Sunday, August 4, 2013

Concerned about Manatee's future? Read this

‘Public hearing could change Manatee County's vision for the future’

‘Fort Hamer Bridge study, public hearing return battle to the front lines’

Those are the two huge headlines dominating the Herald’s front page and today. ‘Huge’ in that each issue has the potential of changing how we define Manatee County. And both are set for public hearings this week.

Public hearings – giving you the chance, the right, an obligation to voice your opinions. And to claim a stake in Manatee’s future. Our coverage today should help you dig into each issue.

Fort Hamer has been a decade (make that century?) in the making, and our newest reporter, Sabrina Rocco,sets the stage for Wednesday’s hearing. The documents, clippings, debates and changes on this issue could fill a library.

Long Bar Pointe has also been a decade or more in the making. Reporters Charles Schelle and Sara Kennedy have been digging into the on-again, off-again plans for the biggest remaining piece of pristine shoreline in Manatee County.

 In its latest rendition, developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman have proposed a waterside resort featuring a five-star hotel, conference center, condos, apartments, single-family homes, a marina/boat basin, docs, boardwalks and retail/office space. Who are the developers? Who are the opponents? And what will the proposed changes to the county's comprehensive plan mean for the long-term vision of Manatee County?

With so much at stake, the Bradenton Herald continues to examine all these issues to help guide these landmark decisions.

Today, Kennedy profiles Beruff and Lieberman in two stories. She gives insights into how Beruff built his empire from modest beginnings in Manatee County, and how Lieberman put together, piece by piece, the valuable acreage now called Long Bar Pointe.

Schelle spells out the concerns of environmentalists who fear the development will destroy the area’s birding and wildlife watching, a $3 billion economic driver in the state. Last Sunday, he explored the claims and counterclaims that the development could destroySarasota Bay’s seagrass and mangroves. On Monday, Schelle successfully tackles a tough assignment: Just what are the commissioners voting on Tuesday? It’s a must read.

We’ve had a great assist from McClatchy-Tribune Services, whose visual editors helped us build a phenomenal interactive graphic of the site, which we also have run in print.

For a project that’s technically not even on the drawing boards yet, Long Bar Pointe has already polarized our community. Dozens of letters, calls and online comments have poured in for weeks. A rough scan of published comments finds that the opponents significantly outweigh supporters – maybe as much as 10 to 1. But that might not be representative of true public opinion. Are you more likely to call your favorite newspaper (no doubt the Herald!) if you like what you see – or because you couldn’t disagree more, because you found a typo or, worse yet, the paper didn’t arrive on your driveway today? All are valued calls, trust me. But you typically call because you want change, not necessarily because you approve of something.

As a now 15-year disciple of almost all things Manatee County, I’ve grown to love and appreciate how different our coastline is from those to the north and south. I also lived through the exciting boom of the early 2000s, just to watch that plummet in the last four years. So what will be the best for our future? It certainly shouldn’t pivot solely on Long Bar Pointe. But that sweep of waterfront land is the heart of our coastline. So, as the Herald urged in Sunday’s editorial, the Manatee County Commission should move with caution. Take your time. Get it right. 

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