods community between homeowners in favor of preservation — those willing to tax themselves to pay for a passive park for the next 30 years — and homeowners opposed to paying yet another tax — in addition to regular property taxes and HOA assessments — for an “amenity” they’d likely never use.
Manatee County was to decide whether or not to proceed with the controversial MSTU in early March, but commissioners delayed voting on the issue until March 20th.
What happened next surprised homeowners on both sides of the issue.
Bradenton Herald reports that, at the March 20th meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac made a motion that the County purchase the land, using funds from a $14 million county-wide MSTU.
Manatee County commissioners who opposed the purchase objected to assuming an additional cost, when the County faces a projected deficit of $8.5 million by 2020. Some were also concerned about setting a precedent, fearing that other communities might expect the County to purchase more small parcels of land for preservation.
Commissioners ultimately voted 4-3 to purchase the parcel from Pat Neal for $3 million, thereby distributing the cost of preservation and establishment of a passive park to County taxpayers. (Manatee County has an estimated population of 375,000, as of 2016)
Commissioner Charles Smith, originally opposed to the idea of a County purchase, ultimately voted in favor of the land deal.
The $3 million will be offset by a donation of more than $1 million from Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. Donations are still being accepted.
Although the fight appears to be over, no one mentions the obvious source of the homeowner conflict and expense to taxpayers.
After all, if Manatee County had valued the 33-acre watershed area for preservation several years ago, the parcel would have never been zoned for development in the first place.
That would have substantially reduced the value of the property, which would have never been purchased for development.
In the end, it appears that Manatee County taxpayers will be paying millions, so that a home builder will not develop the wooded wetland surrounded by Braden Woods.
ALL RESIDENTS, NOT JUST ITS NEIGHBORS, WILL PAY FOR NEW EAST MANATEE PARK
BY HANNAH MORSE
March 20, 2018 02:34 PM
Updated March 20, 2018 06:06 PM
The 1,440 residents surrounding a 33-acre piece of undeveloped property in East Manatee will not have to pay an extra tax to buy land for a new park. But the land dubbed the “Braden River Preserve” will be put into conservation anyway.
Manatee County commissioners voted 4-3 not to establish a municipal services taxing unit, or MSTU, and instead accept a donation from the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast of more than $1 million — and have the county pay the rest of the $3 million cost.
Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Betsy Benac, Charles Smith and Priscilla Trace voted in favor. Commissioners Robin DiSabatino, Stephen Jonsson and Carol Whitmore voted against.
The 33 acres is being offered by Myarra Property Joint Venture LLC, owned by developer Pat Neal and his son John, to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. The foundation will then transmit it to the county, which will be charged with developing the passive park for an estimated $300,000 and maintaining it for $20,000 a year.
Read more here: www.bradenton.com/news/local/article206038059.html#storylink=cpy
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